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Bar Code Scanning Systems For Your Business

May 19, 2008
Bar code scanners are used to read the bar codes found on products in a wide variety of situations. Most of us are familiar with bar codes found on packages at the grocery store. When you purchase an item, the bar code on the package is scanned by a bar code scanner. This automatically calls up the item particulars such as the item name and unit cost. The cost is then calculated automatically and added to your bill

When the stock control system tallies a purchase, no matter what is actually sold, the inventory records in the central database are simultaneously modified to record the fact that the item has been purchased. If your inventory information was correctly entered into the system when you set it up, inventory control occurs without the need for manual counting or recording of purchases.

Consider a practical example of using this system. Suppose you own a small business, and are tracking inventory manually. You would typically total up your sales at the end of the day and update your records. This is a time-consuming and unreliable process. The use of a bar code system allows you to automatically update your stock control database each time an item is added or removed.

A system like this one can generate different bar codes for items that need them. The software will create a one of a kind bar code for each new item. The bar code printer will then print the code label which is then placed on the item.

Here are the three most popular types of bar code scanners currently in use:

1. The Wand Scanner - This is the simplest type of bar code scanner. A wand scanner is shaped like a pen and has to be touching the bar code to scan it. The light from the wand scanner is reflected off the bar code and then the system decodes this signal to recognize the product.

The wand system works well in most applications, and it is by far the least expensive type of bar code scanner. A typical wand costs about 1/10th the price of a laser gun, and about 1/5th the price of a CCD scanner.

But wand scanners have their limitations. In order to get an accurate scan the wand must be held at a fairly precise angle relative to the bar code. It must also be slid across the bar code at a speed that is neither too fast nor too slow. And all wand bar code scanners have a resolution limit. If a bar code has a resolution that is significantly finer than the wand scanner, the scanner will not be able to read it correctly. For example, a 10 mil wand cannot read a 5 mil bar code. It is important to keep this in mind when purchasing a wand scanner.

2. The CCD Scanner - CCD (charged coupled device) technology is the next least expensive bar code scanning system. Like the wand scanner, CCD readers must be in direct contact with the bar code label in order to read it. But unlike the wand, there is no need to move the device across the label. The operator simply presses the reader against the label and pulls the trigger. The bar code is then photographed, digitized and decoded by the system.

Of the various types of bar code scanners, CCD readers are the easiest to use, and are available in widths from about 2 inches to 4 inches. A CCD reader is about four times the cost of a wand, but only about one third the cost of a laser scanner.

A promising new technology similar to CCD is called FFO (Fixed Focus Optics). These scanners are non-contact readers, which means they can read bar codes from as much as 20" away. They will also be able to read two-dimensional bar codes as they become more popular.

3. The Laser Scanner - Laser scanners use a beam of light to rapidly scan across the bar code label. This means the scanner itself remains stationary, and there is no need for direct contact with the bar code label. Scanning is automatic in the sense that the scanning action is initiated when an object is held in front of it.

This system is popular in many different settings. For example, since scanning is done rapidly, laser scanners can be embedded right within conveyor systems. As objects pass quickly by they are scanned and recorded. In retail stores the check out person simply moves objects over the scanner to activate the scanning action. This kind of system is fast enough to keep up with a clerk just taking objects from one side of the scanner and sliding them to the other side. Such a system is much faster and much more accurate than any of the popular alternatives currently available.

Regardless of which scanning system is best for your business right now, be sure to purchase stock control software that lets you implement other scanning technologies as the need arises.
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