Barcode Verification – ISO Verification
What is Barcode Verification?
Just because it looks like a barcode to your eyes does not mean it is a barcode.
Just because your scanner or cell phone can read it does not mean it can be read by all scanners or phones.
And just because your scanner cannot read it does not mean that others can’t read it as well.
That means that if you want your barcode to actually work, you have to check it. It also means that you cannot use a simple scanner to check it. You have to use a tool designed to check it, a barcode verifier. A barcode verifier is an analog instrument designed to follow the ISO methods of inspecting barcodes for print quality characteristics and grading the barcode. Barcode verification is the process of checking a barcode using a verifier. Most corporations have barcode verification as part of their manufacturing process. Most major industries have barcode verification as mandatory in their application standards. It is just good business.
Why Should I Verify?
In many cases the person printing the barcodes does not seem to get any direct benefit from their barcodes being good, bad or somewhere in between. Nobody is complaining too much, it looks pretty good to their eye and it scans for them, so what’s the problem.
Well if it is good (Grade C or better) there most likely is no problem. If it is bad (Grade F or worse) then many scanners will not be able to read it, and the result is lost data, higher costs for the customer, lost productivity, or worse. If it somewhere in between (Grade D) then it may take a few extra seconds to scan it and it will can’t be scanned dependably in an automated warehouse where there are fixed scanners on conveyors or AGV’s.
In other words, you may be making it difficult (costly) for your customers to use your barcodes effectively and you could be building a reputation you really do not want and that may be hard to change.
Mandatory? – Most large supply chains rely on barcode technology as the source for data entered into their systems. It has to work well for the supply chain to work well. Over the years they have learned that poor barcodes create added cost and risk. They also know that they are preventable using barcode verification. As a result, most supply chains now mandate a minimum print quality Grade of C or better. This ISO Grade is now specified for all retail, healthcare, foodservice, defense and most automotive and electronics industries. These communities recognize that a supply chain that really works well is a collaborative effort between trading partners and that the barcodes need to work well to support the effort. They also know that saying ‘We have No Problems’ is not the same as saying ‘We have a corporate standard of ISO Grade of 3 or better and we verify every lot produced’.
The ISO Grading System
- History – The first major open system barcode implementation was retail. The first stores with scanners started appearing in the early 1970’s. During the first 10-15 years there were a lot of issues to iron out. One issue that appeared periodically was that some of the UPC codes scanned OK at some stores and not at others. The existing testing methods simply scanned a UPC 100 times and counted the % of successful scans as the UPC quality grade. Unfortunately, that grade did not correlate with reality. A better testing method had to be found before barcode scanning could move forward. Mathematicians and scientists in the community created a team to tackle the problem. Their work led to the 1990 release of the first barcode print quality inspection process then known as ANSI x3.182. This early work is the basis for all recognized barcode print quality standards published since that time, including ISO.
- How does it work? – there are several parameters that are inspected and graded in each type of barcode. Each parameters resulting grade is used to establish the symbol grade for that specific barcode. The lowest of the parameter grades becomes the symbol grade. Refer to the type you are interested in by clicking on the appropriate link shown below.
What is Application Specification Verification?
Aside from print quality there are other factors that determine how well a barcode based system will actually work. The height of the barcode, the X-Dim, the data encoded, the symbology used, etc. to name a few. These characteristics are usually in what is called an application specification. There are application specifications for retail, healthcare, defense, automotive, electronics, blood banks, etc. You can think of it as another level of verification. It is becoming more important as industries start to use the added data handling capability in 2D barcodes. They can now encode multiple fields in a single barcode and that opens up new important applications for many. However, the multiple fields present a challenge for label design and IT folks because of the complex encoding rules and hidden field separation characters. If you get the format or content wrong it is as bad as a non-scannable barcode. Retail, healthcare and automotive applications requiring multiple field barcodes are on the rise.
What is interoperability?
Many industries allow users to choose between linear or 2D symbologies. Many will use both types to satisfy their disparate customer base. In addition, some will add RFID tagging to accommodate client requirements. These AIDC technologies are expected to work transparently (interoperable) in those industry supply chains.