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Solutions for Barcode Quality Aren’t Black and White

A post by 'The Ink Type’ for the inkjet Ink company 'Kao Collins Inc.' has researched the history behind the bar code and analysed the quality of it. The invention of the bar code was an innovative one, particularly for the field of marking and coding and back in 1952 it was granted a patent. This meant that the owners Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver were given the legal right to prohibit others from making and using their invention. Woodland and Silver paved the way for the future of linking an image code to a price or other data. This was by filing for the patent describing both the linear (borrowing elements from Morse code and movie soundtrack technologies) and bull’s-eye bar code systems in 1949.

1932: Supermarkets were exploring an easier way to track products sold and bring together inventories. Wallace Flint, a Harvard business student, suggested a punch-card system, similar to the one for the 1890 U.S. Census. This idea never came to completion, as the system was costly.

1948: Bernard Silver, a graduate student at Drexel Institute, overhears the president of a major food company and a dean discussing research on automatically collecting product information at the supermarket checkout. Silver relays what he had heard to his friend and classmate, Norman Joseph Woodland. Captivated by this idea, Woodland begins conducting research.

1952: Woodland and Silver build the first bar code reader. That same year, the patent for the bar code system is granted.

1973: The Universal Product Code (UPC) is introduced, setting the stage for bar codes to take off.

1974: At a Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio, a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum is the first retail product sold using a bar code scanner.

1994: QR Codes are created by Toyota subsidiary, Denso Wave, to aid in more quickly tracking vehicles and parts.

2004: 80 to 90 percent of the top 500 companies in the United States use bar codes, according to Fortune magazine.

The business of marking and coding products with bar code designs should reach $7 billion by 2024. Few products these days do not have bar codes, it varies from consumer goods to pharmaceutical products. The key products fuelling the bar code demand are food and beverage (FMGG) fast moving consumer goods. 

Due to the demand on dependable bar codes, it makes quality bar codes very vital. The marking icon seems simple, a set of simple lines and/or shapes printed in black typically. However, there is a significance in the structure and design of it that is often overlooked. For example, imagine the fury and disruption that would be caused if global supply chains such as UPS, FedEx and Amazon had problems with the quality of their bar codes and how they scan. It would cause a delay in receiving your product. 

Bar codes have a requirement to be printed consistently so that they can have a high quality for scanning. The quality depends on a multitude of things. This includes printing resolution, ink and contrast, the substrate, the printing environment and the bar code design. 

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) established bar code standards in partnership with the uniform council in 1990. Initially, these standards deviated from standards in Europe, but currently it is more universal. To further attain bar code quality, some fields have created unique standards. (The pharmaceutical industry, military and air transport companies.)

Trouble with barcode quality is the ultimate issue in the barcode industry. Which In turn as previously discussed, impacts a staggering quantity of other industries. Poorly printed barcodes involves all printing processes and prevents them being in sync. The substrate impacts the success of the scan, alongside the ink. This is why the substrate can cause scan failure. The main issue is that there can’t be any contrasts between the ‘dark’ bars and the ‘light’ spaces.

For example, you can think of the example provided by Collins: "While aluminium cans, for example, may appear to have the necessary contrast, the light reflection or dispersion from the metallic surface may compromise the scan."

Additionally, Printing resolution is another factor that may cause a scanning malfunction for the barcode. Printer dpi defines the resolution of the barcode. Higher-resolution printers produce sharper images with well-defined edges. A barcode can be designed and engineered to build a higher margin of error. The inks, substrates, speed, and other factors all contribute to developing a barcode to increase success. Printing consistent bar codes requires adherence to strict controls. All the components must be matched to achieve optimum results.  Evidently, there is a lot more detail in barcodes which is disregarded.