Barcodes are interesting. They are all around us and automate many transactions, from parts management to the products we buy at stores. The barcode system that most people are used to is called UPC (Universal Product Code). This code is standard for products that are sold in retail stores. For industrial parts and materials management, different codes are used – and no single code is standard. This adds a level of complexity to industrial barcodes.
The complexity does not end there. Barcodes on product labels are pieces of information – and most labels for shipping or PM require 6 or more codes per label. One barcode may represent quantity, another might refer to the product’s Date Of Manufacture or Lot #. The barcode population is specified by the customer. Customers also specify the placement and dimensions of each barcode. In the end there is usually a label that contains around 6 barcodes on each level of packaging. From the part itself, to the outer box, packing slip, and every box inside of the outer box, it usually adds up to about 4 or 5 levels of barcodes.
I look forward to a time when we can enjoy the simplicity of standardized labels. Grocery stores started to standardize 35 years ago, we have a way to go to catch up. The benefits? Less time will be spent designing customized labels, fitting the barcodes on often smaller-than-optimal labels, and approving them for each revision. Time = money.
The next time you notice a barcode on the shop floor, remember that it was custom designed for you.