The term “high performance” associated with a bar code usually equates to a very high, nearly 100% first-read rate. That of course is the upper limit of how good a bar code could possibly be with respect to the quality of the printed symbol. But a high performance bar code is more than that.
In my collection of interesting bar codes is a file of poorly-performing symbols with ISO verification grades of 2.5 to 4.0 (ANSI B’s and A’s). The print quality is superb but the symbols failed for a variety of reasons.
Then of course there are bar codes with low ISO verification grades where the print quality is poor and the symbols fail to scan.
There are other more subtle ways to sabotage a high performance bar code. If a product is sometimes retailed in carton quantities, such as in a big box store, but at other times broken down and sold in units within the carton, package printers have been known to dual-mark the carton with both an ITF-14 (GTIN-14) and a UPC (GTIN-12).
We can usually rely on the ITF-14 representing the case — but what does the UPC represent – the case, the sale unit? If the store scanner decodes both symbols, the customer is charged for the case plus what? If the store scanner only decodes the UPC, the customer is charged for what? What was sold and what is logged for inventory replenishment?
Bar code performance, it has been argued, is strictly a print quality issue. I disagree. A bar code is a tool, intended to perform a specific and important task. Failure to perform that task for any reason is a performance failure.
Here is a short list of attributes of a high performance bar code:
Print quality gets the most attention but in truth, every process and procedure that touches the bar code determines the level of quality. The definition of “quality” must encompass not just the symbol itself but also the task for which it is intended. A high performance bar code is part of a much larger process than the symbol on the box.
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.
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