In the often fast-paced environment of manufacturing and logistics, the reliability of barcode systems is paramount. Introducing the concept of barcode verification provides a safety net, ensuring that barcode readability is guaranteed throughout the supply chain.

This blog explains why barcode verification is so essential, the factors required to get it right and the different methods available to do so.

The Importance of Barcode Verification

Barcodes provide a standardised method of identifying products and are valid and recognisable worldwide. They provide so many benefits right across the supply chain. They increase efficiency, accuracy, traceability and compliance. All of this helps to reduce costs, which should ultimately lead to greater customer satisfaction. Not bad for a few black and white stripes!

However, the success of a barcode system depends on the quality of the barcodes themselves. As the adage goes, if you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out…or words to that effect. Sending out products with bad barcodes can have serious consequences for a supply-side business, from rejected products and rework costs to lost contracts. Hence, taking the time to verify your barcodes is a worthwhile exercise.

That means it’s up to you to ensure your barcodes satisfy the requirements of International Standard ISO/IEC 15416 and comply with the GS1UK Coding System. ISO/IEC 15416 requires seven attributes to be tested in 10 separate positions of each barcode.

The tested attributes are:

  • Decode – checks that the scanned area meets the criteria of a recognized barcode format.
  • Minimum reflectance – compares the reflectance of the bar to that of the background.
  • Symbol contrast – measures the overall contrast range between the bars and the background media.
  • Minimum edge contrast – measures the definition of the poorest bar in the code.
  • Modulation – measures the consistency of reflectance throughout.
  • Defects – ensures bars are complete and spaces are empty.
  • Decodability – measures the dimensional accuracy of the barcode.

Verification processes check against these parameters and issue a score. Generally, A-D is a pass; anything else is a fail, though this depends on industry and customer requirements. In short, a lot can go wrong, but adhering to this level of rigour means any barcode scanner anywhere in the world will be able to read your barcode labels and keep the supply chain intact.

Off-Line Barcode Verification

Offline barcode verification systems are the most common type. They involve a handheld or desktop barcode scanner/reader used alongside or outside the production line – hence the name ‘off-line’. This includes, for example, the Omron V275 solution, which provides automatic 100% label inspection at the point of printing and is built into the printer itself. It also conforms with ISO standards and CFR.11.

The readers are cost-effective, and it’s fairly easy to get started. However, the task of barcode verification involves a member of staff being involved in the process, so the quick set-up and lower cost to entry than an in-line system is offset by staffing costs.

With an off-line verification system, it is virtually impossible to verify every single barcode, so a means of choosing which barcodes to check must be agreed upon. This is known as sampling (e.g. 1 in 10, 1 in 250 etc). That might be set by your customers’ specific requirements or be based on your quality control measures.

One area where off-line verification and high sample frequency can cause an issue is when a bad barcode is identified. In this case, every barcode between the last correctly verified barcode and the failure must also be checked.

A sampling frequency of 1 in 250 means barcodes 1, 251, 501, 751, 1001 etc are checked. If #1 passes, but #251 fails, there is no way of knowing if barcode #2 or #250 was the first to subsequently fail.

We supply a range of handheld readers and can assist in setting up your processes.

In-Line Barcode Verification

In-line systems are an integral part of the production line as an alternative to off-line verification. Fixed scanners can be configured at various points along a line to correspond with the requirements of the manufacturing process. For example, in automotive or healthcare, in-line verification can be configured to check DPM (Direct Part Mark) codes.

Verification can also be added at the point of barcode label print and apply at the packaging end of a production line. At Cobalt, all our print and apply systems can be specified with Cobalt Sentinel – a system of fixed scanners, automated reprinting in the event of an issue and a series of alerts/warning mechanisms to ensure operators know the situation.

In-line verification reads every barcode that passes along a production line and removes the need for manual scanning/reading and defining or adhering to a sampling method. It also means that any issues are identified in real-time, so it saves any reprocessing issues that can occur with off-line systems.

Validation and Verification

Beyond simply ensuring barcodes are legible is the value-added task of checking the barcode relates to the correct product.

For example, tinned food is packed and labelled before being shipped to a supermarket. The same factory might process and pack many different types of tinned food. If the wrong label is applied to the wrong case or pack, it doesn’t matter how legible it is; it still presents all the same problems and issues.

Barcode validation is a follow-on step from verification in that it checks the barcode’s contents as well as its quality and, by checking against a data control source (usually an ERP system), can validate the right label is on the right product and passes the legibility requirements too.

Our award-winning Cobalt Sentinel In-line Barcode Verifier can handle both verification and validation for an entirely automated process.

Increasing Efficiencies in your Processes

Whether through manual checks or automated systems like Sentinel, implementing verification provides a robust mechanism for companies to enhance their operational efficiency. By incorporating these checks into strategic points in the workflow, organisations can confidently verify that barcodes are legible throughout the supply chain.

At Cobalt, we’re here to help you find the solution that works for you. We’ll work with your business to find the right option for your operation’s size, never overselling a solution or leaving you underpowered.

Our consultants will work to find the option that works for your teams, delivering the equipment and training you need to ensure that your barcode verification process is as robust as possible.

Never send out a bad barcode or a product to the wrong location again.

Contact our team today to see how we can help take your business to the next level.