Working in the Auto ID industry for over 30 years I have seen the rise of barcode technology and more recently, the advent of RFID and 2D codes coming to the fore. With finances tight at the current time, it is even more important that well informed decisions are made when considering which technology you will employ, to gain the maximum business advantage and future proof your IT system.
In this article I hope to outline the main technology’s strengths and limitations.
1. Barcode; this is the most established technology by far and barcoding’s success in automating accurate data input is well documented. Wide usage has resulted in a range of very affordable readers and terminals and innovative label designs such as the oblique labels for racking to prevent incorrect scanning of labels. The technology is well proven with a range of international standards supporting global adoption. In addition, readers are relatively inexpensive and barcode is a well proven technology.
However barcodes can only carry a limited data and usually rely on a remote database to provide information. Apart from very basic systems, they cannot therefore be stand alone data carriers.
2. 2D codes; these can be split into 2 types- stacked and matrix codes;
a. Stacked codes; these are literally multilevel barcode symbols and are used widely in the shipping industry. Readable with many standard barcode readers, these symbols can encode over 2000 characters in one symbol and are a printed, portable data file! 2D codes also encode all ASCII characters so can for example, hold photographic images on driving licenses.
b. Matrix codes; are a complete image and only readable using 2D image readers. With the advent of the mobile phone camera, reading systems which use the same digital imaging technology have become increasingly less expensive and matrix codes are advancing in use at an ever accelerating rate.
As unlike stacked codes, 2D matrix are read as a total image, this has several advantages;
1. More data can be stored in a smaller image.
2. Due to error correction many 2D codes can be read when as much as 60% of the image is damaged or hidden.
3. As the reading system is photographic, multiple codes can be read at the same time in seconds -up to 100 codes in applications we are currently working with.
4. As this is an image based reading system, an electronic proof of packing and quantity can also be recorded at the same time. In addition faulty symbols can be easily identified from the image which high-lights non-reading codes.
5. While 2D codes are just appearing in industry and logistics markets, many standard mobiles will read 2D codes as they are being used more widely for marketing and customer feedback campaigns.
This technology seen as new and ‘sexy’ is rapidly gaining ground and will develop new markets for logistics over the coming years. The RFID tag can carry up to 1250 characters and be read and importantly, written to with new data.
While a more expensive option than barcode or 2D codes, this means that an RFID enabled item can for example become a smart tote or pallet, with the ability to be interrogated from as far away as 4 metres. Also the tag can be reused so can be a multi trip item. There are however some restrictions on the use of standard RFID tags where metal or liquids are present. Advice on frequency, tag types and reading devices is available from inotec.
Conclusion & Further Information
With so many options, choosing the right technology is even more critical. The good news is that International standards are in place for all these Auto ID options. It should also be remembered that other technologies such as voice and vision systems can also be incorporated ensuring improved performance, accuracy and speed demanded in modern logistics installations.
If you require more information, a full DVD of our Logistics Link South presentation covering the above technologies and including a diagnostic session is available free of charge.