We see them on products we buy in the stores, we see them on documents we get in the mail, we see them on placards as we walk thru museums and nature trails, and we see them on labels and boxes we receive from Amazon, UPS, and stores worldwide.  They come in various shapes and configurations.  Some look like a series of fat and thin lines and some look like some hieroglyphics we see on ancient human artifacts that are more a picture than words.  Many people see them and don’t think anything about them.  All they know is that when they go to the store, the cashier needs to scan them so that they can know how much to charge them.

But that is just a small portion of what those symbols do and mean.  Those symbols are definitely a way for a cashier to speed up the checkout process so that the total amount charged can be determined.  Not only did it determine the price, but it updated the inventory in the store.  With the inventory being removed in the store, logistic managers can determine what needs to be replenished in the store from the product distribution center.  Buyers can then look at the distribution centers inventory and compare it again reorder points to determine what to buy from the manufacturers and place accurate purchase orders.  And finally, with purchase orders in hand, the manufacturers can order the appropriate raw materials to make the finished product. 

All this happens with the scan of the product at the checkout counter.  And this is just one stream of use.  If you think about the boxes you receive from UPS or Amazon, the use of the barcode on the label allows the shippers to know where to deliver the product and allows the consumer to see where their package is each day.  As it bounces from pickup to truck to plane to truck to your front door, the path your package takes is well-known.  Another use of these symbols is those square shapes that look like a foreign language.  Those codes, called QR codes, are able to store a whole bunch of information including links to websites.  They are often used in nature centers, zoos, and museums to allow the person scanning the code to see and hear much more detail about what they are looking at.   That is because the code has a link to a website that can contain all that information and a whole lot more than can fit on a plaque or sign.  There are other uses like to make it easier to know where the product is in the warehouse and they contain the expiration date so warehouse managers know when to discard the product before it can be sold and finally, to know where the product has gone so if there is a recall, the vendor knows who purchased it.

And when looking at barcodes, there are many different font types – there are code 3 of 9, code 128, upc, gtin, gs1-128 and many more.  These barcodes have structures behind them where a user just can’t print anything they want.  Some are a direct link to the product, some contain check digits, some have multiple fields of data compressed into all the field, some have identifiers built in so you know where different pieces of data are stored.  Someone scanning the barcode needs to know the font and layout in order to properly decipher the data encoded.  In some cases, certain applications require a certain format or certain consumers of the data require their suppliers to provide a format for their application to handle the data properly.  In terms of products shipped around the world, there might be 3 or 4 barcodes in and on every package.  The outer box might have a gtin, the product might have a ucc, the shipping label might have the QR code and a 3 of 9 barcode for the tracking number. 

Having the proper equipment to enable the software to get the proper information is important as some scanners are able to decipher the barcode real-time when the barcode is scanned.  Others need to be programmed to accept the barcode and understand its components.  The GS1-128 for instance can have 4 or 5 pieces of data all imbedded in the barcode (item id, expiration date, manufactured date and others).  Certain printers might be needed to be able to print the barcode format.

Without the proper training and understanding, barcodes could be considered a foreign language. When in fact, they are used to transmit data and make thing easier for all that handle the product or paperwork.  If you have a need to help identify a barcode to better your operations or if a customer requires a barcode on your paperwork or products, contact MIBAR so that we can assist you in understanding and completing the requirement.