The buzz is all about barcoding and how it can benefit companies the world over in optimising their internal processes to save time and money. However, barcodes are not the end of the story when it comes to inventory management and product tracking. Let’s explore some of the alternatives to traditional barcodes.
RFID or Radio Frequency Identification uses radio frequencies from an induced magnetic field to automatically identify and track items. RFID allows companies to quickly gain information about an item’s characteristics and location so that decisions can be made efficiently. RFID also facilitates efficient tracking of items in the warehouse and throughout production, paving the way for more efficient stock turnover and the use of a Just-in-Time inventory system (JIT).
An RFID system is much faster than a barcoding system as the data is automatically read (where as barcoding still requires a staff member for physically reading barcodes). A fantastic setting for RFID is the hospital where tags could potentially encode for a patient’s medication, allergies or medical condition. It is likely the adoption of RFID also decreases the risk of error.
Visual recognition is an exciting new field of tracking items which essentially uses modern image processing and identification technology. Basically, it does away with the ‘middleman picture’ (i.e. the barcode), and can use an image of the product label or logo itself to generate the retrieval of or addition to, stored data.
Although still a barcode, 2D barcodes are an improvement on the traditional 1D types as they have a far superior capacity to encode information. 1D barcodes can usually code for up to about 85 characters whereas the 2D model, displaying 2-dimensional information as the name suggests, can encode for up to 7000 characters. The benefit of conveying more information in a single scan is improved accuracy and decreased time, both of which are certainly desirable in inventory management.
The QR code (or Quick Response code) is a matrix code first developed in Japan for the automotive industry but has since proved infinitely useful in other settings where complex information with links to other locations such as websites, can be efficiently and easily stored.
QR codes are a wonderful development on traditional barcodes where not only is information about a product encoded, but the system supports interactive retrieval of that information, providing a platform for the company to connect with consumers and be creative in the relationship they can develop with them.
There are free QR code generators available and including one on your packaging could allow for optimised tracking in-house as well as exciting opportunities for customer participation and interaction.
Digimarc is a barcode which essentially comprises the entire packaging of a product rather than being like a tradition 1D barcode which exists as a small black and white striped box in the corner of underside of a product.
The major advantage of these types of codes is the time saved when using them. No longer must a retail assistant search each side of a product for the traditional barcode while ensuring it is perfectly in the laser light at an optimum distance for a correct reading. With a Digimarc code, the operator simply places the entire item in the laser beam, regardless of the position or orientation, and the system will read it.
Near Field Communication
Near Field Communication (NFC) is an amazing technological development where an NFC ‘tag’ is used to communicate with a reader (most often a mobile phone) and instruct it to do something. All of this happens without input from the user and so can be used in a variety of settings where automatic preparation or functions are required.
NFC tags can be used in immediate mobile payments where the operator’s mobile phone is instructed to process a payment on request. Likewise, they can be used for turning on automatic domestic lighting or alarm systems or starting a car without keys. The benefit of this technology is being able to treat your mobile phone as a command centre for all domestic and business activities so that it is no longer necessary to carry around multiple cards and keys.
Barcoding is not the be all and end all of business inventory tracking. There are many other options available that may be better suited to your company or provide an added advantage. Just remember, whatever system you use must be considered carefully prior to adoption.