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ARTICLE - The Evolution of Barcode Systems
25 Apr 2012

Barcodes are now seen in many places being used by various industries and businesses. Initially barcodes were used only for retail purposes. Later they emerged for use in many fields. As barcodes are accurate, easy to use, and provide uniform data collection and timely feedback, more and more businesses have started to use them to improve productivity and profitability. They are widely used in manufacturing, warehousing, shipping, retail, transportation and many other industries. Barcode technology is quite commonly used for asset management and tracking, healthcare, construction, and document management.

History of barcodes
The origin of barcode systems dates back to 1932. Since then, many changes have taken place that have shaped the systems that are used currently.

Initial stages
The concept of barcodes was first started by Wallace Flint in 1932. He invented an automated checkout system for a grocery store using punched cards, which were placed in a reader. Inventory records were updated with this system.

Later in 1948, Bernard Silver along with his friend Norman Joseph Woodland researched a method that can automatically read product information. An ultraviolet light sensitive ink was used, which made patterns of ink that would glow under ultraviolet light. However, the method failed due to instability and expensive printing patterns.

In 1949, a patent was filed by them, titled as "Classifying Apparatus and Method." A symbol made up of series of concentric circles was used by them. However, a description was given on the symbology of the current linear barcodes.

Following stages
In 1967, David J. Collins founded Computer Identics Corporation and developed a black and white barcode system read by a laser beam. This system was used for distribution, production, shipping, sorting, and other applications.

Later in 1967, one of the first scanning systems was installed by Radio Corporation of America (RCA) which used "bull's eye" barcode symbols.

John F. Keidel invented the first commercially successful barcode reading system in 1969. The Universal Grocery Products Identification Code or UGPIC was developed in 1970. In 1970, barcodes were used for retail trade for the first time by Monarch Marking. The system was applied for industrial use for the first time by Plessey Telecommunications.

In the 1970's, the US Supermarket Ad Hoc Committee of Uniform Grocery Product Code was established by The National Association of Food Chains (NAFC) which formulated a standardized 12-digit code. In 1973, the UGPIC was turned to Uniform Product Code (UPC) by George J. Laurer.

The first UPC barcode scanner was made in 1974 by NCR Corp. and was installed at Marsh's supermarket in Troy. Wrigley's chewing gum was the first product that was scanned by barcode scanner in the supermarket.

Today's barcode systems
After undergoing many changes, the present day barcodes evolved as the most effective tools of business productivity. Today, barcode systems are available in many shapes and sizes fulfilling various needs of different businesses. The system primarily consists of four components. They are listed below.

Barcode Printer:
A barcode printer is used to print barcode labels. Desktop and wireless barcode printers are available these days. Thermal transfer and direct thermal technologies are commonly used by barcode printers. When compared to conventional printers, these printers print labels faster, more efficiently, and with better print quality. Choosing the right type of barcode printer to use is based mainly on the type of label to be printed and the amount printed per day.

Barcode Label:
Barcode labels are nothing but tags on which the barcode is printed using a barcode printer. Labels are attached to the products or items which are read by scanners. The barcode label layout varies depending on the industry and application. Any combination of text, graphics, and barcode information can be printed on a barcode label. Barcode labels are available in a wide variety of materials that can work in virtually any environment.

Barcode Scanners:
Devices which are used to read barcodes are called barcode scanners. They help in reading the information accurately and reducing the rate of errors. Barcode scanners use a variety of scanning technologies such as laser, CCD, and 2D. Deciding which barcode scanner to use depends on the type of barcode symbology and the environment in which it will be used.

Database:
The process of the barcode system is not complete just by reading the barcode. The information regarding the product such as its description, price, inventory quantity, and accounting must be first stored in a database. Scanning the barcode simply accesses that information in the database. Unless a 2D barcode is used, which can store so much information that it becomes a mini-database for the item it's marking.

From a humble beginning in early 1930's, barcode systems gradually improved and today they are the life blood for many industries. The rise of advanced technologies led to the development of 2D barcode systems, which are catering to every need of today's businesses.

By Nate Rodnay

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