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Barcode: 50 years of an invention that changed business and society

He Barcode, an insignificant element at first glance, has been a complete revolution since its birth, and not only in the world of commerce. In addition to how we buy and sell all kinds of products, it has changed all kinds of aspects of society, and its use has spread to all kinds of industries. Today, already half a century old, it has also evolved to retreat variants and technologies such as QR codes or RFID technology.

10,000 million people use barcodes every day in one of its formats much higher usage than, for example, the popular search engine Google. Additionally, its signature vertical black and white lines are far more visible than any of today’s most popular brands, from Nike to Apple to Starbucks.

This set of black and white lines is found in virtually every product that is bought and sold around the world, and its origins date back to the need to end the checkout lines that formed in feed stores in the middle of the last century. They needed a solution that would allow their owners and employees to automatically record product data. There was also a need for a system capable of performing this type of task with greater accuracy than humans, thus reducing or eliminating their errors.

Was IBM engineer, George J. Laurer, tasked with creating the barcode. From the outside, the process seemed simple, but it wasn’t. Moreover, his proposal took several years. At first, in the late 1940s, the bar code design seemed much more like a goal than it was. Designed by Joe Woodland and inspired by Morse code, it was circular. But it wasn’t effective, which Laurer realized while working on the improvement process because it discolored during printing.

To avoid this, he proposed a vertical band pattern, which he presented to his superiors around 1972. IBM management accepted the change, and Laurer worked with Woodland himself and the mathematician David Savir to develop and finalize the details of the new format. Among the novelties they added to the barcode was a verification digit to check if there were any errors or not. The product information stored in the barcode can be read using a specific multiplane scanner, which can be fixed or portable.

In 1973, IBM submitted its final design to the Symbol Selection Committee of the Uniform Food Code Council, a group made up of grocery companies, which adopted it. And he started using it soon after. In June 1974, a supermarket in Ohio called Marsh’s Supermarket installed the first UPC barcode scanner.

Its mission was to reduce customers’ waiting time at checkouts, speed up product collection and increase employee productivity. The first product to be scanned was a pack of chewing gum, and since then barcodes have spread to stores around the world, revolutionizing retail. But also in the way consumers shop and pay.

The evolution of barcodes: QR codes and RFID technology

Although the use of the barcode in its original format is still practically universal, this does not mean that it has not improved since its inception. Or that he did not give birth to other elements. Indeed, its development led to the birth of QR codes, which have experienced a veritable explosion replacing restaurant menus since the pandemic. They are also used in informational posters to access various information online or to access the download page of mobile applications from which they are read.

Actually, A QR code is just a barcode, which has codes in a square format instead of the original. It can be 2D, like the traditional ones, or also 3D. In these cases, QR codes are able to store more information. In these cases, they can even be used to locate anomalies in different types of machines. For this, yes, it is necessary to use specific solutions for fixed industrial scanning, but also for computer vision.

These fixed industrial scanners represent a growing trend in industrial automation. It is able to read the barcodes of products and equipment that move on conveyor belts. Also those that move along order lines both in warehouses and in distribution centers.

Through this system, logistics managers or customers who have purchased a product can know its position and status. In short, it also serves to check whether the product has passed a certain point or not yet.

These types of scanners can also be configured to verify product labels are correct. Or to confirm that the items in the order are packed and/or picked up. They can also make transportation easier. With the ability to configure fixed machine vision scanners, they could also identify non-returnable items depending on each store or company’s regulations. In addition, of course, you can see from the outside of the package whether the product is defective or poorly designed. Also if it is mislabeled.

RFID systems and technologies are already a more sophisticated step in the development of barcodes. They are mainly used in points, products and systems where there is not so much visibility. In areas such as those dedicated to the tracking and control of stocks in stores and warehouses, logistics, pharmacy (for drug control) and health.

This may surprise many who do not associate barcodes in any of their formats. But the truth is that both barcodes and their scanners are used daily to quickly and accurately connect patients to their medical history and medications. Even with their doctors and treatment. Currently, they are a guarantee not only for identifying defective products or for reducing human errors in many industries. Also to minimize medical failure and ensure patients get the care they need in any case.

In fact according to Mark Thompson, Head of Retail, EMEA, Zebra Technologies«there is much more to a barcode than meets the eye. It has revolutionized the way business is done around the world, from commerce to hospitality, healthcare or logistics, making transactions and product tracking faster, easier and more secure. It even opened the door to other later innovations such as QR codes, radio frequency identification (RFID), fixed industrial scanning or computer vision. As for his future, it’s clear he’s here to stay. Since its discovery, we have seen developments so innovative that its value will continue to grow and technologies such as mobile scanners or fixed industrial scanning will be essential to the success of all types of industries and global industries.

Source: Muy Computer



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