2D or not 2D?

25 January 2013

Mark Beauchamp of Citizen Systems Europe, explores the benefits of two dimensional (2D) barcodes in the warehouse environment and details how the latest scanning and printer technology makes it simple for companies to imp

Mark Beauchamp of Citizen Systems Europe, explores the benefits of two dimensional (2D) barcodes in the warehouse environment and details how the latest scanning and printer technology makes it simple for companies to implement cradle-to-grave traceability of parts and assemblies

Although 2D barcodes have been around for some time, they have until recently been seen as a relatively specialised solution. However, following acceptance by GS1, the body responsible for the international standards used for traditional UPC/EAN codes, the rate of uptake of 2D barcodes has increased significantly.

Often referred to as portable databases, 2D barcodes have the capacity to store a wealth of information that can be used to drive decisions and processes, whichß traditional technologies simply could not provide.With the ability to manage both stacked and composite 2D barcodes, the GS1 system allows encoding of standardised application identifiers, with batch codes, time stamps and expiry dates, while enabling enhanced security via authentication and traceability.

Furthermore, 2D technologies can provide this information without the need for remote database access. For example, personnel in a warehouse can simply scan a 2D barcode on a component using a handheld device to get all the identification information needed, helping to improve efficiency and streamline many manual processes.

The system has a number of benefits in a diverse range of applications throughout industry for automated routing and assembly, work in process tracking, data entry for quality control testing, product genealogy and lifetime tracking. 2D barcodes provide reliable performance even on curved surfaces and can be produced at extremely small sizes, making them suitable for use with particularly compact or irregularly shaped objects and components.

2D barcode technology can play an important role in preventing problems, such as fraud, without the need to invest in new IT and RFID systems. For example, cost savings can be realised by minimising the problem of counterfeiting through the use of 2D barcodes for product tracking and identification. This technology allows the process to be achieved at minimal cost and has the additional benefit of helping to protect brand integrity and providing greater data management.

The rate of uptake has been increased still further with the introduction both of new area imaging scanning systems and, just as importantly, new rugged mobile and portable printing systems. These can be used as centralised static devices or be carried by, for example, quality inspectors and warehouse staff, for labelling parts and assemblies during handling and storage procedures, as well as prior to dispatch.

For example, the latest specialised printers feature all metal mechanisms and robust plastic casings, allowing them to operate effectively over long service lives in even the most demanding commercial applications.

They have also been manufactured with all major components, including the power supply, Ethernet connection and wireless LAN, housed within the printer casing, providing a compact, reliable and safe solution that avoids trailing cables.

To ensure maximum productivity, the printers have a number of features to make them simple and fast to use. For example, a vertically opening design makes it easy to access the inside of the printer for media and ribbon loading, while keeping the dimensions of the units to an absolute minimum. Both media and ribbons can be changed in seconds, with little risk of jamming or tangling, reducing the risk of errors and leaving staff free to focus on more important tasks.

In particular, this latest generation of printers can accommodate various media types and sizes, meaning that 2D barcodes can be printed on extremely small labels and on plastic substrates and metal tags, as well as traditional paper labels.

To increase the efficiency of printing systems still further, inline validation systems are now available that can be integrated into the latest printers to check labels as they are printed. This provides a reliable and cost effective method of ensuring print quality is maintained. If a problem is detected, possibly as a result of contamination or print head degradation, an alarm is activated, alerting users and allowing operations to continue.

In recent years, there has been a shift in the perceptions held about 2D barcode technology; more companies are realising the benefits that can be gained. Driven equally by the introduction of ever more innovative scanning and printing devices, the technology is increasingly helping organisations throughout the supply chain to meet many regulatory requirements and business objectives, while reducing errors and, most importantly, improving productivity and profitability.