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5 Things to Consider When Selecting a Barcode Reader

life sciences vials on left and parcels on the right

Selecting the perfect barcode reader starts with a careful examination of your code reading application. What types of codes are you reading? Are the codes difficult to read? Where will the reader be located, and with what physical restrictions? How will the reader communicate? What will be the cost of ownership?

  1. Symbologies

    Data requirements for your inventory or track and trace application may be small today, which might make a 1D barcode seem like the logical choice. But your data requirements are likely to grow as your business scales. It is worthwhile to anticipate future requirements that would benefit from a 2D code or the ability to read compromised 1D barcodes. You may own your distribution channels today, but growth or new clients in remote locations may necessitate a third-party logistics company, leaving you no longer in control of the code-marking quality. Investing in more robust technology today may minimize future equipment upgrades.

  2. Read rates

    Read rate is the number of successfully read barcodes divided by the number of attempts. The read rate is usually expressed as a percentage and the closer to 100%, the better for operational efficiency and throughput. Every time a machine or person handles your products there is a chance that the code could be damaged. If supply chain accuracy is important to your business, make sure your reader can read noisy codes—such as those that are printed on cardboard or are scratched, deformed or low contrast—not just perfect codes fresh off the printer.

    Examples of noisy codes

  3. Usage

    The scanning environment will also indicate which type of reader you need. If your application calls for reading cartons of various sizes traveling at high speed down a conveyor, then a small fixed reader will be the best choice. Fixed-mount barcode readers enable automated, hands-free scanning of codes from a mounted position, usually on a production line.

    If the reader is the final inventory check for dock workers loading incoming materials or outgoing product, a handheld barcode reader will be ideal. Handheld barcode readers are held in the hand of an operator and can be corded or wireless.

    If it’s a courier or technician working in the field, a mobile barcode reader with built-in code reading capability will help quickly scan packages or check equipment specifications. Mobile barcode readers are held in the hand of an operator and can be purpose-built for a particular application or smartphone-based with a rugged mobile terminal enclosure.

    Types of barcode readers

  4. Reader Communications

    After marking the part or product and reading the code, the data is stored or used within a plant or distribution center network. Image-based barcode readers offer a full range of industrial communication protocols including Ethernet, USB, RS-232, discrete I/O, Ethernet/IP, PROFINET and Modbus TCP/IP. This simplifies integration between reader and network, which is critical not only for reading and sending product tracking information, but also for storing archived images in the event of unread codes.

  5. Cost of ownership

    With the additional power and flexibility of image-based barcode readers, you might expect the cost to be considerably more than laser scanners. While that was true in the past, the latest image-based readers cost about the same as industrial laser scanners that have far less functionality. New microprocessors and CMOS digital sensor chips also mean image-based systems can be nearly as fast as the fastest laser scanner. And these developments come in addition to the traditional benefits of image-based readers: no moving parts that can wear out or fail like laser scanners, the ability to read 2D codes as well as damaged and omnidirectional codes, and the ability to store images for audits and tracking.

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