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On June 26, 1974 at a Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio USA, a clerk passed the UPC bar code on a 10 Pak of Wrigley’s chewing gum over the scan window of a Datalogic Model A bar code scanner.
Datalogic made history that day by producing the first commercial bar code scan, and the now infamous good-read ‘beep’.
This first ‘beep’ signaled the beginning of the automatic data capture industry. Since its first scan, the bar code has revolutionized the retail industry and caused rapid adoption of bar code technology to improve productivity and advance inventory management while, at the same time, reducing pricing errors and the physical strain on cashiers.
The same benefits have been realized upstream through the supply chain, from the factory floor to the retail outlet, while also creating huge waves in other industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, finance and entertainment.
A bar code symbology is best described as an “optical Morse code”; a series of black bars and white spaces of varying widths printed on labels to uniquely identify items.
The information encoded in the bar code is decoded by a scanner, which measures reflected light and interprets the code into numbers and letters that are passed on to a computer.
The primary benefit bar codes provide is rapid, simple, and accurate reading and transmission of data for items that need to be tracked or managed.
Since bar code labels are easily affixed or can be directly printed onto virtually any material (i.e. mailing tubes, envelopes, boxes, cans, bottles, packages, books and more), they are the most cost-effective and accurate solution for capturing data.
The early applications of bar code scanning such as retail POS checkout, item tracking and inventory management have been expanded to more advanced applications in more industries such as: time and attendance, work-in-process, quality control, sorting, order entry, document tracking, shipping and receiving, controlling access to secure areas – even tracking and identifying farm animals! Bar code data collection is part of a broader category called Automatic Identification, or Auto ID.
These expanded systems have measurably increased productivity by linking production, warehousing, distribution, sales and service to management information systems on a batch or real-time basis. Consequently, opportunities to improve operational efficiencies and customer responsiveness have developed for retailers, transportation and package delivery companies, manufacturers, wholesale distributors and service providers.
The need for data collection also extends into healthcare, where bar codes are being used for to update and track a patient’s electronic medical records (EMR) and prescriptions.
By using a bar code based system, medical facilities can quickly and accurately update EMRs, instead of relying on a doctor’s hard-to-read handwritten notes for patient safety.