How To Choose a Bar Code Scanner

By: Howard Brule


Product barcodes are read by barcode scanners in more everyday situations than most of us realize. One of the most familiar uses of this technology is with barcodes on product packages at grocery stores. When we buy something a bar code scanner scans and reads the barcodes on each package. Product information such as product name and unit cost is automatically read and processed by the stock control system. A short description and the amount of each item is automatically added to your bill as each new item is scanned.

When you buy a product such as a can of soup or a box of cereal, it alerts the stock control system to the fact that the item was purchased. This allows the control system to maintain a current record of how many of each item is still available for purchase. As long as the entire inventory was entered correctly in the first place, this allows your inventory control to be automatic and constantly up to date.

In a small business setting implementing such a system starts with stock control software where information about inventory items is stored. Bar code scanners are used to input data into the stock control system. Each time an item passes in or out of inventory it is scanned and the appropriate change of status is recorded in the inventory database.

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. Wand Scanners - The least expensive type of bar code scanner is the wand system. And even though it is less expensive, it still is a great choice for most uses. Typically wand prices are a tenth of laser gun prices and about a fifth of CCD scanner prices.

The wand system works very well most of the time, and is is the cheapest kind of bar code scanner. As far as cost is concerned, one of these wands will cost 1/10th as much as a laser gun, and about 1/5th as much as 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. CCD Scanners - CCD stands for charged coupled device. This type of scanner normally costs less than a laser scanner, and it is a very accurate alternative system for scanning bar codes. Both the wand scanner and the CCD reader have to be in physical contact with the bar code if they are to read the label. However, the CCD reader doesn't have to be moved, waved, or slid across the label like the wand scanner. The user can just touch the reader to the bar code and pull the trigger to activate the scanner.

Of all the various types of bar code scanners, CCD readers tend to be the simplest to use. CCD readers can be found in widths from 2 to 4 inches and, while they are more expensive than a wand, CCD readers are less expensive than laser scanners.

A new barcode technology similar to CCD is called FFO (Fixed Focus Optics). And FFO scnner is a non-contact reader which can read barcodes from as much as 20" away. They are also able to read two-dimensional barcodes which are going to become more widely used in the future.

3. Laser Scanners - A beam of light is used by a laser scanner in order to scan the bar code label. Instead of moving the scanner you move the bar code across the scanner. The scanner does not have to actually touch the bar code label in order to read it. The scanner will automatically read the scan whenever a bar code is held in front of it.

Such a system has benefits in a variety of situations. For instance, because the scans are accomplished with great speed, it is possible to embed laser scanners inside of conveyor systems. When items pass by rapidly, scanning takes place automatically. In a retail environment, the clerk merely moves each item over the glass to engage the scan. Such a system can easily keep pace with a clerk who simply moves objects from one side of the scanner to the other other. Laser systems are much more rapid and accurate than any other widely-used alternative.

No matter what your ideal scanning system might be today, you need to make certain that you buy a stock control system that allows you to take advantage of future developments in bar code technology. This will allow you to keep your system updated without having to replace the entire system in the future.

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