Moving Target

 In Barcode Advice

Barcode quality is not static. Often I use the analogy that the world is made of rubber. Nothing stays the same. There are many steps in getting a barcode on a product package. Each step involves variables—things that can change.

A printing company contacted us recently. Their customer was complaining about poor quality barcodes. Back in hazy memory there was a barcode quality issue with this customer. When, what or how it was resolved? No one could remember. When the relationship was new, they had executed a protocol for setting up process. The customer insisted on providing the barcode file. It provided control. The printer sent samples from the customer-provided files. Adjustments made, the relationship launched.

Now, years later, there were problems. The defenses on both sides were high. How could this be? I explained that the print gain was excessive. The parameter Modulation was failing the barcodes. Nobody was ready to hear it. The disconnection between belief and actuality was complete.

The World is Made of Rubber

At some level, people over a certain age know that change is the only thing that does not change. Somehow, industrial processes seem immune. They are not. Nothing is immune. Beliefs cloud clarity. The printer believed that the “fingerprinting” protocol was once and done. The customer and printer believed that by supplying the barcode file, the customer prevented any possible variation. The printer was using the same press, even the same operator.

It took effort to smoke out the changes. The plate supplier had changed; rubber plates were now plastic. The vendor guaranteed that they were better: the belief that nothing changed was intact. Only the belief was intact. The press was rebuilt—but the new rollers and bearings were OEM. Oil and solvent inks were now water-based. Ink formulations change. Partially recycled substrates accept ink differently than virgin substrates.  Changes were everywhere. Like always.

Context = Variables

Understanding and accepting the reality of change, belief acquires context. In a process, context is variables–things that change. In barcode quality, variables are ISO parameters. ISO parameters identify measure and grade variables. They eliminate regional differences. Everyone reads from the same songbook.

The world is a living system, dynamic, made of and by change. Understanding that, it makes sense to identify and control variables. It makes sense to use a measuring device with known accuracy. However, scanners and smartphone cameras prove nothing when they scan a barcode. There is no defense against a quality alert with a scanner or iPhone.

Variables: Opportunity or Pitfall

Fingerprinting a press should be an annual discipline, not a rite of passage. Controlling the variables is an opportunity, not a pitfall. As opportunity to be a higher value vendor. More reliable. Smarter. Worth keeping. A partner, an asset. Worthy of recommending.

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