Barcode Verification is Obsolete

 In Barcode Quality Training

Several factors support the belief that barcode verification is obsolete. The availability of very aggressive scanners makes barcode verification obsolete. “It stands to reason,” say the manufacturers and a some of their users: super-aggressive scanners make barcode verification is obsolete. It may stand to reason; actual experience is different.

Do Aggressive Scanners Obsolete Barcode Verification?

Barcode scanning is a balancing act. The parameters for barcode print quality have tolerances, margins of acceptable error. The applicable ISO standards document  these tolerances. There are also performance specifications for scanners. Aggressive scanners challenge the tolerances. Great when it works but there are risks.

Consider the analogy of aircraft manufacturing. The greatest challenge in building an airplane is weight. The lighter the better—it stands to reason (remember that?). A super-light airplane is very efficient, unless and until the air frame integrity fails and lift is overtaken by gravity.

Super-aggressive barcode scanners are similar. Consider the humble UPC symbol. Simple as it is, some of the elements (bars or spaces) in the UPC symbol are only one-thousandth of an inch (.0010″) different from each other (at nominal size); even less different at 80% magnification. Even a non-aggressive scanner operating within its ISO performance specifications is challenged to capture these microscopic dimensional differences and correctly decode a UPC symbol. They work remarkably well most of the time.

How do Aggressive Scanners Work?

UPC Excessive Gain

How can a super-aggressive scanner decode barcodes that other scanners can’t? They push the limits, and that’s great—to a point. Where a conventional, non-aggressive scanner would fail to decode a symbol, a super-aggressive scanner will continue to decode it. But there could be a deadly trade-off. The ”beep” that signals a successful decode doesn’t necessarily mean the decode was accurate. Success does not equate to accurate. A super aggressive scanner is more likely to transpose or substitute an incorrect character in a barcode than a non-aggressive scanner. Yes, this too stands to reason.

What Can Go Wrong?

Why is this a problem? Consider the ramifications. When a poor quality barcode doesn’t decode at all, it is a serious situation. But not nearly as bad as when the scanner captures the wrong data. An undetected scanning error at the point-of-sale transaction or a supply chain terminal or the hospital bedside. When a problem is noticed,  without knowing specifically that the problem is the barcode, how much time will be lost trying to figure out what happened. When the problem is not noticed, consider the damage done. Inventories incorrectly debited. Replenishment shipments of the wrong product. Undetected supply chain mistakes. Incorrect bedside dosing. Medical malpractice liability.

When the barcode simply fails to scan, the problem is right there in front of you—and that’s better. And that’s why barcode verification is more important than ever—even with and yes, because of super aggressive scanners.

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