Bar coding, a form of keyless data entry facilitating automatic
identification and data collection (commonly referred to as Auto ID), is not
just for grocery stores anymore. The familiar stripes are popping up in new
and unusual places such as doctors' offices, law firms, post offices, retail
stores, security applications, and rental cars. Bar coding and related
technologies have been used in manufacturing companies for shipping and
receiving operations for more than 30 years. But even in these more
traditional settings, bar code applications have spread throughout the
enterprise to include warehousing, accounting and customer service
functions, time and attendance, and package delivery, as well as the
assembly line operation itself.
The variety of technologies available for bar code printing can be
overwhelming. Further complicating the decision is whether it is better to
invest in a bar coding system or to purchase pre-printed bar code labels.
On Demand vs. Pre-Printed Labels
Thousands of companies have benefited from ordering pre-printed bar code
labels from service bureaus rather than investing in a bar coding system.
Pre-printed labels are useful in operations that require only a low volume
of identical (i.e., fixed, non-variable data) labels, often with extensive
use of colors or graphics. However, companies that start with pre-printed
labels quickly discover the limitations of this solution option.
Besides restricted flexibility, the use of pre-printed labels prevents
companies from including variable customer data or combinations of text and
bar code information. As a result, most companies find the financial
commitment of printing on-demand bar codes worth the initial investment
because of the added value from printing customized information on each
label. For many applications requiring high-volume, mission-critical labels,
the added cost of pre-printed labels quickly exceeds the cost of the entire
system. To the surprise of many bar coding novices, most of the companies
that order pre-printed labels also have bar coding systems. The preprinted
labels are ordered with the necessary color, graphics, or standardized text
(such as return addresses on shipping labels) and are then fed through a bar
code printer to receive customized (i.e., variable) information.
Whether a user elects to use pre-printed or plain labels, media selection
is critical to the success of any bar code integration. The variety of
ribbons, paper, and synthetic labels and tags is too great for discussion in
this document, but the bar code application, the intended life span of the
label, and the environment to which the label will be exposed all have a
direct impact on media selection. It is advisable to pre-test a variety of
media in an application before purchasing mass quantities.