How Does A Barcode Scanner Work

Barcodes are on almost every single product you buy. It is a feature of retail. You might have seen a barcode scanner when you buy something and started wondering about it, or you might be in retail and need to understand your equipment.

It has made to process of buying this so much faster and easier and is a feature of almost every big shop. Either way, we are here to help by explaining to you how it works.

The Barcode

The first part of understanding how a barcode scanner works, is to understand the thing it scans. The barcode is the key to making all of this easy retail possible. A barcode is a standardised image made up of black lines or bars. That dates from the 1970s if you can believe it. These simple little additions to any product really carries quite a bit of information.

If you track this effectively, you can save yourself time, effort and money and make your business run more effectively.  These patterns could be easily read by basic computers, and these days you can encode more data to be associated with the barcode.

You can track prices, the levels of your stock and the frequency of sales of certain items. You can have all of this linked to a central point, where you will be able to have your finger on the pulse of your business.

There is also different types of barcodes. You can have two dimensional codes (or 2d) or linear codes. The one you probably know as a barcode is the Universal Product Code with the black bars and a numerical code.

These numbers are helpful, because it indicates the manufacturer and the product identifier. There is also a check number to ensure it is scanned correctly. It can be used to store text based information. The scanner reads the pattern of alternating white and black bars that are reflected back to it, to convert it into binary code.

A 2D code or matrix code (QR codes), is a more complex code, based on pixels. It can be used to store more information than a linear barcode, but will also need a scanner that can identify this more complex code. In this case you will usually need a imaged based scanner and software that is specifically designed to read these types of codes.

The scanner

The different types of barcodes are  scanned with a purpose built device that can quickly decode the barcode or image and give you clear and accurate data. There are different types of scanners that each have a different functionality. There are contact scanners, Imagers as well as laser scanners available, but all have similar basic components.

A standard barcode scanner has three components that make it the good worker that it is. These three components are an illumination system, a sensor and a decoder. These three parts work together to read the code and convert it into valuable information for your business.

First the illumination system, which is usually a type of red light, lights the code. The sensor then detects the light that is reflected back from the code. The sensor is a photo electric cell. The sensor then generates a signal. This signal is then sent to the decoder that does exactly what its names suggests.

It decodes the signal, it validates it, by reading the last digit in the barcode to confirm that it is correct and then converts it, first to binary code, then to text. Of course, all of this happens within less than a second. This means that it is still one of the quickest ways of keeping track of your sales.

This text based information is then sent to a computer program, app, or specific software where this data can be used for a variety of uses. You can decide what intimate details about the sale of the product you want to keep for your business records. You can have it organised in specific ways as well, depending on how you set up the app.

Different types of scanners

You will need to decide what type of scanner you need. There are different types of scanners that are better suited to specific businesses. Some have longer ranges, or can handle more capacity. The first type of scanner you will most likely use for small scale retail, is a wand or pen type.

These scanners are relatively inexpensive, can scan accurately if you have a little more time available. These scanners are especially suitable for small scale retail where you don’t need to scan a huge amount of products at once.

Laser type scanners, on the other hand, are usually suited to larger stores that need scanners that can quickly handle a large capacity of products. These types of scanners can also read in multiple directions and can be built into the counter at the checkout. They are also better at handling damaged or faded barcodes. These types of scanners use a single point laser diode, related to how a laser pointer works.

There are also scanners that work with imaging technology. They essentially take a small digital photo of the barcode and then analysing the image for the data embedded in the code. These types of scanners are incredibly accurate.

If you need a high level of accuracy over a large quantity of scans then these types of scanners are very useful. You will also need these types scanners with compatible software to read 2D or QR codes.

Final words

In this piece we covered the basics of what a barcode is and how different scanners can be used to read the code. If you are thinking about expanding your business and making things a little more efficient a barcode scanner can help thing along. There are different types that can be applied to best suit the type of business you have.

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