The Bermuda Triangle of Barcode Problems
My mother used to say, “Two’s company, three’s a crowd.” I did not fully understand the saying until I had kids of my own. A kid with one friend could play well together, but add a third kid and there would be conflict.
It is an imperfect analogy for business relationships, but problems can arise in a three-way project. Not conflict, but bad communication based on unspoken expectations and assumptions. We have written about it before, from the perspective of the contract printer:
Brand Control without Knowledge
In a strategic move to prevent barcode mistakes, the brand owner informs the packaging supplier that in the future, the printer is only to use barcode files provided by the brand owner.
Often this is in result of an earlier error, which cost the brand owner a chargeback.
It is not intrinsically a bad idea, but there are pitfalls to which the brand owner may be blind. For example:
- Brand-supplied barcode files must properly scaled to the requirements of the package or label. Subsequent scaling can seriously damage the integrity of the barcode file. Does the b
rand owner know the correct size?
- Barcode files must be correctly bar width reduced for the printer’s specific process. Has the printer been asked about the right amount of compensation?
- The barcode has a minimum and maximum size. Does the brand owner know this?
Printer Knowledge without Control
So far it has been a two-way conversation, between brand owner and their package or label printer. As we have already seen, there are already opportunities for assumptions and expectations to replace actual knowledge. Add a third party to the conversation, and it is a completely new game.
The third party: the barcode file provider. They can be a life-saver, or they can be the final ingredient in the perfect storm. A knowledgeable file provider will know about creating the barcode file at final size to avoid subsequent scaling. They will know about bar width reduction and ask the printer for that information.
Barcode File Provider
But there are other pitfalls:
- Has the brand owner supplied accurate data to be encoded in the barcode? This sounds like a mistake a brand owner would not make, but this is a dangerous assumption. Medical device manufacturers do not always know what class of medical device they make. They could supply the expiration date in the wrong format. Does the file supplier know—or care?
- Symbol type is determined by trading partners. It is not the brand owner’s exclusive decision. If the GS1-128 symbol to too large for the package, the brand owner cannot simply decide to substitute a GS1-Datamatrix symbol.
Three-way partnerships such as this can work exceedingly well. Good communication is the key. This includes where one of the partners insists on doing things the wrong way. For example, when the brand owner orders the file supplier or printer to create a non-compliant barcode, a simple sign-off document establishes who will be liable. Instead of assuming the brand owner knows what they are doing, or not caring enough to tell them, this alerts them to the seriousness of their decision and the consequences that await them.
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