This year, the barcode turned 45 and its wide-spread use continues to grow. In the industrial sector alone, the barcode market is expected to grow nearly six per cent compound annual growth rate, or by $500 million.
The maturity of the technology is one of the reasons why it continues to grow in adoption. It has been tested and trusted for decades to improve operational efficiency, increase organizational optimization, and are essential to providing inventory tracking oversight.
In manufacturing, bar codes are commonly used via computer systems to track products during their manufacturing process on through to the production line. Consumers may only see barcodes when they track an online purchase or at a retail checkout. However, manufacturing managers know barcodes are used during every step of the manufacturing process.
Popular Manufacturing Barcode Applications
One of the most common barcode applications in manufacturing is to track the manufacturing lifecycle of a product. A barcode is affixed to a product at manufacturing, gets scanned at different stages and reveals critical information about the product such as production dates, quality assurance checkpoints passed, progression stages, inventory levels, and so on.
Barcodes are used in such procedures to reduce the negative impact on operations that can occur with human error. But they are also used for improved speed of operations and overall management capabilities. Such benefits are important because reducing error rates alone can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, what are the most common barcodes used to take advantage of such efficiencies in industrial or manufacturing and why?
Common Barcode Symbols for Manufacturing
Warehouse managers can attest to how vital a role barcodes play in manufacturing. They’ve been used for decades because of their efficiency, effectiveness, and simplicity. They are used across the entire production process from product-line assembly to packaging and distribution.
However, selecting the proper barcode symbol, the correct scanner, and the relevant software to use are essential to maximizing these efficiencies. It starts with the appropriate symbol and there are some that are most common in manufacturing.
Industrial 2 of 5
Industrial 2 of 5 is a low-density numeric symbol. It has been around since the early days of barcode use. The barcode is called “2 of 5” because digits are encoded with five bars and two of them are always wide. Information is encoded in the width of the bars and the spaces in the barcode are only separators. This barcode is commonly used in transport and warehouse sorting applications due to its simplicity.
This is the Industrial 2 of 5 Barcode
Interleaved 2 of 5
Interleaved 2 of 5 is a higher-density numeric symbol. As one might guess, it’s based upon the Industrial 2 of 5 symbol. It’s considered even more efficient because it allows information to be encoded in the bars as well as the spaces. Each data character consists of five elements, either five bars or five spaces. In this case, this symbol also has two wide bars. It’s called “interleaved” because the first numeric data is encoded in the first five bars and the second numeric data is encoded in the first five spaces that separate the first five bars. So, the first five bars and spaces encode two characters.
This feature allows for a relatively higher density of information. However, users must always encode an even number of numeric values. This symbol is also physically smaller than Industrial 2 of 5. It’s primarily used on packaging labels to track product distribution and warehousing. Since the barcode can deal with high printing tolerances, it is good for printing on corrugated cardboard.
Unlike the Industrial 2 of 5 Barcode, This Interleaved 2 of 5 Barcode Can Have Data in the White Spaces
Code 128 is considered to have good density and a much larger selection of characters than other similar symbols. It has been widely implemented in many applications where a relatively large amount of data must be encoded in a very small space. Since they are compact, high-density codes, they are commonly used in logistics and transportation industries for ordering and distribution. This includes supply-chain applications where items are labeled with serial shipping container codes (SSCC).
This Code 128 Barcode Symbol is Common in Logistics Applications
Data Matrix barcodes are two-dimensional matrix barcodes that support advanced encoding error checking and correction algorithms. This allows the recognition of barcodes that are up to 60 per cent damaged. For this reason, they are commonly used in environments that have high heat, moisture, chemical exposure, and so on. Other common uses include electrical rating plates, surgical instruments, circuit boards, and the like. Data Matrix barcodes are adaptable in size. The symbol size can be as small as 2.5mm, which is the smallest among all 2D barcodes. Also, the size and the encoded data capacity is independent.
Data Matrix is a Common 2D Barcode
The Direct Part Marking (DPM) barcode symbol is considered a symbol in its own right. They are etched into silicon, metal, plastic, or glass via a laser or etching device rather than printed in black and white. As a result, DPM barcodes present several unique challenges for barcode readers. It’s also the most likely symbol to be used and relied on during manufacturing or assembly.
These bar codes are commonly used in the manufacturing of parts or components for automotive, aerospace, electronics, healthcare, and telecommunications industries. DPM codes contain vital information used to identify parts, provide manufacture dates, safety requirements, and so on. A special barcode reader is used to scan a DPM code and decode the information to track and manage parts throughout their lifecycle.
An Example of a DPM Barcode on a Metal Surface
Possible methods to directly mark a device include a laser. With laser marking, marks are applied using heat instead of ink. It can create either a raised or concave effect. Dot peen is another marking process where an indenting pin is used to create an indentation for each dot in the Data Matrix barcode. Electrochemical etch is a process that can only be used on metallic, conductive materials. It removes layers of material via electrolysis. Each of these methods present unique challenges for barcode scanning devices.
DPM Barcode Challenges
First is colour and contrast because the background and foreground colours are often too similar. So, the scanner must rely on shadows to decode it. However, there is no uniformity with printing and therefore the dots can be a different depth, which can affect shadows.
With dot peen etching, if the dots are too close together or too far apart it can cause decoding errors. Also, the shape of the dots can be inconsistent — sometimes they are circle, others are squares, or stars, and so on – and these imperfections can also cause scan errors.
There are also surface Imperfections to consider. Barcodes can be affected due to a variety of textured, reflective, uneven or curved surfaces. Some parts may be damaged or have micro divots or abrasions. All these imperfections can interfere with the scanner.
Finally, lighting is essential for obtaining quick and accurate reads. DPM symbols are often printed on curved metal surfaces. Thus, when viewed under ambient light they do not always offer the most ideal contrast for a successful scan and decode.
The challenges behind successfully scanning DPM barcodes are generally localization issues. So, it’s important to use scan software solutions that can self-adjust to detect a barcode zone. This includes proper border Identification for correct orientation and decoding.
Barcode technology has a long-storied history. With decades of opportunity to mature as a technology, it has been depended upon in industrial applications for a long time now. There are a few common barcodes used manufacturing and when paired with the correct hardware and software, barcode technology advantages are readily apparent.
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