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Barcode Systems: Reading, Tracking and Scanning

Barcode Systems: Reading, Tracking and Scanning

Overview of Barcode Systems

Barcode systems rely on the same core technology whether they are used in tracking products in a small business or to move military hardware around the world. The level of complexity and specific type of barcode system will depend upon its use. But any system will be based around three tasks - generating the codes, printing them, and reading them.


In its simplest form, the generation process can involve converting numbers or text into barcodes using a word-processing application such as MS Word on a home computer. Fonts make this a very easy process that is suitable for small businesses where a small number of barcodes for internal use is required. If a barcoded product is to be scanned externally, for example in a shop, the barcode must conform to a standard. Different standards exist for different classes of products and unique numbers are allocated by the relevant regulatory authority. In Europe many products in the retail business use EAN barcodes and numbers for products are allocated by EAN International.

Once you have a barcode for a particular item it must be printed in such a way that it can be understood by scanners anywhere. This means that your chosen barcode system must be able to produce a clearly printed barcode, and often on a robust surface if it is to be readable for any length of time. Small operations can accomplish this using low-end desktop printers. But many barcode systems need to print higher volumes of barcode labels, and dedicated barcode label printers are better suited to this task. Many can also print onto tougher materials which will withstand heavy wear. For specialist applications external suppliers will print barcodes onto metal or ceramic labels.

Today's Reading and Scanning Systems

Reading devices, known as scanners, provide the means to get the data contained in a barcode into a computer. All of these use light-sensing technology to convert the series of bars and blank spaces into intelligible information. On a small scale, wand-type readers use a small LED passed over the barcode to produce a variable reflected signal which is then decoded into information. At an industrial level large laser scanners can read barcodes from many meters away, on a conveyor belt for example, with consistent accuracy. The scanners at supermarket checkouts are probably the most familiar type of barcode systems around, and are integrated into a customized computer system for maximum efficiency.

The Barcode Software used to interpret barcode data is also important to any barcode system and, in all but the most basic applications, is tailored to a particular use using specific hardware. As with the other aspects of barcoding, however, the entry level is easily accessible, with simple consumer database applications being able to handle low volumes of data. Many can be implemented very easily in small work environments, or they can be installed on a large scale in industry and the same products can pass through both systems - conformity in labelling and accuracy in reading keep the whole thing working.