Barcodes

History

It was Norman Woodland and Bernard Silver who invented this technology. They began in 1948 trying to answer a request to create a system to automatically read product information during checkout for a local food chain, in Philadelphia.

Their first working system was a failure, they used ultraviolet ink that faded easily and was expensive, but they didn’t give up. The first successful system was based on Morse code, on which Woodland created his first barcode. Later on, he decided to print as a circle instead of a line, allowing it to be scanned in any direction. Both systems got patented in 1952, taking over 20 years for it to become commercially successful.

The first ones to use it were the Association of American Railroads, in the late 1960’s, who used it to identify railroad rolling stock. But this wasn’t very successful and 10 years later they stop using it. It was in the supermarket checkout systems that this technology started being successful, becoming almost universal use that extends until today (with variants of the design of the barcode itself). The barcode currently used for tracking trade items is the Universal Product Code (UPC), first used in 1974 on a pack of chewing gum.

What is it?

A barcode is a form of displaying information in a visual, machine-readable form.

The oldest type of barcodes are referred as linear or one dimensional (1D). These represent data by varying the widths and spacings of parallel lines.

Later on, two dimensional barcodes were developed, these use geometric patterns, such as rectangles, dots, hexagons and others. These are called matrix codes or 2D barcodes.

How does it work?

To use a 1D barcode system you need 3 things: a central computer running a database (this database keeps all the data you need), the barcodes (can come pre-printed or you need to print them with a barcode printer) and a barcode reader

The barcode is encoded with data associated to our database, so when using the barcode reader/scanner you will be able to access all the information about this specific product/item.

The reader consists in an illumination system, a sensor and a decoder. So, the sensor in the barcode reader detects the reflected light from the illumination system (the red light) and generates an analog signal that is sent to the decoder. The decoder interprets that signal, validates the barcode using the check digit, and converts it into text. The converted text is then delivered to the computer that associates to the data in the database.

Using application tools, the 2D barcodes can be read or deconstructed on mobile devices with built-in cameras, like our smartphones.

Barcodes Usages

This system is widely used in many contexts around the world, such as healthcare, entertainment and many other industries.

For example, in books barcodes are pre-printed to encode their ISBN, in hospital they’re used to access patient data and medication management. UPC barcodes are pre-printed on most items from a grocery store, except fresh produce items. And their even used to track objects and people (airline luggage, registered mail, tickets and others).

Benefits

Barcodes have been very useful in different industries has they can be a cost and time effective method that improves efficiency through various reasons as:

-Eliminating human error from manually entered data.

-Scanning a barcode is fast and reliable.

-Reduces employee training time and cost as it’s simple and fast to use.

-Inexpensive to design and print.

-Effective inventory control, reducing time for search and costs for losses.

-Data obtained through barcodes are immediately available on the database, as they are scanned directly to it.

Types of 1D Barcodes

Security

Barcodes can be easily replicated but has the magnetic stripe, the systems that use them need to be prepared to ensure it’s secure.

For example, the most common barcode to be used in payments QR Code but it’s used exclusively as a tool that is used to exchange information. All the data that is transferred via QR Codes is encrypted and this makes it secure.

What is it?

It was designed by the International Article Numbering Association (EAN) in Europe and is used by most of the European countries.

It’s a superset of the original 12-digit UPC system, such that any software or hardware used to read EAN-13 is capable of reading UPC-A symbol.

 

Composition

13 digits by this order:

  • 2 digits – Country Code (Number System
  • 5 digits – Manufacturer ID (Mfg Code)
  • 5 digits – Product Code
  • 1 check digit
  • Note: Country Code can need 3 digits, when this happens the Manufacturer ID has 4 digits.

     

    Usage

    Used worldwide for marking products often sold in retail and points of sales.

    What is it?

    This type of barcode is based on the EAN-13 code and it’s purpose is to occupy as little space as possible. There is a limited number of this type of codes, so they are only issued for products with insufficient space for the EAN-13 barcode, that’s why Manufacturers need to apply to be able to use this type of code.

     

    Composition

    8 digits by this order:

  • 2 digits – Country Code
  • 5 digits – Product Number
  • 1 check digit.
  •  

    Usage

    Products where with limited space, like candies, cigarettes, pencils and others.
    Can also be used to encode RCN-8s (8-digit Restricted Circulation Numbers) used to identify own-brand products sold in their stores.
    Major application industry:

  • Retail
  • What is it?

    Created by IBM in 1971, UPC-A code is STD version in USA and Canada for all consumable and expendable goods offered in wholesale and retail businesses. It is very similar to the EAN-13 code.

     

    Composition

    12 digits by this order:

  • 1 digit – System Indicator
  • 5 digits – Manufacturer number
  • 5 digits – Product number
  • 1 check digit.
  •  

    Usage

    Used widely all over the world for scanning of trade items ate the point of sale

  • Retail
  • Warehousing
  • What is it?

    UPC-E is a compressed version of the UPC-A which allows for a more compact barcode by compressing unnecessary 0’s, designed for low-volume products. The information stored is the same in both types of codes.

     

    Composition

    6 digits.

     

    Usage

    Small products with limited space.
    Major application industry:

  • Retail
  • Warehousing
  • What is it?

    Developed in 1986 by the Identicon Corporation, the Industrial 2 of 5 code belongs to the“2 of 5”family.
    The name “2 of 5” is due to the fact that 5 bar digits are encoded, two are wide and the rest are narrow.
    The barcode gaps exist only to distinguish the bars from each other.

     

    Composition

    This code has a variable width.
    It can be composed by:

  • 10 digits [0 to 9]
  • 1 Start and 1 Stop character (automatically generated by the “Visual Bar Code Designer”)
  • Check digit (optional)
  •  

    Usage

    Major application industry:

  • Transporting
  • Warehouse
  • What is it?

    Developed in 1972 by Intermec, based on the Industrial 2 of 5, this code offers a higher density numeric symbol compared to the Industrial variant. It’s more efficient and allows to encode in both bars and spaces.

     

    Composition

    This type of code has a variable width but needs to be encoded with an even number of numeric values.
    It can be composed by:

  • 10 digits [0 to 9]
  • And the start/stop character automatically generated by the “Visual Bar Code Designer”
  • Check digit (Optional)
  •  

    Usage

    Major application industry:

  • Packaging
  • Logistics
  • What is it?

    Developed in 1972, Codabar is a discrete, self-checking symbol that has many variations of itself.

     

    Composition

    Codabar codes have a variable length, being the only limitation defined by the width available for print.
    It can be composed by:

  • 10 digits [0 to 9]
  • 6 special characters (“-” “$” “:” “ / ” “ + ”    “ .” )
  • 4 start/stop characters: [ABCD] – these must be used in matching pairs
  • Check digit (Optional)
  •  

    Usage

    It’s very common to be used in libraries.
    Major application industry:

  • Logistics
  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • What is it?

    Often referred to as USD-8, Code 11 is a high-density discrete symbol developed by Intermec in 1977.

     

    Composition

    It can be composed by:

  • [0 to 9] numeric digits
  • Special character ‘-’ (dash)
  • 1 or 2 check digits can be included.
  •  

    Usage

    Major application industry:

  • Telecommunications
  • What is it?

    In 1974, code 39 is the first alphanumeric symbol created by Intermec, with variable length and discrete barcode technology.

     

    Composition

    43 maximum characters.
    Can be composed by:

  • Uppercase letters [A to Z]
  • Numeric digits [0 to 9]
  • Special characters ( “-” “.” “$” “/” “+” “%” “space” )
  • “*” is used for both Start and Stop delimiters
  •  

    Usage

    Still widely used, especially in non-retail environments.
    STD barcode for USA’s Department of Defense and the Health Bar Code Council (HIBCC).
    Major application industry:

  • Government
  • Manufacturing
  • Logistics
  • Postal
  • Medical
  • Automotive
  • Defense
  • What is it?

    Developed in 1982 by Intermec, Code 93 came as a complement and improvement upon 39. Both codes are very similar, but what differs in Code 93 is that it’s a continuous symbol and produces a much denser code. This reflects on the fact that label that use Code 93 are around 25% shorter than the one that use Code 39.

     

    Composition

    Code 93 is capable of encoding 47 characters in one code.
    In STD version it can be composed with:

  • Uppercase letters [A to Z]
  • Digits [0 to 9]
  • Special characters ( “*” “-” “$” “%” “.” “/” “+” )
  • In Extended version it can support Full ASCII characters (128 characters)
  • Check digit (obligatory)
  •  

    Usage

    Major application industry:

  • Postal
  • Retail
  • Manufacturing
  • Logistics
  • What is it?

    Result from a Computer Identics design and Automatic Identification Manufacturers, Inc., Code 128 is very popular in industry and stores. Its name comes from the fact that it supports the 128 characters from ASCII.
    These codes are compact and have high density.

     

    Composition

    These codes have a variable width
    Can be composed by:

  • ASCII characters
  • Check Digit (obligatory)
  •  

    Usage

    Major application industry:

  • Transporting
  • Shipping
  • Tracking
  • What is it?

    Databar is a group of linear symbols used in GS1 barcode system.
    There are 3 types of GS1 Databar symbols and 7 Databar variations.

    The 7 variations are divided per each one of the 3 types:

    First Group (has 4 variations):

    • Databar Omnidirectional
      • Used at point-of-sale
      • Capacity – 14 numeric digits
    • Databar Truncated
    • Databar Stacked
    • Databar Stacked Omnidirectional
      • Used at point-of-sale
      • Capacity – 14 numeric digits

    Second Group (1 variation)

  • Databar Limited
  •  

    Third Group – Expanded (2 variations)

    • Databar Expanded
      • Used at point-of-sale
      • Capacity – max. 74 numeric / 41 alphabetic
    • Databar Expanded Stacked
      • Used at point-of-sale
      • Capacity – max. 74 numeric / 41 alphabetic

     

    Composition

    Composition:

    • The First and Second groups can be composed by:
      • Numeric digits [0 to 9]
        • Although the Second groups First digit is restricted to digits ‘1’ and ‘0’.
      • The 3rd group can be composed by:
        • GS1 AI encodable character set 82

    Usage:

    • Typically found on fresh produce labels.
    • Major application industry:
      1. Retail

    Types of  2D Barcordes

    What is it?

    The QR  Code is a type of matrix (2D) barcode that was developed by Denso Wave (Toyota Subsidiary) in 1994 for the Automotive Japanese industry, in order to ease the management of their components.

    It was designed to allow high-speed component scanning and can be red in all 360º position of the code and has a high data density.

     

    Composition

    Supports full ASCII character

    Encoding capacity:

      • 7,089 Numeric digits
      • 4,296 Alphanumeric characters (uppercase letters only)
      • 2,953 Binary/Byte (8-bit)
      • 1,817 Kanji characters (13-bit) – not supported by the GS1 System
      • 4 levels of error correction

    Note: Even if a QR Code is broken, it can still be read correctly, thanks to its 4 levels of error correction.

     

    Usage

    Used in payments codes, website logins, data encryption and others.

    1. Retail
    2. Entertainment
    3. Advertising

     

    What is it?

    Developed by Symbol Technologies Inc. in 1991, this barcode is a type of stacked linear barcode. It consists of 3 to 90 rows and each row consists in 1 small 1D barcode.

    The name PDF417 is based on the initials of Portable Data File and on the structure of the code, so each pattern consists of 4 bars and spaces and each pattern is 17 units long.

     

    Composition

  • Supports full ASCII characters + 772 extended special characters.
  • Obligatory start character
  • Optional stop character
  • Select 1 of 9 different error correction levels
  •  

    Usage

    • Id cards, inventory management, and others
    • Major application industry:
      1. Transport
      2. Logistics
      3. Warehousing
      4. Government

    What is it?

    Launched in 1994 Data Matrix is a 2D code that supports advanced encoding error checking and correcting algorithms. This means that even if these barcodes are up to 60% damaged, they can still be recognized, so they’re perfect for use in situations where there is a big possibility of suffering damage.

    This type of barcode has another great characteristic, they can be adjusted in terms of size. It can be as small as 2.5 mm meanwhile this feature is independent from the encoded data capacity.

     

    Composition

    Supports full ASCII
    Optional error codes
    Default mode stores up to:

      • 2,335 alphanumeric characters
      • 1,556 8-bit byte characters
      • 3,116 numeric digits

     

    Usage

    Popular use for labeling small items, such as small electronic components and pill bottles.

    Major application industry:

      1. Electronics
      2. Retail
      3. Government
      4. Marketing
      5. Post
      6. Medical

    What is it?

    This type of barcode combines both GS1 system linear symbol and a 2D Composite Component into a single symbology. When printed, the 2D Composite Component stays above the linear component and they are separated by a separator pattern.

     

    Composition

  • Supports:
      • GS1 AI encodable character set 82
      • FNC1
      • Symbol separator character
    • Capacity:
      • Linear component:
        • GS1-128 symbol: up to 48 digits
        • EAN/UPC symbol: 8, 12, or 13 digits
        • GS1 DataBar Expanded symbol: up to 74 digits
        • Other GS1 DataBar Symbols: 16 Digits.
      • 2D Composite Component:
        • CC-A: up to 56 digits
        • CC-B: up to 338 digits
        • CC-C: up to 2,361 digits
      • Error detection:
        • Linear component: a modulo check value
        • 2D Composite Component: fixed or variable of Reed-Solomon error correction codewords (depends on the specific 2D Composite Component).

    Usage

    Used on fresh produce labels.
    Major application industry:

  • Labels
  • What is it?

    MaxiCode is a 2D code developed by United Parcel Service in 1989 to create a system that enabled quicker identification, follow-up and sorting of parcels. This code is very well suitable for tracking and managing shipments of packages, as it can encode information such as purchase order number, customer reference, invoice number, tracking number and indicator of the originating carrier.

     

    Composition

  • Supports ASCII characters and some country specific characters.
  • It can store up to 93 characters of information.
  • Up to 8 MaxiCode symbols can be chained together to allow more data storage.
  •  

    Usage

  • Mainly used for shipping labels of US domestic and international packages.
  • Major application industry:
      • Postal

    What is it?

    Aztec codes use less space due to its lack of quiet zone. This characteristic makes of this code the ideal choice in scenario where there is limited space.

     

    Composition

    Supports full ASCII
    This type of code supports a maximum of 32 layers that can store up to:

  • 3,832 digits
  • 3,067 letters
  • 1,914 bytes
  • Check words recommended 23% of symbol capacity + 3 codewords.
  •  

    Usage

    Used in transport ticketing (railways and airplane tickets)
    Major application industry:

    1. Transportation
    2. Government
    3. Commercial