All About Barcode Scanners
Barcode scanning and generation is a common task in inventory systems. Many of our Tracker Ten apps support barcode scanners. You can check to see if a version of Tracker supports barcode scanning and generation by looking at the feature list. But what exactly are barcodes?
Barcode Numbers Explained
Barcodes are visual representations of strings and numbers that can be easily parsed by computer hardware. They are specially designed to be machine readable, and are called barcodes because they consist of vertical bars with varying spaces. They are found on everything from products in your local store all the way to your passport and other machine-readable documents. They may also be used in applications that you may not first suspect, like healthcare where scanners can be used to track patient medications and files in a hospital.
There are various different types of barcode formats. Determining how to identify types of barcode formats can be tricky, as barcodes usually look very similar to one another. Example barcode formats may include EAN, Industrial, Code 11, Code 128, Code 39, Extended Code, Interleaved and more. Some of these barcodes can only represent numbers, others can represent all ASCII characters. The most common barcode type is probably Code 128, as it’s the easiest to read. For this reason, Code 128 is often considered the best barcode format. All of these formats will employ mechanisms like a check digit. A check digit is just an extra code automatically inserted into a barcode based on the other values in the barcode. When a barcode is scanned, a system can use the check digit to ensure that the barcode has been correctly scanned. Fortunately, as an end user you usually don’t need to understand the various formats, or error correction mechanisms like check digits. Most barcode readers are plug and play, and are able to read any type of barcode.
Types of Barcode Scanners
Barcode scanners may employ two types of mechanisms to scan a barcode. The first method is laser scanning. Laser scanning detects the spaces between the bars in a barcode through the reflection of light. The second method is linear imaging. This method simply takes a picture of a barcode, then uses computer algorithms to analyze the image. You are probably aware of linear imaging already – it’s the basis behind QR Codes. QR codes and Barcodes are actually very similar. They are both visual representations of data. The main difference is that the a QR code is designed to be parsed by your phone or mobile device, while a barcode is designed to be parsed by a specialized scanner.
Barcodes are so common now a days, that you can look up barcode values in central Barcode APIs. These APIs will take barcode values and translate them to the name of the products that the barcodes are associated with. The barcode values will typically represent a “GSIN” or a goods and services identification number, that are valid globally. If you are using your barcodes just for internal use your probably do not need a GSIN. However, if you wish your barcodes to be linked to your products world-wide, you will need to get a unique number to represent your item from an organization like GS1. Getting this number will incur additional costs and expenses, and it will not always be worthwhile. And a gs1 barcode generator is no different then an ordinary barcode generator. In fact, if you already have GS1 numbers, our Tracker Ten software can generate globally recognized GS1 barcode images, and scan existing GS1 codes as needed. If you don’t need your barcodes to be recognized globally, Tracker Ten can automatically generate unique barcodes for you, free of charge, that will be fine for your internal use.
Barcode scanners are typically handheld devices but occasionally you may also run into a fixed barcode scanner or a fixed mount barcode scanner. For example, your local grocery checkout may use an in-counter barcode scanner. The advantage of these devices is that they are hands free. Obviously, the disadvantage is that the product needs to be brought to the scanner, instead of the scanner being moved to the product. Therefore fixed scanners will usually only work for smaller items. These types of fixed barcode scanners are made my companies like Honeywell, DataLogic and Keyence. They are often part of sophisticated point of sale systems.
Consumer Barcode scanners may be wireless or corded, and are made by companies like Symbol and Zebra. They can come in rugged industrial housings for heavy duty warehouse or retail store use, or they can be designed for light duty office or home use. Barcode scanners come in a variety of price ranges from very inexpensive to thousands of dollars. More expensive barcode scanners may come with screens and displays, and will work as mini terminals or handheld computers. For most applications an inexpensive barcode scanner is fine. However, if you often need to scan damaged or dirty barcodes, you may need to invest in a more expensive model.
Most scanners these days plug directly into your USB port and do not require any special drivers (even cordless scanners often have a base that plugs into the USB port of your computer). Older scanners may rely on other mechanisms to communicate with your computer like ethernet or serial ports. Barcode scanners are often produced in hardware factories in China, Taiwan, India and the United states. These days, it typically doesn’t matter where you buy your barcode scanner from, as your scanner is likely to have a USB connector that can plug directly into your computer. These scanners typically also employ something called a “keyboard wedge” interface. This simply means that the scanner will transmit information to your computer in the same way that your keyboard transmits information. In fact, your computer will not be able to tell the difference between keyboard input and scanner input, as the data will be transmitted to your computer in the same manner. Our Tracker Ten software will work with any USB scanner that has a “keyboard wedge” interface.
Portable wireless scanners may also work in a few different ways. First, they may transmit a barcode to a base station attached to your computer in real time (please note newer scanners may not even require a base station – instead they may communicate with your computer using built in Bluetooth interfaces). In this case, from the computers point of view it’s no different then having a barcode scanner attached directly to your computer. Alternatively, a wireless barcode scanner may scan barcodes into the memory of the scanner. These barcodes will only be transmitted to your computer when the system syncs with your scanner. This type of system will typically require some custom programming on your inventory software. For Tracker Ten we can provide this custom programming for an additional charge. Contact us for additional details.
Using Barcode To Track Incoming and Outgoing Stock
If you would like to use barcode scanners to help you keep track of your incoming and outgoing inventory, please have a look at our Tracker Ten for Inventory Control and Tracker Ten for Stock Rooms products. Our all-in-one systems will let you inexpensively unlock the power of barcodes. And if you need a custom barcode scanning solution, please feel free to contact us.