(Our thanks to John Nachtrieb of Barcode-Test for today’s article.)
For many people, the term “scanning” has come to mean anything having to do with reading bar codes, including bar code verification. Consequently, those of us who specialize in bar code quality and verification are always asking inquirers what they mean when they ask for a scanner. Do they just want to read the barcode or do they want to test it against international quality parameters?
Somewhat better informed inquirers know they need to verify barcodes but would prefer to use a scanner because they cost substantially less than a verifier. If one scanner can read a bar code, they all can, right?
Consider that most of us buy property, casualty and liability insurance, even though we’ve probably never used it. Scanner A will not necessarily perform like scanner B because there is no international specification that standardizes scanner performance.
The motivation to use a scanner is usually driven by cost; the price of a bar code scanner is about a tenth the cost of a bar code verifier. But if it doesn’t actually test the barcode, will savings offset the cost of a quality action, a rejected job, and possibly a lost client relationship?
Wal-Mart and others have rather famously imposed fines for vendors who ship product with poor-performing barcodes, with some fines running in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Using a scanner as a verifier cannot possibly save that much.
When a scanner reads a barcode (or fails to read it), that result is the entire “quality report.”
A bar code scanner is what engineers call a “go—no-go gage.” What it reports pales in comparison to what it doesn’t report.
Is it a high-performing barcode? As the print run continues, is the quality of the barcode drifting toward lower performance? Is it staying the same?
A scanner won’t report any of this until a threshold between “scanning” and “not scanning” is reached. And at that point, a scanner won’t tell you why. Even worse, another scanner might have reached that threshold much earlier, or may have even failed to read the barcodes at the start of the run.
A compliant verifier determines if a barcode is high performing, marginal, or failing by grading the quality of a barcode against nine parameters, any one of which could cause the barcode to perform poorly or fail. Used periodically throughout a print run, a verifier can detect and measure changes in each quality parameter.
A high performing barcode will yield a grade of A or B and can be expected to decode first-time, every time on virtually any scanner. Barcodes with grades of C or D will not decode as easily and may not work at all with some scanners. Barcodes with grades of F might work fine in some scanning environments, but will cause problems with most scanners.
The verification report will provide specific information about why the barcode failed. Vigilant press operators can use verifier reports to tweak press settings, optimize bar code quality, and assure high performing barcodes from start to finish.
High performance barcodes keep customers happy and vendor relationships healthy. That's the kind of quality your business is looking for, isn't it?
A 30-year veteran of the bar code industry, John Nachtrieb and his company Barcode-Test help provide solutions for customers' bar code quality challenges. He assists product managers, package printers, and suppliers by managing bar code related risk, and supporting bar code integrity over the long haul. You can find more of his writing on bar code quality at the Barcode-Test blog.