Barcode readers ensure better functioning of business processes with efficient and accurate automatic identification of products. Various barcode technologies have evolved that help in tracking inventory tracking, monitoring stock movement, increasing operational efficiency, improving employee productivity, etc. Various types of barcode technologies are used effectively across various sectors like healthcare, hospitality, retail, manufacturing, distribution, warehousing, etc.
Barcode Reader Technologies:
Deciding on which barcode reader technology depends upon the type of barcode that will be scanned, the environment in which it will be used, and the connection type required (i.e. USB, serial, or keyboard).
Pen-style barcode readers, also called wand barcode readers, consist of a light source and a photodiode placed next to each other at the tip of the pen. As the pen is swiped across the barcode, the photodiode measures the intensity of light reflected from the surface. A waveform is generated that represents the exact widths of bars and spaces in the barcode. The dark color of bars absorbs light while the white spaces reflect light, thereby making a specific pattern of waveform. This voltage waveform is then converted by the pen-type reader to retrieve product information quickly. Because wand readers are manually swiped across the barcode, they are not limited by the width of the barcode. They do require the user to pass the wand over the barcode at a consistent rate of speed and at a particular angle. The pen-type readers are not the most efficient scanners, but they are small, extremely durable, and economical. Pen-style barcode readers are suited for low-volume and desktop applications.
Laser barcode scanners offer more precise readability of barcodes as a laser beam is employed instead of a light source. An oscillating mirror or a rotating prism is used to move the laser beam back and forth across the barcode. The brightness and sharpness of laser beam ensures preciseness and greater accuracy in reading barcodes. Laser scanners can read the barcodes from greater distances and are ideal for applications where barcodes need to be read in bright light.
CCD (Charged Coupled Device) readers, also called linear imager barcode scanners, consist of a series of tiny light sensors that measure the intensity of light that is right in front of them. Linear imagers can effectively read barcodes from a few inches to several feet away. They are more robust and are designed to withstand harsh working conditions. Linear imagers are suited for use in various sectors like retail, distribution, shipping, receiving, and inventory.
Camera Based Readers
The latest in the barcode reader technology is the camera-based barcode readers or 2D imaging scanners. They utilize a small camera to take an image of the barcode and then process this image using advanced digital image processing techniques to decode the barcode. This reader forms an image using sensors arranged in hundreds of rows. 2D barcode scanners can even retrieve information from barcode labels that they are wrinkled or damaged. These scanners have capability to read barcodes moving at faster rates like cartons on a conveyor belt. 2D Barcode Scanners read barcodes omnidirectionally, so the barcodes can be orientated in any direction. Some 2D barcode scanners can also capture digital images and signatures.
Omnidirectional Barcode Scanners
Omnidirectional barcode scanners disperse laser beams in every direction making it possible to read the barcode from every possible angle. A rotating mirror and a set of fixed mirrors are used in omnidirectional barcode scanners to generate the pattern of laser beams. These scanners have higher barcode scanning capability with scan ranges varying between few inches to several feet. Omnidirectional barcode scanners can be put to use in retail environments where barcodes have to be read at a distance of few inches or in industries where barcodes have be read from a distance of few feet in harsh conditions. It can also read barcodes if they are torn, wrinkled, or damaged.
Cell Phone Cameras
Barcode scanning apps are now available for certain cell phones with cameras. Some 2D barcodes like QR and Data Matrix codes are optimized for scanning by cell phones. Although this technology is still in its nascent stage, it opens a wide range of opportunities for possible applications. At present, iPhone and a few phones using the Google Android platform have barcode scanning apps available for use. Most of these apps are designed as shopping tools. They use the barcode number to search a number of web sites, like Amazon and Google, to pull up product information, price comparisons, and customer reviews. Some will even utilize the GPS in the phone to locate the nearest store that has the item in stock. Cell phone barcode scanning can be put to various other uses like giving access to valid ticket holders at venues, personal finance, inventory reporting, asset tracking, shopping etc.
The barcode reader technology should be selected based on each business' specific application. The barcode reader should be fast, easy to use, and durable enough to withstand the working conditions, whether it be in an office, retail store, factory, warehouse, or outside in a work yard or vehicle.