Barcode Basics: Why are Barcode Standards Important?

 In Barcode Advice

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On the heels of our article about how barcode standards are developed, it seems self-evident why barcode standards are important. Barcode standards originate from the industry that needs them. The standard is born of a need. Years later, the importance may not seem so obvious.

It’s about rules. At a basic level, a standard establishes a set of working rules. The auto industry is one example. Auto assembly operations source their parts from thousands of contractors. Those suppliers may also have numerous upstream suppliers for sub-assemblies or components. Each tier has specific requirements for packaging and identification of the asset they produce.

Here are some typical barcode requirements:

  • Must be able to encode letters and numbers
  • Must be readable from 12” to 36”
  • Must be located on the bottom of the part or on a tag or label not larger than 2” x 1”

A barcode symbol type (symbology) is usually specified, such as Code 39 or Code 128.

These attributes and many more are what comprise a standard, in this oversimplified case, for automotive manufacturing.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Why all the rules?

At a glance, it seems like needless complication. But there are important advantages. Consider the fact that “automotive manufacturing” is not one gigantic super-category. There are competing domestic brands as well as numerous offshore brands of cars and light trucks. Some parts are interchangeable across brands, for example electrical fuses and tires. But most parts are not.

Standards help distinguish Brand A parts from Brand B parts. Knowing what is out there and where it is, is critical to making sure that Brand A parts do not accidentally go to the Brand B assembly plant. Standards also make it possible to track where cross-brand parts are in case of a recall. The Takata airbag recall is a prime example. Fifty million airbag inflators from 19 manufacturers were recalled. Standards made this recall possible.

Photo by Adam Griffith on Unsplash

Standards provide essential service that benefits us all, often in ways that are not obvious to us. Standards are important not just for our convenience; they also help in keeping us safe, healthy and secure. Knowing this helps us to understand why penalties and fees are charged when barcodes fail to comply with standards.

There are over 230 organizations and associations that provide valuable resources for barcode standards. See listings here.

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