Durability and Functionality of Barcodes

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Friday, May 14, 2010

In the current technological market, the use of barcodes and scanning technologies are becoming increasingly sought after. With modern evolutions, the amount of information and data structures that can be stored within the multi-line codes has increased exponentially.

However, the successful use of Barcode Technology is less straight forward than is easily identified. Rather, the proper implementation is dependent on a series of factors. To properly evaluate the potential of the technology in conditions where the duribilty of the codes would be tested, factors such as how the data is to be collected, as well as the nature of the environment into which it will be utilized must be taken into account.

If at any point examination of these factors were to show a testing failure, the overall collection link will be viewed as inoperable. This of course would require that those responsible for the collection of the date revert to a manual system. In the end, a failed collection method results in the loss of time, money, and resources that would be better allocated elsewhere. It is due to a desire to prevent these kind of losses that a series of checks and balances are performed on the data collection system. This article is intended to illustrate such a system.

Factors of Resistance

Heat: Consisting mainly of thermoplastic materials, (plastics and pressure sensitive adhesives) react to heat when pressure is applied, in order to join two sides of an object. Therefore, when applied to a cylindrical surface, an amount of the adhesive will always be pressed out on the sides of the applied label, leading to sagging, deformation, and a need cleaning that will deform the applied barcode, rendering the label defective and useless.

Contrary to popular belief, material printed labels (Direct Thermal technology) are also capable of falling victim to sunlight and environment heat sources. The thermal transferring ink is prone to a loss of cohesion when exposed to a constant heat source. The heat factor can drastically shorten the life expectant lifespan of a created label. It is therefore wise to state the maximum temperatures for use on the provided barcode if it is expected that it will be exposed to the elements.

Cold Temperatures: Cold temperatures can be defined as either the environmental temperature (surrounding the label) or the temperature of the face itself. As labels will often be found in cryogenic areas, it is important to take into account the differences between the two. If a label is applied in a standard environment, and then introduced to extreme cold or heat, a differential in the temperatures between the fact and the adhesive will form. This will lead to a loss of adhesive potentials causing the bond with the product to fail. For any product exposed to cold (10 degrees Fahrenheit or lower) Freezer grade adhesives are necessary to guarantee permanence.

Bright Lighting: Similar in nature to the reflection off of a neighboring vehicle during morning traffic, scanning technology can be blinded by reflections of sunlight. To prevent the potential for a misread, barcodes are generated with a matte surface. Additional, performing a scan at and angle, rather than direct to the unit, can prevent the equipment from picking up additional light sources from the barcode's surface. Furthermore, the addition of non-direct or dim sources of light within the scanning environment can decrease the potential for a misread.

Increasing Label Life Expectancy: Beyond making use of polyester and acrylic adhesives, and lifespan of a label can be increased dramatically if a UV lamination is applied to their surface.

Chemicals: Most if not all label environments are exposed to alkaline bases (mainly found in cleaning solutions) that erode the label's stock and adhesive. To prevent this lamination can be applied, and prior testing can indicate chemical weaknesses of the materials to be disclosed to the customer.

Abrasive Applications: Teflon, polypropylene, kapton, and polyamides allow for longer lifespan in environments where the abrasion rate is exceptionally high. Metal labels can be used, however, the more durable materials listed above will allow for a higher tolerance.

Humidity and Moisture: A label exposed to moisture and humidity (Or even a wet environment, will often distort and detach from it's host object. By over laminating a label, a water resistance can be created, extending the lifetime of the label dramatically.

Solvent Resistance: Solvent exposure occurs, not on the face of the barcode, but on its edges. Use of cleaning products and some environmental chemicals will erode the stock the label was printed on, and or its adhesive.

Grease, Oil, and Grime: Often, a label application occurs on an object whose surface area is greasy, and or oily. To prevent the absorption of the slick substances by the adhesive, clean the applicable area thoroughly before the application of the label.

Adhesive Issues: When a label had only a portion of its allocated adhesive, or when the surface area is rough or uneven, a label's adhesion will be adversely effected. Low surface energy plastics are also a known contributer to label deficiencies. Only when the adhesive matches the potential of 90% of the surface area can a solid connection to the host material be achieved. The only method to prevent customer dissatisfaction is to require the manufacturer to detail the surface conditions necessary for successful adhesion.

Scanner Technology Matching: To adequately perform a scan, the technologies must be matched, label to scanner. A short range scanner, intended for 2-3 inch barcode identification will be thoroughly useless in recognizing a label from 30' away. Likewise, a large scale reader is helpless to identify the code in a close range product barcode. Materials used in the creation of a barcode can also dictate the equipment's effectiveness rating.

Barcode Density (Space Limitations): Current industry standards require that industrial and telecommunications labels be minuscule, and compact, while still managing to retain all of the required information. Modern scanning technology is required to be able to read these high density labels without error.

Barcode Symbology: Modern scanning technology is auto-discriminating. The symbology used in a barcode, can therefore, be dictated by either the customer of the manufacturer. RFID, as well as 2D are current contenders for the most widely utilized symbology methods.

Barcode Verification: The quality control methods of a site should include practices to prevent the production of lower quality or defective labels. Instances where products can not be read by the equipment on site can be avoided by this basic methodology.

Staff Training and Systems Education: Due to the nature of retail consumption and reproduction of barcodes, the only means to continue to educate customers and consumers to the nature of canning technology and its practices are through continuous education of staff.

The key to a continuous cycle of effective scanning is to utilize all of the above measures and checks. When each becomes a regular process for the utilization of barcodes, flawless creation and implementation of scanning technologies becomes commonplace.

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