The barcode – inexpensive and effective
In an interview, Peter Altes, Managing Director of the AIM-D e.V. association, explains the operating principle and possible applications of AutoID, i.e. automatic identification.
AutoID has long been an issue. Was it about packaging right from the start?
The packaging sector was certainly one of the first areas to deal with AutoID. The barcode, patented back in 1952, has already been in use for decades in logistics (packaging units) and in the consumer sector, for example to label and identify products in supermarkets.
What information does the barcode on products provide?
The barcode usually provides information about the manufacturer, the production location, the batch, possibly about the supplier and the production date. Information such as product quality, ingredients, etc. is provided in text form on the packaging.
What are the benefits of this data when it is read? – for example, when it is read with a mobile data acquisition device, (MDE device)?
First of all, the barcodes enable clear product identification. Barcode capture via mobile data capture devices, in short MDE devices, i.e. scanners, and later via the stationary scanner at the checkout, however, only provide interesting data if these captures are linked in a database system.
What usable data are involved?
After the collection on different levels, for example single product, 20-pack, or pallet and so on, I can first cumulate. I can, of course, define the respective counting units such as package or pallet myself.
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If individual products then pass over a checkout scanner, they are also automatically entered in the database with the corresponding quantity as well as time and date of sale. On the one hand, this enables me to derive the data from stock management. Thus I receive exact stock figures and consequently know when I have to reorder. On the other hand, I can establish how many units of a certain product I have sold in what periods of time, such as specific days or months. This makes it possible to control purchasing planning for specific products intelligently.
Are there any other benefits?
Yes, as in other industries, tracking and tracing also play an important role in the consumer sector. By tracking products that are clearly identified and recorded via barcodes, I can determine where they are, for instance during transport operations. Everyone is familiar with this from tracking parcel shipments, for example.
Tracing, on the other hand, enables me to determine where certain products come from. This is currently an issue with fresh produce in supermarkets, for example. On the other hand, if a delivered batch contained products with problems, such as contamination, and the producer therefore recalls them, I can use the barcodes to clearly identify the problematic products and remove them before they cause any damage.
Does the barcode have any disadvantages compared with other AutoID applications?
Yes, the barcode is limited because it has to be visible and also because it can always only be read individually. Consequently, it does not allow fast bulk reading. This only works with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification).
RFID evidently enables more complex applications. Nevertheless, the barcode appears to be the most widely used method in the field of AutoID.
In quantitative terms, the barcode is certainly the most widespread and most common AutoID application. After all, it can be found on all products (food and non-food) in retailing and wholesaling, on postal items, pallets, containers and so on. Especially in the case of low-priced mass products, where only scanning is involved, i.e. pure product identification with tiny data volumes, the barcode is unbeatable due to its low price. But RFID is in the process of catching up fast, because in addition to the already mentioned limitation of the barcode, there is a trend towards more complex data links.
Peter Altes is Managing Director of AIM-D e.V., founded in 1994. AIM-D e.V. is an independent association and as AIM-Chapter responsible for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Founded in the USA in 1973, AIM is a global network of technology companies, service providers, system partners and R&D institutions in the AutoID sector that offer solutions and services for automatic identification (AutoID) technologies and mobile systems.