2-D Bar Codes: Don't Wait On Adopting This Technology
The benefits of integrating 2-D bar coding are clear and new software tools might make this technology more appealing to those who are waiting.
Bar coding is a proven technology that can substantially improve productivity in any business. Until recently, businesses have relied on linear bar code symbols to achieve productivity. Productivity is important to every business, and interest in 2-D (two-dimensional) bar coding is growing rapidly due to its benefits over linear bar-code symbologies.
However, deployment is still lagging largely due to the cost of marketing for 2-D technology, as well as the margins manufacturers require to recoup research and development costs.
Obstacles To Adopting 2-D Bar Codes
From the consumer standpoint, added project development costs are usually associated in leveraging the increased information from the 2-D symbol. Every software or database application receiving 2-D scanned input must be modified in order to accommodate the thousands of bytes of data from the scanned 2-D symbol.
Up to now, implementation has been generally very expensive in small- to medium-size businesses that may not have the time or ability to afford software programmers to make these modifications even if the benefits of 2-D bar coding are clear.
The Benefits Of 2-D Bar Coding
In general, linear bar codes encode between 10 and 20 characters of information. In contrast, 2-D symbols are able to encode up to several thousand characters of machine-readable data.
In effect, a portable database or portable data file can travel with the product to drive the decision making. 2-D bar coding provides the freedom of movement for a database file allowing it to travel with a person or package, item, form, document, card or label. 2-D bar coding provides communications capability without the need to access an external database. Furthermore, most businesses can easily add 2-D symbols to documents and labels that already exist.
Employing 2-D Bar-Code Symbols
By employing 2-D symbols, more detailed information can be encoded. This allows multiple linear bar -code symbols to be reduced to a single symbol. When implemented properly, 2-D symbologies can make industrial and commercial procedures faster, less costly, and more reliable by providing immediate access to the portable data file for that container.
As an example, the manifest, bill of lading, and material safety data sheet could all be encoded into one 2-D symbol. 2-D symbols are more resistant to damage than traditional linear symbols. By building error correction formulas into the 2-D symbol, a significant portion of the surface area can be damaged and the information will still be intact.
For example, some 2-D symbols can lose up to a third of their surface and still be decoded. Fundamentally, 2-D symbols allow more information to be encoded in a much smaller space, and provide the ability of recovering data loss from torn, smudged or smeared labels.
Processing 2-D Input
The principle behind scanning a 2-D or linear bar-code symbol is very much the same. The difference, however, lies in the amount of data that is transferred from the bar-code scanner to the software or database application. Since most businesses can easily add 2-D symbols to the documents and labels that already exist, the only crucial implementation issue left unanswered is "How do I process all of that data?"
A linear (1D) bar code encodes an index into a record of a database. In other words, the value of a linear bar code symbol generally corresponds to an input field of the software application. Therefore, pre-processing of the scanned input before it is sent to the software application is usually not required.
Complementing Your Business With 2-D Bar Coding
With 2-D symbols, however, an entire record of a database can be stored in a single bar code. If a 2-D symbol is employed, data processing (e.g., parsing, editing, formatting, re-ordering) is necessary to extract the appropriate information from the 2-D symbol. Therefore, the existing software application will have to be modified in order to support the 2-D symbol. For practical purposes, however, the 2-D symbol should complement a business' current system and not be the driving force to change or modify the software application.
A single 2-D symbol can easily hold specific corporate information, as well as information that is unique to each department. Each department can then in turn process the data from the 2-D symbol differently. With the ability to process the data after it has been scanned and before it enters the software application, major changes to departmental applications and operational procedures are eliminated. Often, the 2-D software solutions can even be configured to process the data differently depending upon the information contained inside the symbol.
Software Toolkit Makes 2-D Bar Coding Practical
Usually most 2-D scanners connect via the keyboard or serial (COM) port. In recent years, however, connection via the keyboard port appears to be the most popular since the installation is much simpler. Regardless of the input connection type, 2-D software solutions exists to process the scanned input data in real-time so that the software application does not have to be modified. This approach makes 2-D bar coding practical and affordable for most businesses considering this technology.
Data can be edited, formatted, parsed, remapped, and re-ordered with no programming required. In addition, the scanned input data is processed before it is transferred to the software application. Therefore, unique features such as Windows message prompting and even sounds for user-defined triggered events exist to take full advantage of the PC's capabilities. These features can be used to prompt the user to take specific action(s) and/or provide instruction when certain user-defined events occur (e.g. a particular bar code is scanned).
The True Benefit Of 2-D Software Toolkits
The true benefit lies in the fact that the user can continue to use the existing business software with no costly modifications. Often, the source code may not be available to even modify. With 2-D software tools, a substantial amount of the project development cost and time to support the increase in information can be eliminated. Until now, this drawback was one of the primary reasons why companies waited to integrate 2-D bar coding.
Now with these 2-D software utilities, users can maximize the full potential of 2-D bar coding by extracting only the information that is needed in any order and in any format - a custom solution.The benefit of 2-D bar coding is clear and certainly with this new software approach, 2-D bar coding may be more appealing to those who are waiting.
Glenn W. Lee is Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Informatics, Inc. He can be reached at (972) 881-5500.