Innovative Auto-ID and LBS - Chapter Five Barcode: The Pioneer Auto-ID Technology

Chapter V - Barcode: The Pioneer Auto-ID Technology

 

BARCODE TECHNOLOGY

Historical Overview

Of all the auto-ID technologies in the global market today, barcode is the most widely used. In 1994, Cohen (p. 55) wrote “...barcode technology is clearly at the forefront of automatic identification systems and is likely to stay there for a long time.” It is estimated by GS1, that there are over 5 billion barcode reads each day. Despite complementary and supplementary technologies entering the barcode space, Cohen’s statement still holds true. Palmer (p. 9) agreed in 1995, that “barcode ha[d] become the dominant automatic identification technology”. Ames (1990, p. G-1) defines the barcode as: “an automatic identification technology that encodes information into an array of adjacent varying width parallel rectangular bars and spaces.”

The technology’s popularity can be attributed to its application in retail, specifically in the identification and tracking of consumer goods. Before the barcode, only manual identification techniques existed. Handwritten labels or carbon-copied paper were attached or stuck to ‘things’ needing identification. In 1932 the first study on the automation of supermarket checkout counters was conducted by Wallace Flint. Subsequently in 1934 a patent was filed presenting barcode-type concepts (Palmer, 1995, p. 11) by Kermode and his colleagues. The patent described the use of four parallel lines as a means to identify different objects.

In 1959 a group of railroad research and development (R&D) managers (including GTE Applied Research Lab representatives) met in Boston to solve some of the rail industry’s freight problems. By 1962 Sylvania (along with GTE) had designed a system which was implemented in 1967 using color barcode technology (Collins & Whipple, 1994, p. 8). In 1968, concentrated efforts began to develop a standard for supermarket point-of-sale which culminated in the RCA developing a bull’s eye symbol to be operated in the Kroger store in Cincinnati in 1972 (Palmer, 1995, p. 12). Until then, barcodes in retail were only used for order picking at distribution centers (Collins & Whipple, 1994, p. 10). But it was not the bull’s eye barcode that would dominate but the Universal Product Code (UPC) standard. The first UPC barcode to cross the scanner was on a packet of Wrigley’s chewing gum at Marsh’s supermarket in Ohio in June 1974 (Brown, 1997, p. 5). Within two years the vast majority of retail items in the United States carried a UPC.

 

Barcode System

Barcode technology increased in popularity throughout the 1980s as computing power and memory became more affordable, and consumer acceptance increased. This enabled programs and peripheral devices (complementary innovations) to be built to support barcodes for the identification and capture of data. A barcode can only work within a systems environment. Barcode labels in themselves are useless without peripheral equipment. The components required in a barcode system include: a barcode label (encoded with a symbology), a scanner, a decoder, a computer with a database, and a printer. Additional components include software, monitors, and networks which are used to complement most systems (Jesse & Rosenbaum, 2000). Simply put, a scanner reads the label using a given symbology, a decoder then converts this signal into a digital form so that a computer can perform its functions.

 

The Importance of Symbologies

When examining the technical features of the barcode it is important to understand symbologies, also known as configurations. There are many different types of symbologies that can be used to implement barcodes, each with its distinct characteristics. New symbologies are still being introduced today. Cohen (1994, p. 55) explains a symbology is a language with its own rules and syntax that can be translated into ASCII code.

Common to all symbologies is that the barcode is made up of a series of dark and light contiguous bars (Collins & Whipple, 1994, pp. 20-24). Each barcode differs based on the width of the bars. Of particular importance is the width of the narrowest bar which is called the ‘X dimension’ (usually measured in millimeters) and the number of bar widths. Essentially, this defines the character width- the amount of bars needed to encode data. When the barcode is read by a device called a scanner, light is illuminated onto the bars. This pattern of black and white spaces is then reflected (like an OFF/ON series) and decoded using an algorithm. This special pattern equates to an identification number but can be implemented using any specification. For instance, the major linear barcode symbologies include: Interleaved 2 of 5, Code 39 (also known as code 3-of-9), EAN 13, U.P.C. 8 and Code 128. Major two-dimensional symbologies, known also as area symbologies, include Data Matrix, MaxiCode, and PDF417.

Interleaved 2 of 5 is based on a numeric character set only. Two characters are paired together using bars. The structure of the barcode is made up of a start quiet zone, start pattern, data, stop pattern and trail quiet zone. According to Palmer (1995, p. 29) it is mainly used in the distribution industry. Code 39 is based on a full alphabet, full numeric and special character set. It consists of a series of symbol characters represented by five bars and four spaces. Each character is separated by an intercharacter gap. This symbology was widely used in non-retail applications. The barcode is made up of light and dark bars representing 1s and 0s. The structure of the barcodes includes three guard bars (start, centre and stop), and left and right data. The barcodes can be read in an omni-directional fashion as well as bi-directional. Allotted article numbers are only unique identification numbers in a standard format and do not classify goods by product type. Like the Interleaved 2 of 5 symbology, EAN identification is exclusively numerical. The structure of the EAN and U.P.C. includes (i) the prefix number that is an organization number that has been preset by EAN, and (ii) the item identification that is a number that is given to the product by the country-specific numbering organization. The U.P.C. relevant only to the U.S. and Canada does not use the prefix codes as EAN does but denotes the prefix by 0, 6, or 7.

  According to Palmer (1995, p. 37), Code 128 was increasingly adopted throughout the 1990s because it was a highly-dense alphanumeric symbology that allowed for variable length and multiple element widths. With the introduction of the Data Matrix symbology even more information could be packed onto a square block. Since the symbology is scalable it is possible to fit hundreds of thousands of characters on a block. Data Matrix used to be a proprietary technology until it became public in 1994. As opposed to the light and dark bars of the EAN symbology, MaxiCode is a matrix code which is made up of a series of square dots, an array of 866 interlocking hexagons. On each 3cm by 3cm square block, about 100 ASCII characters can be held. It was developed by the United Parcel Service for automatic identification of packages. Like the MaxiCode symbology, PDF417 is stacked. The symbology consists of 17 modules each containing 4 bars and spaces. The structure allows for between 1000 and 2000 characters per symbol. Collins and Whipple (1994, p. 41) suggest a maximum of 50 characters when using linear symbologies.

The 2D barcode configuration has increased the physical data limitations of the linear configurations. Users are now able to store larger quantities of information on barcodes with many company-defined fields. Contrarily, linear barcodes should never extend to more than 20 characters as they become difficult to read by scanners. Other linear and 2D barcode symbologies include: Plessey Code, Matrix 2 of 5, Nixdorf Code, Delta Distance A, Codabar, Codablock, Code 1, Code 16K, Code 11, Code 39, Code 49, Code 93, Code 128, DataGlyphs, Datastrip Code, InterCode, MSI Code, Snowflake Code USD-5, UnisCode, Vericode, ArrayTag, Dotcode.

 

Choosing a Symbology

Each symbology has benefits and limitations. It is important for the adopter of barcode technology to know which symbologies are suitable to their particular industry. Standards associations and manufacturers can also help with a best-fit recommendation (Grieco et al., 1989, pp. 43-45). Considerations may include: what character sets are required by the company, what the required level of accuracy of the symbology should be, whether the symbology allows for the creation and printing of a label (in terms of density), and whether the symbology has specifications that make it intolerant to particular circumstances.

Sometimes there may also be pressure by industry groups for users to conform to certain symbologies. As Cohen (1994, p. 99f) points out, there are some bodies that have created industrial barcode standards such as: ODETTE (Organization for Data Exchange by Tele Transmission in Europe) that adopted Code 39; IATA (International Air Transport Authority) that adopted Interleaved 2 of 5; HIBCC (Health Industry Business Communication Council) that adopted Code 39 as well as Code 128; and LOGMARS (Logistic Applications of Automated Marking and Reading Symbols) that has also adopted Code 39. It should be noted that even if a symbology is created for a particular industry group, it does not mean it is highly sophisticated. For example, Codabar developed in 1972 is used today in libraries, blood banks and certain parcel express applications although it is not considered a sophisticated symbology, despite that it has served some industry groups well for decades (Collins and Whipple, 1994, p. 28).

 

About Scanners

The barcode scanner, also known as a reader, takes that which has been encoded in a symbology and converts it to a digital format to be read by software on a computer or software resident on the scanner itself. The reader uses an electro-optical system as a type of transducer so that it can analyze the optical symbol using the reader’s processing electronics (Palmer, 1995, p. 79). The electro-optical system both illumines the symbol and determines how much light has been reflected once a symbol is read. The analog voltage coming out from the electro-optical system is then converted to digital format by the analog-to-digital (A/D) converter and outputted to a processor. According to LaMoreaux (1998, p. 144) eight basic functions are performed by the scanner: “(1) shine light on the barcode; (2) collect the reflected light, convert it into plus and minus electricity; (3) process the signal; (4) analyze the relative width of the light and dark areas; (5) compare the signal from the barcode symbol to the symbology standards in memory; (6) if it corresponds to a known symbology, continue; (7) decode the barcode; (8) transmit the information as usable for the rest of the system.”

There are different ways you can categorize scanner types. One way is by separating the types based on readers that require human intervention and those that do not. Attended barcode scanners include input devices like lightpens, wand scanners or hand-held laser guns. These scanners can be further categorized into those that require the scanner’s physical contact with the barcode label, and those that do not (i.e. non-contact). Some practice is required by attendees using handheld, fixed beam contact devices. These scanners, also known as charge-coupled devices (CCD), are pixel readers with very little depth of field capability. Common errors in reading a barcode include the operator scanning the barcode label too slowly, or the operator stopping or starting the scan outside the quiet zones. Handheld fixed beam noncontact devices require the attendee to manually provide the scanning motion and are typically used for soft or irregular surfaces. Handheld, moving beam scanners, also known as laser scanners are usually found at supermarket stores and are more expensive than wands. They can scan at more than a thousand times per second, and require little operator training. They are preferred because they are non-contact, they have a greater range of distance and depth of field, and are rugged able to be used in harsh environments (figure 1).

Conveyor barcode scanners, which do not require human intervention at the point of scanning can be divided into orientation-dependent laser scanners and omnidirectional laser scanners. These scanners are used in automated material handling systems and dominate manufacturing floors in an attempt to speed the flow of goods, decrease the amount of inventory stored and increase industrial productivity. High speed conveyors are used in concert with diverters, packaging lines and transfer machines (Palmer, 1995, p. 117). Orientation-dependent scanners require the symbol orientation to be precisely fixed in a given application whereas omni-directional scanners do not. Omni-directional scanners are growing in sophistication, and while they are more expensive, are advantageous especially for parcels which come in different shapes and sizes, from different countries, and have to be sorted quickly. There are also vision-based scanners which can belong to either category above. The vision-based scanners are currently being used to read 2D symbologies to overcome some of the problems associated with using omnidirectional laser scanning technology. Advances in digital signal processing (DSP) chips, high resolution imagers, and pattern recognition software have made it possible to read 2D stacked symbologies and 2D matrix symbologies with even the smallest of aspect ratios.

 

Printer Types and Labels

Choosing printer technology is similar in a way to choosing a symbology, it is heavily dependent on the application context. Barcode printers broadly fall into two classifications: off-site and on-site printing. Basically, labels are printed on the site they will be used, or they are printed off-site where production is done separate to a location where they will be applied. Off-site printing is usually for large volumes of barcode labels either with the same symbols or sequenced. With on-site printing, the data encoded in each symbol is different and is usually entered manually for small counts of items, or electronically by an attached computer, if the batch is larger. On-site printing techniques are especially good for applications where the user cannot predict in advance their label printing requirements.                                                                                                                                   

LaMoreaux (1995, p. 170) identifies no less than 11 different types of printing systems including: electrostatic for the printing of high-speed large labels, impact for high-quality printing which is dedicated to one code, dot matrix which is ideal for multi-part forms and infinite variable formats, thermal printers which are quiet and inexpensive, thermal transferwhich has a high-quality print and is permanent, ink jet which is fast and silent but which suffers from low corrugated quality, ink jet (hot melt) which has excellent quality and high density, laser etch on things which will print on most surfaces but is expensive, laser toner on labels which is fast and has superior quality, letterpresses/flexo which are cheap but labor intensive, and hotstamp which allows for multi-color prints. In 2007, linear imaging was surpassing laser scanning as the preferred scan engine for its performance and durability.

The group of off-site printers which consist of the letterpress, offset lithography, flexography, rotogravure, and the inking wheel are all known as wet ink techniques. The more money that is spent for the purchase of an on-site printer, the better the quality of the barcode label, and the greater its readability and lifetime. Since the mid-90s, the range of printers for bar coding has increased as the size of the printers has decreased. There are now a number of powerful barcode labeling programs granting businesses the functionality to create customized labels (figure 2). For example, BarTender is considered the leading Windows barcode labeling program which is developed by Seagull Scientific. The quality of the label is dependent upon the quality of materials used, among which are paper, vinyl, mylar, and acetate. The quality of the printer cartridges, ribbons, toners is also important, as is how the labels are stuck onto items by hand or using applicators.

 

Communications

Local area networks (LANs) are a key part of any automatic identification system, whether they are wireline or wireless. Increasingly, data communications are not being done using the traditional model linking the labeling and reading equipment with the data processing resource using cable. Instead radio frequency data capture (RFDC) is being used taking advantage of the electromagnetic spectrum. The RF-based data collection network has many advantages over the wireline network, the greatest of which are the use of portable terminals. However, small-to-medium sized companies who prefer the wireless environment must invest in a network which employs a base station unit which controls remote units and large sized companies might use multiple base stations which is driven by a single network controller to ensure complete coverage.

 

Incremental Innovations

Of the significant incremental innovations to barcode technology has been bar coding small sized objects and the reading of different symbologies using a single hardware device. In 1996 the Uniform Code Council (UCC) and EAN (European Article Number) International recognized the need for a symbology that could be applied to small-sized products such as microchips and health care products. The UCC and EAN Symbol Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) identified a solution that was able to incorporate the benefits of both linear (1D) and 2D barcodes. The symbol class is called Composite Symbology (CS), and the family of barcodes is called GS1 DataBar (formerly known as Reduced Space Symbology (RSS)). GS1 DataBar provides “product identification for hard-to-mark items like fresh foods and can carry information such as supplier identification, lot numbers, and expiration dates. This new technology also creates the opportunity for solutions supporting product authentication and traceability, product quality and effectiveness, variable measure product identification, and couponing” GS1, 2008). It has been heralded as the new generation of barcodes because it allows for the co-existence of symbologies already in use (Moore & Albright, 1998, pp. 24-25). The biggest technical breakthrough (conceived prior to the 1990s) was autodiscrimination. This is the ability for a barcode system to read more than one symbology by automatically detecting which symbology has been used and converting the data to a relevant locally-used symbology using look-up tables. This not only allows the use of several different types of symbologies by different companies but has enormous implications for users trading their goods across geographic markets.

 

Barcode Limitations

A technical drawback of the barcode itself is that it cannot be updated. Once a barcode is printed, it is the identifier for life. In many applications this is not presented as a problem, however it does make updating the database where data is stored a maintenance nightmare. Unlike other auto-ID technologies that can be reprogrammed, a barcode database once set up is difficult to change; it is easier in some instances to re-label products. It should also be noted that a label’s print quality can decline with age, depending on the quality of the material used for the label, the number of times the label has been scanned, environmental conditions and packaging material. “[I]t is possible (especially with marginal quality barcodes) for the barcode read today… not to be read by the same reader tomorrow” (Cohen, 1994, p. 93). Verification, also known as quality assurance, is required during the production process to ensure that barcodes are made without defects. Problems that can be encountered include: undersized quiet zones, underburn/ overburn, voids, ribbon wrinkling, short or long barcodes, transparent or translucent backgrounds, missing information which is human-readable, symbol size or font is incorrect, spread or overlays, location on packaging, and roughness and spots. Another limitation of the technology is that it is insecure. Anyone with the right scanner can read a barcode and decode it effortlessly.

 

THE BARCODE INNOVATION SYSTEM

Committees, Subcommittees and Councils

As LaMoreaux (1998, p. 51) points out, “[n]o invention comes in a flash. Each is built on many minds sharing ideas and working towards the same goals.” At first, the auto-ID industry had very few innovators, most of who were involved in barcode development. It was around 1970 that product coding started to be noticed by retail and manufacturing companies, especially in the U.S. Until that time, individual innovators in small firms were attempting to offer solutions to companies in isolation. These solutions were dissimilar because they were based on proprietary solutions. At the time the retail industry especially feared that barcode might cause more problems than it would solve through incompatible check-out systems and the implementation of a number of different product coding schemes (Brown, 1997, p. 39).

Firms had valuable ideas regarding the direction of barcode but were not able to share these with each other as there was no common body linking everyone together. This eventually led to the urgent formation of the Ad Hoc Committee in 1970. The committee was made up of ten chief executive officers. Five would come from grocery manufacturers and another five from distributor associations. Trade associations collectively posed five questions to this committee. These included (Brown, 1997, pp. 42f): “(1) is a standard industry product code worthwhile even if it not feasible to devise a standard symbol? (2) If so, what should that code be? (3) How can widespread acceptance of the industry standard be obtained? (4) How shall the code be managed? (5) Should there be a standard symbol representing the code, and if so what should it be?” As can be seen, these questions were all concerned with the barcode technology itself, not about such things as end-user acceptance. This is characteristic of a technology in its early adoption phase. The technology must work properly and must make sense economically before it can enjoy widespread adoption. In this manner, progress is connected to technology itself, “vorsprung durch Technik” [[p]rogress through technology].

In 1971 the Symbol Selection Subcommittee was formed, aided by the Ad Hoc Committee. The Committee was made up of young, intense and brilliant individuals who were committed to the cause. Meetings were “electric as idea fed upon idea” (Brown, 1997, p. 58). Many skilful people committed large amounts of time to the committee while holding full-time positions during the day. The Symbol Committee enthusiastically sought help from anyone that was willing and so attracted a wider group of players who brought with them a great number of diverse issues, many of which were not technical in nature. The focus was now on how to get barcode successfully to market. Key tasks included to: “(1) Develop alternate agreements to license and/or put selected symbol in public domain; (2) Visit key equipment companies; (3) Initiate and coordinate special studies; (4) Contact other affected groups, e.g., printer… manufacturers; (5) Develop test parameters and formats; (6) Develop environment guidelines; (7) Interview and decide on special consultants; (8) Develop press releases” (Brown, 1997, pp. 61f).

This was an important point in the history of barcode because the Committee encouraged firm-to-firm and firm-to-agency interaction. For the first time, industry stakeholders could voice their concerns about the proposed standard. Representatives from companies could also share their visions about the technology and potential applications. This kind of information exchange was fruitful in that it encouraged participatory behavior by stakeholders, giving the Committee the ability to address critical issues in a timely manner. For instance, food wholesaler Jewel, voiced their concerns through formal letters to the Committee. In one such letter to the Symbol Committee the company president listed seven main concerns about the work, including, whether the standard defined in 1971 would soon become obsolete, that the ten-digit code would not stand the test of time and that the lack of compatibility with other codes would be a major problem. Jewel believed that technological innovation was inevitably a continual process and that it was up to the Ad Hoc Committee to make decisions on key issues (Brown, 1997, p. 84).

Determined to complete its mission the Symbol Committee finished its two-year investigation in 1973 announcing a suitable standard- the UPC (Universal Product Code) was officially born. A spin-off of the Symbol Committee was the formation of the Symbol Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) and later the Universal Product Code Council (UPCC). Seeing the invaluable work done by the UPCC, other standards-setting organizations were also subsequently formed such as EAN (Electronic Article Numbering) and AIM (Automatic Identification Manufacturers). It is through these well-known organizations, councils and committees that international standards are set via ISO (International Standards Organization) today. While barcode enjoyed steady growth after the mid 1970s, it was only when mass merchants like KMart and Wal-Mart committed to U.P.C. scanning that adoption boomed. This is when barcode started to become noticeable to the general public.

 

Public Policy: Labor Unions and the Consumer Response

The primary aim of the barcode was to improve the efficiency and productivity of the checkout process- it was oriented towards savings for business. Increased consumer convenience was a by-product but not something that preoccupied the attention of the Ad Hoc or Symbol Committees in the U.S. Very early on in the development of barcode, labor unions and consumer activist groups joined forces to oppose the new technology. In 1998 Lamoreaux (pp. 17-19) wrote that the “…fears of barcodes, today, are more psychological and economic. People are afraid they will be cheated… or that they will be used for spying. Trade unions still fight barcoding if they perceive that it will negatively affect members’ jobs”.

First and foremost, any level of automation at the check out counter equated to job losses. Labor unions were quick to highlight the inevitabilities and journalists were quick to report on them. Second, consumers were very skeptical about the removal of price tags on supermarket store items. Historically, consumers were used to purchasing goods with a price tag on the item itself. At the check-out counter, a sales assistant would then key in the price of the item and the consumer would pay the amount. The introduction of barcodes changed the way people shopped. Many shoppers had never seen electronic devices at that time, so the scanner at the check-out was treated apprehensively. The light emitting from the scanner, and the beeps heard when an item was entered contributed to some of the customer feeling. A lot of doubt initially crept in regarding the accuracy of the new technology. Brown (1997, p. 128) described the deep mistrust consumers held of business: “[f]rom their perspective, of course industry wanted to remove prices from items: using computer technology would enable prices to be manipulated without fear of detection”. It was difficult for many consumers to understand how a bar with black and white lines imprinted on products could equate to a cost for the good they were purchasing or a decrease in queuing time. While the barcode did act to increase productivity levels, some consumers could argue that they are still queuing up at large supermarkets for the same amount of time, as less staff is hired offset by the productivity gains (figure 3). Also, the need for a single item to be scanned, like a packet of chewing gum, is debatable. It would be faster to pay for the item and leave.

Political games eventuated from the polemical situation between consumer activists and the Committee. Members of the Public Policy Committee (for barcode) even ended up at state legislatures and finally succumbed to the demands of consumers by putting forward several proposals for itemized pricing as well as the establishment of by-laws. Accuracy issues related to barcode in the United States were finally put to rest in 1996 when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published its findings on the impacts of barcodes on pricing. The FTC report revealed that on average most supermarkets will undercharge rather than overcharge when an error has occurred in the price: “[c]heckout scanners result in fewer errors than manual entry of prices at the checkout” (Reeves, 1996, p. 41).

By the late 1970s politicians had grown weary of the debate and abandoned it altogether. The Public Policy Committee ceased to exist in 1977 but served a crucial role in the early stages of barcode development as a mechanism to encourage interaction between various stakeholders. Yet this was not the end of public policy issues related to barcode. By the 1990s, labor unions and other independent bodies were now pointing to serious injuries suffered by employees who had to repetitively scan products for long periods of time with awkward equipment and heavy supermarket store items. Repetitive strain injury (RSI) received a lot of media attention and affected employees sought compensation.

The U.P.C. also received attention from religious groups who saw the bar coding of products as a movement towards the fulfillment of prophecies in the Book of Revelation (Hristodoulou, 1994). There are still groups, especially some monastic communities who refuse to purchase goods that are marked with the barcode. This would surely limit their ability to survive on anything, save subsistence farming practices. Members of these groups link the U.P.C. with the infamous “number of the beast” (666). A plethora of web sites have noted the uncanny coincidence between the number of the beast “666” (Revelation 13:18) and the left (101), centre (01010) and right (101) border codes of the U.P.C. equating to “6, 6, 6”. Some of the more prominent end-time web sites that discuss the U.P.C. include: Ministries (1995), An Apocalyptic Warning (2003), Greater Things (2003), BibleTruthOnline (2006). At first the sites focused on barcode technology, now they have grown to encompass a plethora of auto-ID technologies, especially biometrics and chip implants.

More recently, the work of Katherine Albrecht offers an educated response to the normally “fundamentalist” positions of the websites. Albrecht similarly believes that those who said bar code labels and Social Security numbers were the mark of the beast were not completely wrong. She considers these technologies as precursors to radio frequency identification (RFID) and steps towards a totalitarian regime (Albrecht & McIntyre, 2005; 2006). In an interview with Baard (2006) for Wired she states: “[a]ll of these technologies are of concern… I’d like to think I’d be speaking out against them, too, if I was around at the time they were introduced.”

 

Barcode Fever Spreads in Supply Chains

As more and more distributors, suppliers and retailers implemented barcode solutions, the word spread about the significant gains offset by the technology. It caused a ripple effect in company supply chains especially. As a result, a greater number of customer inquiries were made to technology providers who were only too willing to answer queries from prospective customers.  With each new request for information (RFI), technology providers could understand the needs of customers better and feed this knowledge back into the development process. The future was thus being molded by the learning gained from each successive customer engagement. The evolution of barcode innovations became an interactive experience. As the awareness grew that barcode could be used not only for product coding but for literally thousands of other applications, barcode suppliers became inundated with requests and the rate of barcode-related patents increased substantially. For a representative list of relevant patents in the U.S. beginning in 1995, see Palmer (1995, pp. 361-369). Auto-ID firms, therefore, no longer solely relied on their own knowledge production but also on the interaction between the various players in the industry such as issuers of barcode cards, merchants and consumers for valuable feedback. Cooperatives and alliances began to emerge to support and promote activities for auto-ID product innovation such as AIM. Among numerous other associations and forums, AIM assisted to catapult barcode and other auto-ID technologies into the fore.

 

Clusters of Knowledge and a Growing Infrastructure

Formal knowledge generated and documented by councils, standards bodies, patent offices, universities and R&D programs became of growing importance, especially to new barcode company entrants who relied on existing infrastructure to start their operations. Associations like AIM Global provided support by publishing important documents and specifications for members. In addition, a great deal of explicit knowledge continues to be produced by students and staff doing research at universities on behalf of private enterprise or government who funded their work. In July 2002, TEKLYNX donated fifteen thousand dollars worth of software (CODESOFT) to the University of Ohio and another fourteen universities for education research purposes across North and South America. Among the prominent research hubs in this field, are the Centre for Auto-ID at Ohio University, the Auto-ID Centre at MIT, the Automatic Data Capture Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh, the NCTU Automatic Information Processing Lab in Taiwan, InsightU.org- an on-line university, the Information Management Institute (IMI), the Automatic Identification and Data Capture Program at Purdue University and the Robert W. Rylander Corporation that has numerous collaborative projects with universities throughout the U.S. It should be noted that many of these universities specialize in a variety of auto-ID technology.

University researchers have the opportunity to exchange information with private enterprise via auto-ID conferences, trade publications and industry associations. Knowledge distribution in this environment has been among the most useful. Both manufacturers and VARs (Value Added Resellers) are able to exhibit their product innovations and attract interested customers to view a range of possible solutions. Valuable feedback is often gained from such events. The proceedings of these conferences are usually published. What all these stakeholders understand is that communication about barcode technology and its future direction is paramount to its continued success. Universities are also excellent locations to store archival information as they have public libraries and other specialized facilities. At Stony Brook State University in New York an automatic identification and data capture industry archive was launched in October 2002. The AIDC 100 Archive at Stony Brook University includes “documents, financial reports, conference proceedings, market studies, periodicals, books and prototype hardware… AIDC 100 is an organization founded in 1997 by industry leaders… the vision of the leaders was to create an intellectual gathering place for those business professionals who have made significant contributions… AIDC archive is constantly growing” (Media Relations, 2002).

 

Setting Standards

Today each individual barcode application requires numerous standards considerations. Before a barcode can be used, a symbology for the product innovation must be chosen along with the rules for information content, the barcode label, where the label is to be placed, the electronic data interchange (EDI) standard and verification standard. “[I]n some industries not only does the barcode label need to meet the required quality in terms of printing standards, but the data conveyed by the barcode also has to conform to a required structure” (Cohen, J., 1994, p. 100; see also Palmer, 1995, pp. 159-174). Even the way barcode information is collected using data terminal equipment (DTE), transmitted over a network and stored in a relational database is standardized (Collins & Whipple, 1994, ch. 5-7).

Barcode standards have also been established by voluntary committees which over time have assisted in convincing other companies in the same industry to follow similar practices. Some standards-setting organizations like UCC/EAN are heavily oriented towards offering specific solutions to retail and have in some respect ignored the needs of non-retail members who are not commodity oriented (Moore, 1998, p. 6). Depending on the barcode aspect to be standardized the process can be as simple as an employee presenting their findings to their immediate manager or as complex as multiple presentations to AIM International by technology providers, proceeding to global standardization through ISO. According to Bert Moore (1998, p. 3), former director of AIM technical communications, it already takes an average of one to two years to create a standard which is pan-national. At the international level it takes at least 50 per cent longer to accomplish anything.

 

UCC and EAN

Standards differ in type and importance. LaMoreaux (1998, pp. 213-214) distinguishes between major, mid-level, industry, company and lower level barcode standards. Examples of each can be found in Table 1. Perhaps the most influential standards in the world today are industry-specific. Two examples of this in the retail industry are the U.P.C. and EAN. The U.P.C., a subset of EAN, is used to identify supermarket goods. First a manufacturer’s number must be obtained to ensure uniqueness between say one can of pet food and another from a different manufacturer. Second each product is allotted a number. When combined, manufacturer number and product number uniquely represent a particular product. In the case of EAN-13, the above-mentioned U.P.C. numbers apply, plus an additional first two digits which identify the country of origin in which the manufacturer’s number was allocated. EAN has now been implemented in over 70 countries worldwide. Although they seem to have struck a reasonable alliance, “[t]he growing use of UCC-EAN standards across industries and borders continues to test the relationship between the two organizations” (Brown, 1997, p. 201). Overall, the aims of barcode standards bodies as outlined by J. Cohen (1994, p. 99) include: “(1) multiple use of a single symbology by a number of different users in the same industry; (2) reduce the amount of research needed by any single user to implement a barcode system; (3) encourage the development of standardized data collection systems within any one industry; and (4) meet the majority of needs of all users within any one user group or industry.”

 

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)

The gradual industry movement has been towards the tracking of products throughout the enterprise (e.g. Enterprise Resource Planning, ERP) and the supply chain (SCM). The eventual goal is to implement true EDI using barcode technology to take advantage of value added services (VAS) over the company extranet. TRADANET, the UK data network formed in 1982 is based on specific standards now able to offer EDI to international companies. “Joining forces are the Article Numbering Association (ANA), the standards authority for bar coding and electronic data interchange (EDI) and the Electronic Commerce Association (ECA), which offers guidance and solutions to businesses seeking to take up paperless trading” (Jones ed., 1998, p. 13). However, not all industries want to conform to a single major barcode standard. While EDI has matured within the UCC there are quite a few historical issues which have caused friction between EDI leaders and UPC pioneers. Brown (1997, p. 173) believes that “time… will bring new understanding and cooperation” between the two groups as has been witnessed today.

In a move that could have a major impact on the global barcode market, the UCC and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) are believed to have been working together to reach a consensus on shipment identification codes in the form of the SSCC-18 (Serialized Shipping Container Code) standard. This caused a ripple effect which took place throughout NATOs supply chain. From NATO supplier companies to other government agencies it has been predicted that “every industry segment would, of necessity, adopt UCC/EAN coding and marking” (Moore, 1998, p. 6). This would place immense pressure on barcode suppliers specializing in custom symbologies to conform to a potential super-standard. It should be noted however, that organizations like NATO and government agencies like the United States Department of Defense (DOD), have very different bargaining power than other members of the open market.

 

The Rise of GS1

In 2005 EAN International changed its name to GS1, being the global office for more than one hundred member organizations in the world. The Uniform Code Council (UCC) responsible for numbering in the US and managing the EAN.UCC system, soon after also changed its name, to GS1 US. It only made sense that the two organizations come together, given they were responsible for the world’s supply chain standards across multiple sectors. In addition, GS1 Canada was formed when the Electronic Commerce Council of Canada (ECCC) got on board as well. GS1’s main activity is the development of the GS1 System, a family of standards designed for the improvement of supply chain practices globally. The GS1 System has four arms: barcodes, eCom, GDSN (Global Data Synchronization Network) and EPCglobal (Electronic Product Code global, linked to radio-frequency identification). GS1’s mission for barcodes is to enable businesses to respond to the challenges of the global supply chain by increasing their efficiency and helping them to maximize profitability. The new DataBar is smaller than its predecessor barcode but it can store a lot more information (GS1, 2008).

 

Legal Aspects

Barcode developers once placed symbologies in the public domain, granting access to whoever needed them, at no cost. As Palmer (1995, p. 243) recollects early on there was a spirit of openness, even between competitors who often assisted one another in an effort to get their products to work with new symbologies. Early developers could see the long-term benefit for all concerned of such cooperation. Today, that same spirit of openness does not exist. Barcode is a mature technology and there are a lot more players in the global market than there used to be, all vying for a share of the profits. By patenting barcode inventions manufacturers have realized that as well as protecting their intellectual property (IP) rights, they can also collect money via royalties from license agreements and other contracts.

 

The Public Domain vs Over-Patenting

One criticism of recent behavior has been the incidence of over-patenting, especially by barcode manufacturers. Some inventors are taking advantage of the patent process in some countries and even patenting ideas that are intuitively obvious. According to Palmer (1995, p. 241) these instances have been counter-productive to the real spirit of innovation and ultimately end-users end up paying for the costs, and technical progress in some areas of development is stifled as a result. For instance, in 2000, Hutchison reported that PSC and Symbol Technologies were embroiled in yet another patent-infringement suit over a portable barcode scanner named the Grocer e-Scan. The reporter noted that the two companies had a history of litigation.

 Patents in the field of barcode are usually related to symbologies, hardware or applications. It is important for all stakeholders to be aware of what is happening in the industry because they do not want to find themselves having to pay large amounts of money to inventors who are mostly concerned with royalty revenues than solutions. Formal challenges have been launched against a variety of committees, other manufacturers, and even end-users in the past. In some of the more prominent barcode-related legal battles, can be included Walter Kaslow’s coupon validation system (1976), Ilhan Bilgutay’s challenge on the UPC symbol (1985) and IAMPO’s UPC definition (1992).

 

BARCODE APPLICATIONS

Overview

Supply Chain Management

Over the years barcodes have been applied to many different applications. For an extensive list of uses of barcodes and a diverse range of case studies see LaMoreaux (1995, pp. 10-11; 22-50), Palmer (1995, pp. 225-239; 2007), Grieco et al. (1989, pp. 135-168) and Collins and Whipple (1994, pp. 187-251) who cover barcode solutions for inventory control systems, retail, and tracking. The biggest adopter of barcode technology is the retail industry. Via the retail industry alone, the barcode had permeated a global population in just a short period of time. It can be credited as being the first sector to establish symbologies for product marking. The first symbology to be widely adopted was the UPC. However, European interest in the UPC led to the adoption of the EAN symbology in 1976. Today there exist several different versions of UPC and EAN, each with its own characteristics. The changes in the check-out process did not go unnoticed. It changed the way consumers bought goods and the way employees worked. It also had a major impact on how businesses functioned and related to one another, i.e. supplier-customer relations. In terms of barcode developments, the 1990s have been characterized by an attempt to evolve standards and encourage uniformity. This has been particularly important in the area of supply chain management (SCM).

 

Enterprise Resource Planning

Another application of barcode is in manufacturing where it has acted to increase productivity levels significantly. Specific part types can now be identified automatically. The label is used in the sorting and tracking of parts until the finished product is completed and dispatched, using various checkpoints throughout assembly (Wamba, Lefebvre & Lefebvre, 2006). This work-in-process innovation also acts as an order entry system and quality control measure. In shipping, delivery errors have been reduced because of barcode labels on individual packaging items, resulting in goods getting to their correct destinations on time. Such practices are saving large companies millions of dollars annually. Barcode systems can also transmit order information and other data using electronic data interchange (EDI). This allows for international operations worldwide to be linked together. Executives can now receive timely and accurate sales and inventory data and have an ability to exercise a just-in-time (JIT) strategy in their operations (Johnston & Lee, 1997). Highly automated systems have reduced labor costs and increased productivity. Quick response (QR) and direct store delivery (DSD) have lead to better customer relations that have helped companies achieve a competitive edge (figure 4). Expensive goods are also asset-tagged with barcodes to reduce the incidence of theft, shoplifting or illegal imitation.

 

Other Applications

The versatile nature of barcode to be imprinted on just about any type of surface meant that its application on plastic cards or paper forms was inevitable (figure 5). Acting as an automatic identifier for low-risk applications barcode is renowned for being an effective solution. In 1994, Cohen (p. 63) believed that barcode had the highest accuracy amongst auto-ID technologies: “…barcode technology is seen today as the most reliable of all auto-ID technologies, that is, the one with the lowest substitution error rate.” This statement has to be taken in context. It is now commonplace to find libraries issuing cards with barcodes to borrowers, as are school administrations to their students and staff. In fact, a student’s absenteeism or individual class attendance can also be monitored. In the workplace, attendance hours can be logged using barcode to indicate an employee’s hours of work. Barcode access control cards can grant privileges to employees who are authorized to use work facilities. Tracking people is also possible using wearable tags with the barcode imprinted on the tag. Barcodes can also be used for crowd control, particularly for highly publicized events where large numbers of people are expected. And barcodes they have long been used for baggage handling and collection at airports throughout the world (figure 6).

Other applications include bar coding every publication using the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), direct mailing systems that insert barcodes on forms or brochures to keep track of information gathered in order to perform target marketing. Invoices sent out can also be barcoded for tracking goods sent and used in the returns or damaged items process. In the health industry hospital patients can be identified by barcodes that are securely attached to them via a plastic bracelet. Laboratory samples are also labeled with barcodes for tracking purposes (figure 7). In agriculture barcodes are used in the process of cattle breeding as well. The barcode today continues to be the standard auto-ID technique of choice. The infrastructure for barcode is well-established, the technology is well-understood, and it is relatively cheap to implement and operate. Post the year 2000, new applications of barcode are continually being invented, as is demonstrated by its potential to even be used as a tracking instrument for even the smallest of insects.

 

Case 1: Barcodes in Manufacturing

The greatest impact that barcodes have made in the retail sector has been in the production process and distribution of goods. Two examples of this can be found in Bobson, a Japanese-based manufacturer of casual apparel and R. M. Palmer, a US-based leading confectionary manufacturer. Both manufacturers have been able to achieve quick response (QR) because of the barcode. “Stage one is exemplified by the use of U.P.C., EDI for purchase orders and invoices and, lastly, the UCC/EAN-128 shipping label standard for container marking” (McInerney, 1998, p. 33). Bobson has the capacity to cater for up to 60000 apparel items on a daily basis and has over 1300 customers. Using the Interleaved 2 of 5 symbology, products are organized into barcoded collapsible totes that have a unique identification. Placed on an automated conveyer belt barcodes are scanned updating Bobson’s inventory file. Orders are then sorted by destination automatically using a cross-belt sorter. The automated system eliminates sales losses and allows Bobson “...to compete effectively against lower cost apparel from overseas” (Automatic ID, 1998b, p. 31). Suppliers of goods, like R. M. Palmer, have also had to meet customer compliance demands. The candy producer created its own automated labeling system: “[it] has moved from stenciling cartons to ordering preprinted labels to hand-applying pressure-sensitive labels printed on site” (Automatic ID, 1998a, p. 30). Today Palmer has the capability to produce a different label for each of its customers utilizing Code 128 barcodes. It additionally produces Interleaved 2 of 5 barcodes for internal purposes and UPC for preprinted labels. Similar to Bobson, Palmer places cartons on conveyors that must pass through barcode laser scanners. The equipment scans the barcode labels after they are applied, ensuring quality control and that a customer order was satisfied receiving the correct Code 128 barcode (Automatic ID, 1998a, pp. 31f).

Similar to the Japanese-based manufacturer Bobson discussed in the previous section, an auto-ID system is also in place at Calvin Klein’s Italian European Jeans warehouse. This particular warehouse is responsible for the distribution of Calvin Klein sportswear for all its outlets outside North America. It is estimated that the 12000 square meter storage area handles more than 10 million items per year. As Beale (1998, p. 1) reported: “...Calvin Klein receives finished goods (jeans, shirts, sweatshirts, hats, and tennis shirts) from its subcontractors and readies them for shipment to retailers. Each day, between 30000 and 40000 individual garments (roughly 2000 to 2500 pallets) are transported through the facility.” There is one noticeable difference between the Bobson warehouse and that of Calvin Klein. The latter heavily relies on radio-frequency data communication (RFDC) technology, not only barcode. Like Calvin Klein, the Alto Group in Australia, Panasonic Logistics in England and Toyota in the U.S. have incorporated barcodes and RF/DC technology into their operations.

In the case of the Alto Group which holds an inventory of 100000 line items valued at 5.5 million dollars with 4000 different lines of parts, warehouse personnel also use Janus 2020 handheld terminals to receive data and instructions using wireless means via the management system called STOCK*MAN. Incoming inventory is barcode labeled and STOCK*MAN provides putaway instructions by a RF transmission. Order processing is also simplified when an item is picked and scanned the inventory is updated in real-time. Alto Parts claims it has increased its parts putaway by 300 per cent and its parts delivery rate by 150 per cent. Additionally 50 per cent less stock is held in the warehouse which has freed up finances. In the case of the Panasonic Logistics, the distribution arm of Panasonic an automatic data capture (ADC) facility has been built at the Northampton center. With 80000 different product lines and 23000 pallet locations the plant is significantly bigger than the Alto Parts of Australia but works on the same principles. It uses about 50 radio terminals for picking, almost one for each of its employees. The ADC system is so efficient that the work force at the center was envisaged to be reduced by 25 per cent in 1999.

 

RFID: Complementary or Replacement Technology?

The Toyota case differs significantly from the former cases. Instead of using barcode, the automotive manufacturer chose a fully-fledged radio-frequency identification (RFID) system instead. Whereas the previous three cases integrated barcodes and RFID into one system, Toyota has opted to use RFID in place of barcode. The manufacturer is probably using the most advanced methods in its plant to implement JIT and EDI (J. Cohen, 1994, ch. 14). The facility produces more than 550000 engines and 475000 vehicles annually. The old system could not ensure that the right trailers went to the right dock at the right time. The new system using TIRIS passive RFID tags from Texas Instruments has eliminated delays and mistakes that total into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Each of the 200 trailers is tagged permanently. Prior to the truck’s arrival at the gate, the management system receives information about the trailer’s contents and arrival times via EDI. A gate antenna is used to read the tag as it arrives and departs checking it against the appropriate database that contains the trailer number, gate number, date and time of arrival.

While the mass introduction of RFID tags was still a number of years away at the turn of the millennium, primarily due to cost, some companies decided to migrate part or all of their operations to take advantage of RF functionality. The launch of TROLLEYPONDER RFID by Trolley Scan, a South African-based company, caused much debate over the future of barcodes in the late 1990s. It is not surprising that the managing director and inventor, Mike Marsh has touted the RFID technology as a replacement for the barcode marking of products. Marsh is convinced that this is the way of the future and is currently forming agreements with commercial partners globally. While some observers believe that the technology is only useful for niche markets, Trolleyponder is heavily targeting the retail market, particularly supermarket chains and their suppliers. The technology has the potential to be used for everything from manufacturing, warehousing and logistics with the added benefits of Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) and putaway. Trolley Scan has also initiated a Development Users Group, an informal collection of about 60 companies and organizations that would like to contribute or be informed of Trolleyponder developments. It is envisaged that RFID may be ultimately used in retail for customer self-service check-out such as in the system developed by University of New South Wales called BRANDERS Point of Sale. The Metro conglomerate, the sixth largest retailer in the world, opened one of the first fully-fledged RFID-enabled future stores in Rheinberg, Germany, in 2003 (Kanellos, 2003) which among smart shelves and antitheft systems had self-checkout lanes.

Kroger’s supermarket in Louisville started trialling the U-Scan Express system in 1997. The trials were reportedly so successful that the company considered rolling out the PSC and Optimal Robotics technology to more stores. In this instance customers approached an aisle passage that had a restricted exit. Upon scanning all their goods the customer then made an EFTPOS transaction to pay for the items purchased and received a receipt. Upon EFTPOS authorization, the trolley was allowed to go through and a secure EAS system was used to assure the retailer that nothing had been accidentally left unpaid or deliberately stolen. If such a system was to be introduced widely, the impact on workers and customers would be huge; the former from a mass reduction in staffing requirements and the latter from a shift in responsibility at the check-out. Yet it is also currently possible for consumers not even to have to visit a supermarket but transmit their requirements from home (Abass, 1996; and LaPlante, 1999). While Internet grocery shopping can be a little tedious, Hutchison (2000) shows how the Grocer e-Scan portable handheld barcode scanner device could save customers time and trouble. Grayson (1998) reviews an all-in-one barcode scanner, microwave, and television, developed by NCR’s Knowledge Labs. One can use the microwave to cook, conveniently watch television while preparing food, and after dinner use the barcode scanner to order new grocery items.

Case 2: Barcodes in Education

The versatility of barcode has seen the device proliferate in the education sector. Primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions are using the barcode on a plastic card, replacing traditional cardboard cards. The card systems are commonly known as campus cards. “The all-campus card- now finding its way onto an increasing number of college campuses- can provide access to everything from elevators, doors and garages, to vending machines, library books, and clothing at the campus store” (Facilities Design, 1997, p. 20). In Australia, Knox Grammar School, Beverly Hills Girls’ High School, and the University of Wollongong are just three institutions that have introduced barcode cards. Typically campus cards at schools and universities operate in a closed systems environment. That is, they are only useful within the bounds of the campus of a single institution.

In 1996, Knox Grammar issued 1400 students and staff with Knox Cards. Each Knox card is “...complete with barcode, date of birth, photo and magnetic strip” (Knox Grammar, 1996, p. 43). The Knox Card was originally introduced for the library so that each title catalogued could be tracked. It could also serve the purpose of giving each student a unique identifier and automatically monitoring overdue books, library fines or limits of books being borrowed. The card showed the way for Knox to become a micro-cashless society. Students and staff could use the card for photocopying in the library and for other future purchases such as textbooks and stationery or school uniforms (Knox Grammar, 1996, p. 43). While Knox Grammar students use the barcode card primarily as a borrowing device in the library, Beverly Hills Girls’ High School use it to record attendance, “[i]nstead of teachers marking rolls, students swipe a barcoded card through a machine” (Raethel, 1997, p. 1). Teachers can then check to see whether all pupils are present or not via a printout. The 20000 dollar system has increased attendance from 85 per to 95 per cent in only one year and reduced both absenteeism and truancy. While there has been some criticism of the school for introducing an electronic monitoring system, many other schools have planned to trial or install such a system. The card also helps to know where students are when they have free periods during the day. Although obviously these types of systems are not foolproof given students could swipe cards for one another secretly.

The Old Dominion University (ODU) also trialed such a system (Walzer, 1996) to ensure attendance at lectures in a bid to reduce the failure rate of first year students, who are generally under the misconception that they can get through a course without attending the majority of classes. Alamo Community College District (ACCD) also monitored student interactions using barcode ID cards (Madaras, 1993). At the University of Wollongong, student identification cards were introduced in 1994. The barcodes on the student ID are primarily used for borrowing purposes in the library. The unique barcode ID number also grants student access to the University’s Student Online Kiosk (SOLs) where individuals can enroll in subjects, download their assessment results and receive important messages, among other things. The University of Wollongong campus card also comes equipped with a photograph which acts as proof of identity, particularly useful during examinations when hundreds of students are present in large halls. The magnetic strip on the card is predominantly for access to computer laboratories (Carroll, 1994, p. 8). The image of each student is stored in a database for the instance that a card needs to be replaced, or so instructors can put an ID number to a face in an online teaching environment.

 

Smart Card or Hybrid Card: More Flexible and Secure

Barcode cards have been the most popular cost-effective identification solution for educational institutions. Magnetic-stripes have been complimentary to the plastic cards, sometimes serving little or no purpose at all. In those cases where the magnetic-stripe is utilized however, it is likely related to stored value (i.e. money) or some other application requiring a higher level of security than the barcode can offer. Due to their student population, colleges and universities have often looked to adopt other auto-ID solutions such as smart cards and biometric devices. In addition, at tertiary institutions more money is transacted per student for higher education fees, text books, stationary, photocopying, printing and the purchase of food. Coupled with the monetary aspect is that of student identification for examinations, attendance to classes, resource borrowing allowances and access to computer rooms. The cards could also be used to store student results etc. Table 2 shows how smart cards were introduced into institutions prior to 2003.

Some of the campus schemes include hybrid cards while others rely only on the smart card technology (Omar & Djuhari, 2004). The University of Michigan smart card scheme, known as M-Card, is in the former category. Faced with making a significant investment in equipment in 1995 to provide a single card with multi-functionality, smart card was chosen over barcode and magnetic-stripe cards as the ultimate solution that would keep pace with future innovation. In the short term the new smart card scheme was integrated into the legacy systems but eventually everything on the card was migrated to smart card. Smith and Cunningham (1997, pp. 228-229) describe this evolution. “The situation at the university was typical. They had several “legacy” or existing systems using different card technologies such as barcode and magnetic stripe. Their approach was to use existing systems when feasible, and to implement new services with smart cards. This was achieved by including OCR, barcode, and magnetic-stripe on the student identity card as well as the integrated chip. Over time, all services are likely to be migrated to the chip.” By 1999 there were more than 94000 active M-cards that could be used at 56 merchants, 340 cash points with 23 available reload devices. “While it is primarily used as a photo ID, the M-Card may also be used for banking purposes, making small purchases from participating merchants, library services, and secure entrances to buildings.” The M-Card went beyond a closed campus system implementation.

Cards developed in the 1980s were more likely to be used on-campus rather than off-campus. Today universities are establishing partnerships and alliances with banks, health insurance companies and telephone operators allowing students and staff to use their card in an open system with commercial supplier agreements. Leading the way in campus smart card innovation is a group at the Florida State University (FSU) which is developing a card that can act as more than just a prepaid card. The team located at the Card Application Technology Center on campus at FSU, includes such sponsor companies as MCI, V-One, Debitek, PTI and Gemplus (now Gemalto). Gemplus had a large piece of the education market. The company’s cards were also used at the University Jannus Pannonius, the University of Medicine of Pécs and the University of Aix-Marseille (France) to name a few. The scheme has developed a multipurpose card that can handle money transfers, payment for stationary, text books, laundry, public transport, food and vending. In Australia, the incumbent telephone operator Telstra is funding a smart card scheme for the University of Adelaide, TAFE NSW (Lidcombe) and the Australian Defense Force Academy (ADFA). The single card is being heralded as a replacement for the older student ID photo card, barcode library card and magnetic-stripe photocopy card (Creed, 1999). The Vice Chancellor of the University of Adelaide believes the scheme will reduce costs associated with the annual issue of cards and will benefit students by offering them loyalty discounts for phone calls and other services. More recently an ID card for school children was launched in Australia supported by the Victorian government. The card contains personal information and emergency contact details.

 

Barcodes Today

For some time it seemed that the much touted radio-frequency identification tag would displace the barcode (McCathie & Michael, 2005). This has not eventuated as yet, despite the forecasts. Instead the barcode is making a resurgence in a range of application areas. Not only have institutes spent more time on incremental barcode innovations, but the barcode has now been coupled with other mobile commerce devices to offer solutions to even high security applications. The 2D barcode has been among the most successful innovations (Editor, 2005; Chu, Yang & Cheng, 2007). Coupled with devices like the mobile phone (Gao, Prakash, & Jagatesan, 2007), scanners, cameras and biometrics, the 2D barcode is now providing solutions for secure drivers licenses (Hagman, Hendrickson, & Whitty, 2003), voting applications (Adida & Rivest, 2006), and even automated storage and retrieval systems (Sriram et al., 1996). The barcode is “piggybacking” on the success of other well-diffused technologies (Chu, Yang, & Chen, 2007; Kato & Tan, 2005; Ohbuchi, Hanaizumi, & Hock, 2004). Given it already has such a widespread reach in retail, global companies are still taking advantage of industry-wide economies of scale.

 

Applications for Mobile Commerce

As the number of consumers who are equipped with more sophisticated mobile phones increases rapidly, the potential for launching mobile commerce applications also increases. Not only are newer phones today Internet-enabled but they are also equipped with Bluetooth capabilities, in-built cameras, and global positioning system (GPS) chipsets. Of relevance in this chapter is how the camera phone will be used in the not-to-distant future by consumers to access information about retail products, simply by taking a picture of a 2D barcode on an item. In actual fact, consumers will soon be using their phones to ‘scan’ barcodes to request information to be pulled to their mobile phones or handsets such as: information related to allergens, ingredients and nutritional facts; service prices, recipes, access to coupon offers; and other packaging-related information (Horwood, 2008a). The consumer, is thus becoming an operator, an attendee, but using their own relatively inexpensive device to read a barcode. The initiative was begun by GS1 Mobile Com in June 2007, and has now gathered momentum with other players also getting involved (CTIA, 2008). Currently the recommendation by the GS1 Mobile Com group is that only approved standards (e.g. ISO or GS1 that are royalty-free) and specified barcodes be used (e.g. GS1 EAN/UPC, 2D and QR code) for testing and implementing applications (Horwood, 2008b, p. 1). CTIA (2008) describe that a mobile commerce transaction using the camera phone and barcode can take place in only three simple steps: (1) the consumer scans the 2D bar code and makes a decision to connect or not to connect to associated data; (2) scan information is sent to a clearing house for processing; and (3) information is sent to the consumer’s handset and a target action is launched. Integrating this mobile commerce capability with location services, will mean that manufacturers and retailers will gain additional knowledge about their customers, even information related to the whereabouts of the customer making the purchase.

 

CONCLUSION

Looking back at the major innovations of the 20th century, the unassuming barcode may not obviously rank as one of the technologies that revolutionized the way we live and work but on second glance its impact has been significant to every facet of our life. One could argue that originally it was the conception of the identification number itself, that was fundamentally responsible for the rapid changes that followed after computerization, but it was the barcode that applied to an industry, was able to really harness the power of computerization, and more specifically the importance of serialization to people and products. It was the aspect of automated data capture that convinced enterprises all over the world to invest in this technology. Automated data capture was appealing for more than the benefits of production savings and the like; it was about processing large amounts of data in a short time and organizing things in a way that would advance operational processes. Today most consumers do not even notice barcodes on supermarket store items, unless the attendee at the checkout is having trouble scanning the item, or a barcode label has fallen off the packaging and we hear the words “price check for granny smith apples” over the loudspeaker. If we can talk of e-business in the context of supply chains, we have the barcode to thank for it.

 

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