The History of Barcode Verification
For most of its history, barcode quality has been a matter of print quality: can the scanner read the barcode? Originally barcode verification was based on measuring bar and space widths. This proved to be unreliable. Measuring bar and space widths is not how scanners work. Barcode verification evolved into evaluating and grading the reflective differences between bars and spaces. To this day, reflectivity is basis for barcode scanning and verification as defined in the ISO standards for printed barcodes.
In the late 1970’s, there were few verifiers. Those available checked only the print quality a barcode. The data encoded in a barcode was pretty simple. Even so, mistakes happened. Bad barcode data happened. The barcode verifier became an important tool.
Barcode Quality Evolved Into More Than Print Quality
As the use of barcodes grew, symbols became more complicated. More industries began using barcodes: data structure become a barcode quality issue. Different industries made their barcodes unique. Prefixes made the difference. Auto industry barcodes encode a different prefix than an airline industry barcode. Soon prefixes identified packets of data within the barcode. Date of manufacture would start with a different character than a sell-by or expiration date. Barcode quality went from being a simple, single concern to a balancing act of different attributes. Data structure was just as important as print quality.
Total Failure is Better than a Misread
In retail the barcode identifies a specific item, monitors its arrival, presence and eventual departure. The barcode tracks sales performance and drives inventory replenishment. In other industries, the barcode has other uses. The barcode on a sub-assembly or item or carton or pallet must encode the correct data. Print quality and correct data structure are two different requirements. An incorrectly encoded barcode could scan perfectly. Conversely, a poorly printed barcode with correctly encoded data will not scan. Both attributes are of equal importance. Either of these occurrences can wreak havoc.
Bad barcodes disrupt resource planning in manufacturing operations. Retail inventory depletion and replenishment are derailed by bad barcodes. Product movement through the supply chain can fail. As barcodes have become ubiquitous, they have also become mission-critical. Barcode verification is the last line of defense in preventing, detecting and resolving print quality and data structure problems.