The Future of Barcodes
Recently we wrote about the future of barcode quality. As print and scanner technology evolve, will barcode quality become obsolete? But change is the only constant. Quality itself is evolving. If barcodes go away, barcode quality goes with it. What about the future of barcodes?
Barcodes survive and thrive today because they have evolved continuously for 45 years. Barcoding began in 1974 as a 12 byte, numeric only UPC. It has become a full alphanumeric, upper and lower case memory bank capable of storing over 7,000 characters, nearly a page of text. Like all evolution, each step solved problems:
- Encoding letters, numbers and special characters such as $, %, &, *
- Ability of withstand inaccurate printing processes such as corrugated
- Inclusion of discrete data packets, not just a single data string
- Data recovery from damaged barcode image
- Scalable, from microns to acres
Barcodes remain relevant because they overcome limitations of so-called competing technologies. Barcodes play nice with:
- Vision Systems
- Online commerce
Barcodes Work with RFID
RFID is one example. Once believed to be the technology that would obsolete and replace barcodes, RFID works well with barcodes. They overcome some of the shortcomings of RFID scanning. RFID is great for quickly taking inventory of a warehouse full of items. But it is nearly impossible to scan a single item when other RFID tags are present. Barcodes are line-of-sight–it is easy to scan just one. Likewise, RFID does not work well with liquids or metals but barcodes do. But if they a barcode damaged or painted over, they do not work–but RFID does. Barcodes and RFID complement each other.
If a package is being printed, the additional cost of the barcode is negligible—virtually free. That is one practical reason barcodes have a future, but rapid technological advancement makes it difficult to predict.
Here are some other reasons barcodes will be around for a while:
- admittance control to sporting events, concerts and other limited-access venues
- boarding passes in air travel, local and interstate rail and cruise ships
- eliminate drug dosing errors in hospitals and schools
- track asset maintenance and life cycle
- enable forest and animal management
- support conservation research
Barcodes Continue to Evolve and Solve Problems
There are undoubtedly numerous other barcode applications in place or being developed, taking advantage of the low cost and high security of barcoding.
A new barcode symbol type, called Dot Code, is currently in development, to serve the high speed ink jet marking systems in the tobacco industry. A multi-color 2D symbology is in development to identify difficult-to-mark items such as lumber and cement blocks.
Barcode technology continues to be relevant because it is an effective, low cost solution to real problems. Until something better and cheaper comes along, barcodes will continue to serve, probably for many years to come.
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John helps companies resolve current barcode problems and avoid future barcode problems to stabilize and secure their supply chain and strengthen their trading partner relationships.