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Scanning, printing options expand for 2-D bar codes.

Until now, two-dimensional bar codes have been better known for their potential than for their widespread use. However, recent developments will go a long way to shifting that balance.

New scanners and a broader range of printers programmed for 2-D bar codes significantly expand your equipment options. All four symbologies that are clearly available for public use now have published standards with two of those released recently. Two other symbologies are likely to join the others.

All of this means that the significant barriers to widespread use of 2-D bar codes have now been removed. In fact, 1994 may one day be considered the year that 2-D bar codes started to come into their own.

Where the symbologies stand

Since 1987, six two-dimensional symbologies have been developed by separate companies. Those are: Code 49 by Intermec, Code 16K by Laserlight Systems, PDF 417 by Symbol Technologies, Code One by Laserlight Systems, Maxicode by the United Parcel Service, and DataMatrix by International DataMatrix Inc.

The first four are now available for public use without restriction. Furthermore, standards for Code 49 and Code 16K were released some time ago by the trade association AIM USA, which published standards this summer for PDF 417 and Code One.

Developers of Maxicode and DataMatrix have both expressed their intentions to have those symbologies accepted as public domain. Both have also requested AIM USA to develop standards.

It is worth noting that there are still other 2-D symbologies which have been retained by their developers as proprietary to those companies; however, some are beginning to pursue public domain acceptance.

Just as each conventional bar code is its own language, two-dimensional symbologies encode information uniquely in a symbol. The differences are so substantial that printed 2-D symbols look physically different.

Scanners and printers

While printers only need to be programmed for 2-D symbols, scanners must be tailored for each symbology. The box on this page details the availability of scanners by 2-D bar code.

For instance, Code 49 and Code 16K can both be scanned by wands and hand-held laser scanners that have been programmed appropriately. Symbol printing is by standard bar code printers that have also been programmed specifically for these symbologies.

The scanning requirements for PDF 417 are substantially different, however. Until this spring, there was only one laser scanner available that could read these bar codes. Now hand-held and fixed-position charge coupled device (CCD) scanners are available.

Printing PDF 417, however, is quite a different story. Once they are appropriately programmed, a wide range of printers and printing technologies can run the symbology. More than 30 printer vendors have announced such capabilities.

Maxicode is different. The bar code was developed by United Parcel Service to identify packages on high speed conveyors.

Initially, UPS designed and built scanners for its own use but without the intention of selling the equipment. With that in mind, UPS has since licensed that technology to two companies that have announced fixed-position CCD scanners.

CCD scanners, both hand-held and fixed-position, have also been commercialized for DataMatrix. At this point, Code One is the only 2-D bar code that has yet to see a scanner made available; however, development efforts are underway.

From any angle, most of the necessary components have been put in place that will make widespread application of 2-D bar codes a distinct possiblity for the first time.


How 2-D bar codes track inventory

Since the first 2-D bar code was unveiled, the concept has been very appealing. By stacking rows of data into a compressed area, a 2-D bar code packs much more information into a smaller area than can standard, linear bar codes. As a result, the purpose of the bar code expands from being a simple license plate identifying each inventory unit to a portable data file that provides extensive information about the unit.

This difference has the potential to significantly change the way that information is managed in a plant or warehouse.

Once a license plate bar code is scanned, that identifying number must pass on to a centralized computer database for look-up. Only then is additional information about the inventory available to the person who originally scanned the bar code.

A 2-D bar code, on the other hand, is a traveling database by itself. There is no need for additional information from a central database.

This distinction could have an enormous effect on the way that information is handled at a plant or warehouse. To begin, all inventory and its database arrive everywhere simultaneously with a 2-D bar code. There is no potential for delay in processing receipts or otherwise handling materials because paperwork or electronic data interchange notices are not yet available.

Once the symbol is scanned, access to the information is immediate on a local terminal regardless of where the information is on the network.
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Title Annotation:two-dimensional
Author:Forger, Gary
Publication:Modern Materials Handling
Date:Sep 1, 1994
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