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Battery-free barcode scanners: Helping boost business

13 September 2018

Battery-free scanners powered by super-capacitors can help boost a business’ productivity and green credentials, explains to Stan Zywicki, general manager, Scanning and Printing, Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions

Handheld cordless barcode scanners have become the norm in a variety of applications, from warehouses to manufacturing facilities. They are light, ergonomic and give users the flexibility they need when handling difficult-to-read codes or large and bulky items. However, they come with one major limitation: their batteries need to be replaced and disposed of on a regular basis. This is where battery-free scanners come into their own.

Reduced downtime

Today, lithium-ion is the most common type of battery used in handheld cordless barcode scanners. When fully charged, a battery-powered scanner will typically work for an eight-hour shift before needing to be recharged. After approximately 500 charge cycles, however, that battery will need to be replaced. At that rate, a battery that is recharged once a day would need to be replaced roughly every 16 months. This causes unwanted waste and hassle, and if the batteries are not replaceable onsite, the scanner needs to be shipped to a service centre, which can lead to further unnecessary costs and downtime.

Super-capacitors offer a solution. Instead of producing power through a chemical reaction like a battery, a super-capacitor includes two plates that serve as electrodes. These plates store energy and nowadays a super-capacitor that is smaller than the average lithium-ion battery can produce enough power to run a traditional handheld scanner.

While early versions of scanners powered by super-capacitors could only hold a charge for a few minutes, the latest models on the market can scan 450 codes on one charge and recharge in less than 30 seconds. Some scanners, such as the battery-free model of Honeywell’s Xenon scanners, have sufficient power to handle more than 100 scans in less than 20 seconds of charge time.

Lower total cost of ownership

If a scanner was expected to remain in service for three years, the battery would need to be replaced twice during its lifecycle, which would add between £60 and £90 to the direct cost of owning the scanner (based on average replacement battery prices). This is in addition to the labour required to replace batteries and dispose of the old ones, the cost of the potential productivity loss from scanner battery failure, and the inventory holding cost of maintaining a stock of spare batteries.

Given the average lifespan of a handheld scanner, its super-capacitor will never need to be replaced. With super-capacitors having a lifespan of at least 500,000 discharge/recharge cycles, a scanner that needed to perform 160 cycles per day, for example, would last more than eight years – over six times longer than standard lithium-ion batteries.

Green credentials 

The use of lithium-ion batteries is a growing environmental concern. They are impractical to recycle because of the effort and expense involved and many end up in landfill or may be disposed of improperly as result. 

Super-capacitors can be discharged and recharged hundreds of thousands of times, which means no batteries ending up in landfill and no replacement purchases to be made. The use of battery-free barcode scanners can help publically demonstrate a company’s dedication to sustainability.

As super-capacitor technology continues to evolve, expect to see broader use across barcode scanners and other handheld devices. Many are unaware that battery-free cordless devices even exist, and that provides a window of opportunity for companies to be at the cutting edge by implementing this green technology into their operations.