How Important is Barcode Quality?

It seems like a rhetorical question—we’ve made the case over a few years and more than 150 articles that barcode quality is very important. We’ve said spectacular things like “barcodes are the connective tissue that holds supply chains together” and “bad barcodes used to be just a checkout line inconvenience; now they can mean life or death.”  But what about a nuts-and-bolts, daily life perspective? They are hard to come by in this market, but here are two clues.

Here is a feature panel in the April 2014 issue of DC Velocity magazine:201405gofigure

While it doesn’t attribute a specific source and it doesn’t blame barcodes on driver delays, if the cause of the delay was a non-working barcode, how long do you think it would take to get resolved if you were a UPS driver out on deliveries? Most barcode problems take a lot longer than 5 minutes to solve, and $105 Million is a lot of money.

While we’re talking about UPS, here’s another insight into how important time management is for them—and how much we can infer about the importance of barcodes.

Just this morning UPS sent out the following Service Update to account holders:UPS Service Update

Considering how automated the UPC package handling process is, the impact of a bad barcode could trigger a chain reaction long before the package gets on the delivery driver’s truck. Non-reading barcodes shunt packages into staging areas where a human has to resolve the problem and get the package back into the sortation system—hopefully in time to get onto the waiting vehicle. The entire system depends on the barcode working right.

Ninety minutes…if 1% of the UPS drivers experience a barcode problem on May 10th, what would happen to those 90 minutes? How many delivery charges would UPS have to absorb. What would be the cost of that?

The statistic about the cost of a five minute driver delay, and the notification about the “operational adjustment”  from UPS both illustrate dramatically how important barcode quality has become—and there are two essential components of what barcode quality has come to mean. The first is the quality or integrity of the data encoded in the barcodes. The UPC symbol of 30 years ago (and today) is a much smaller, simpler data set than the barcode on a UPS label (or FDA compliance label). Print quality is no longer the principal concern. Second, barcodes are playing a central role in complicated, extremely time-sensitive systems. They absolutely, positively must work (to paraphrase the advertising from a UPS competitor). The risk and liability—and lot of money—hang on these two factors, and that is why barcode quality is more important than ever.

Please comment or add examples of your own experience in the comment area.

John Nachtrieb

About John Nachtrieb

Mr. Nachtrieb has 30+ years of hands-on experience in barcode technology. His team imaged the film master for the first commercially scanned barcode in North America (1974). His specialty is barcode quality. He created and hosts a highly customized barcode quality seminar which has been presented to 100's of companies, reaching thousands of quality-concerned people, helping them to avoid barcode problems and manage barcode-related risk.

2 Responses to How Important is Barcode Quality?

  1. Greg Schaller May 15, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    Over my career in the AIDC field I have been involved with many companies that have spent countless man hours trying to determine why their bar codes all of a sudden start returning high no read rates.

    Its always vital to start with re-evaluating the beginning of the process of how your codes are printed.

    Many times introduction of bad printing is contributed over days/weeks or even months into your supply chain before the problem becomes symptomatic with many processes that rely on these codes….and then it becomes costly and time consuming to repair the process.

    • John Nachtrieb
      John Nachtrieb May 15, 2014 at 10:48 am #

      Very important point. This is why we advocate for companies to have a barcode policy statement and a quality procedures document, so everybody–from vendors to employees to customers and clients is clear about the importance and the companies expectations about barcode performance.

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