Thanks to the wonders of modern barcode reader technology, even poorly printed barcodes can be scanned and read without too much difficulty. But what happens if your customer doesn’t have the latest in scanners? How can you be sure that your barcodes will scan correctly with any old barcode reader? If you sell into the retail supply chain, you might have noticed that the big retail companies love to backcharge their suppliers when barcodes don’t scan.
As it happens, there is a standard for linear barcode quality – if we all ensure our barcodes meet the spec, we can rest assured that they will scan correctly.
The Standard for linear barcodes is ANSI/ISO 15416-1 and complying with this will remove most potential barcode problems.
Those of us who print labels in the defense supply chain are used to verifying barcodes. It is standard practice to ensure compliance to MIL-STD-130 by verifying the UID Datamatrix barcodes. Several manufacturers (we use Microscan in our print lab) have produced verifiers especially for this task.
One thing that is interesting is the fact that I’ve never known anyone verify the linear Code 39 or Code 128 barcodes that are often printed on MIL-STD-130 labels. As the Standard states clearly:
188.8.131.52 Linear bar code quality.
For acceptance, the symbol shall have a minimum print quality of 3.0/05/660, where the minimum grade is 3.0, measured with an aperture size of 0.005 inch (0.127 mm) (for EAN/UPC symbol the aperture size used is 0.006 inch (0.152 mm) (3.0/06/660)) with a light source wavelength of 660 nm in accordance with ISO/IEC 15416. For imager based verifier devices, synthetic aperture shall be used. The methodology for measuring the print quality shall be as specified in ISO/IEC 15416.
Despite this we all (and I have to include myself in this) tend to use the scan/beep/ship approach when printing these labels. I think this lackadaisical approach is due to the fact these barcode are someone optional on MIL-STD-130 labels. I did however have an interesting conversation with a DCMA QA rep a few years ago. I argued that since the Code 39 barcodes were optional, it didn’t matter that she couldn’t scan them (they were laser etched onto stainless steel and very hard to scan). Her view was that since the barcodes were there they needed to be correct to the Standard. She was right, of course!
One of the issues with linear barcode verification is that the equipment needed to do this is not as readily available as our trusty scanners. Also, because it is quite expensive, no-one wants to buy it unless they have to.
For years, we’ve sold the RJS verifiers (maybe a half dozen that I can remember) and all the sales have been to companies that have a chargeback problem from a Wal-Mart or Target. Nice thing with these verifiers is that there is a version that can be interfaced with the label printer to check the codes as the labels are printed.
Another old faithful product was the Handheld Products QuickCheck which is now discontinued, without a replacement – I assume Honeywell, the current owner of Handheld, doesn’t see a growing market for verification.
So what options are there for someone needing to verify barcodes?
Want to learn more? This article by John Nachtrieb might well be helpful. John’s site has a ton of good info on barcode quality control and his blog is a great read.
GS1 also have a good document on Linear Barcode Verification – get it here.
If you have a barcode problem and need help, give me a call – 603-598-1553 x237. A barcocde verifier might be what you need to get things back under control.