Are you a barcode virgin?

barcode virgin

Most people start their involvement in bar coding by being thrown in at the deep end: often because your customer has complained or even rejected your latest delivery because the barcodes are not up to the required standards. You may panic as your expertise is probably in food manufacture, pharmaceuticals, electronics etc.

You are not an expert in bar coding,
but Isis Is, so don’t panic!

Isis will help to resolve your problems as quickly and as painlessly as possible!

Standards and Industry Requirements

The first place to start when requiring advice on barcoding issues is GS1 UK. They produce barcode guidelines, the major one being the document ‘Bar coding getting it right’. This is a great starting point and is supported by all the major UK retailers. Each retailer does have its own ways of working sometimes with additional requirements over and above these recommendations.



ASDA however, fully endorse the ‘Bar coding getting it right’ guidelines. ASDA produce a weekly ‘Hand Keyed at Checkout’ report. The checkouts record if a barcode has needed to be keyed in rather than scanned in. This could be due to poor print quality or light margin infringements etc. From this report a ‘Top Offenders’ list is created. These products are then purchased in store by the barcode team at ASDA, the problems evaluated and the supplier contacted. All new product ranges pass through the ASDA Merchandising Department where all aspects of the pack are checked. This includes the barcode. For conventionally printed retail packs, issues such as light margin infringements can usually be rectified at this stage. Problems can occur at the packing stage when overprinting of shelf life dates, code numbers etc can sometimes infringe the light margin or quiet zone. The barcodes for catch weight products such as cheese and meat contain the actual price of each pack and are therefore printed at the packing stage. The quality of these barcodes is often much poorer than conventional printed codes. Blown or blocked print heads is a major problem.


Sainsbury’s Compliance Team also fully support the ‘Bar coding getting it right’ guidelines. The only area where their requirements are different to the guidelines is where drop-in cards are used in shallow trays. In this instance only, they will accept barcodes with a minimum height of 25mm as opposed to the normal 32mm. Sainsbury’s depots see the major problems as being

1   Blown or blocked print heads.
    The major cause is poor maintenance i.e. lack of or infrequent cleaning of the printer and print head. Dust is the worst enemy of a thermal printer. Buying cheap labels and ribbons only makes this problem worse. An ISO compliant verifier will pick up this problem
2   Poor print quality
    This is caused by incorrect printer settings, printing barcodes below the minimum allowed size, light margin infringements, dust contamination (again) etc. An ISO compliant verifier such as the REA Scancheck 3 will grade these problems according to the ISO standard.
3   Data Integrity
    GS1 128 barcodes have complex structures. If part of the data is missing or incorrect, the code will not scan. This can be missing Function 1 characters, putting brackets in the barcode as well as in the human readable characters, incorrect check digits etc.

ISO compliant verifiers such as the REA Scancheck 3 are programmed to pick up these errors.


Tesco feel barcode quality is worse now than it was 3-4 years ago. Their major problems are

1   Blown print heads caused by poor maintenance.
2   Use of incorrect barcode number not on Tesco’s database.
3   Light margin infringements.
4   Poor location of barcodes on TUC’s. This can be codes obscured by tape or shrink-wrapping.
5   Truncation of codes causing short scans.
6   Retail codes printed below the minimum of 80% magnification (75% for on-demand printing). Codes down to 55% magnification are being encountered.
7   High turnover of staff at suppliers means staff is often not sufficiently trained. Isis offer full on-site training courses for both operators and QA Department staff.

Whilst suppliers using incorrectly using Code 128 instead of GS1 128 is still a problem in scanning Chilled product, fortunately these codes can be scanned in Ambient as the scanners are programmed just t to look for the first 14 digits (as in an ITF14).
Tesco is now rolling out the scanning of pallet labels from just frozen to now include fresh, grocery and hard lines. This is planned to be complete by February 2009. The use of Advanced Shipping Notifications will therefore also be required.

The quality of pallet label barcodes is generally far worse than for TUC codes. Often they are printed in very inhospitable areas such as loading bays. Many of these codes are not being verified as suppliers know that many retailers d not use them.

This could be an accident waiting to happen. Suppliers must start setting themselves up to treat pallet labels with the same importance they treat TUC codes. This does create an additional worry however. Currently Tesco scan TUC codes when scan the goods in. If they will be now scanning the pallet label instead it is reasonable to expect that problems currently found with TUC codes when goods arrive are now not going to be found until the orders are picked. Watch this space!

Databar is the new name for Reduced Space Symbology (RSS codes). It is planned that Databar will be allowed into retail from 2010 when it can be used on such items as individual fruit and veg. and coupons where space is at a premium. Additional data can also be incorporated containing data such as best before dates etc. All Tesco stores except Express stores have already been converted to scan these codes but it remains to be seen if it will be a success or just another code that will find certain niche areas where it has a cost benefit.

Mixed packaging

With so many retail packs looking very similar nowadays it is hardly surprising sometimes they get mixed up during the packing process. This can have serious repercussions if someone buys a product labelled incorrectly and perhaps it contains nuts when the person is allergic. To prevent mismatching occurring the retailers are now taking steps to improve on-line monitoring using the barcodes on the packs. These problems can occur at the printer where maybe they print a range of labels across the web and then slit them down into individual rolls. It is easy to splice two similar looking labels together resulting in a mismatch part way through the roll.

Marks and Spencer have now banned this practice and insist that every printer has on-line scanning systems such as the Checkrite III to constantly monitor the barcode number and to stop the line should a different barcode be scanned.

Verification or Validation?

Validation is being able to scan a barcode using any type of scanner and decoding the number encoded within the barcode. It may decode correctly, it may not scan at all or it may scan as an incorrect number. To ensure therefore that a barcode will scan anywhere in open trade the quality of certain key characteristics of a barcode must be accurately measured to strict standards using a verifier classified to the required ISO standard. Unlike a scanner, a verifier has to be a fixed angle and distance away from the barcode. It must be set to the correct aperture for the size of code being measured. It must also be calibrated according to ISO/IEC 15426- 1 (for linear codes) using a calibration card traceable to the Primary Calibration Standards manufactured by Applied Image INC. For this reason hand held guns cannot be compliant as they are neither fixed angle or distance and therefore cannot be calibrated.

Verifier types

One of the major UK retailers sends out over 200 claims for consequential loss every month. The average cost of a rejected consignment is £10,000.

There are two main types of verifier for measuring linear codes (three if you also count camera technology which, although designed to verify 2D symbologies, can usually also verify 1D codes). Type one is visible laser diode technology. This is similar to the technology used in hand held guns and supermarket scanners. Type two is uses CCD technology and you have to use different reading heads positioned at different distances from the barcode to give you the required aperture.

Once you have decided it is a verifier you really need to give you that assurance your barcodes aren’t going to be rejected, you need to decide upon which model to choose.

REA Scancheck 3 - Visible Laser Diode

  REA Scancheck 3
Should you want a totally portable unit with full colour display, large memory and capable of verifying all code types and sizes in one unit, then the REA Scancheck 3 is the unit of choice. The REA Scancheck 3 is a universal high performance barcode verifier which meets to ISO standards. It produces reports which allow to proof that quality agreements are fulfilled. Automatic size determination provides easy use and user independent verification. The measuring system is based on a laser scanner system adapted to the requirements for verification. This technique leads to contactless measurements. The power supply is provided by standard AA rechargeable batteries. This allows fully portable operation. All linear barcode types and sizes in common use can be verified.  
REA TransWin32   A data capture program for Windows PCs. This enables the verification reports to be displayed, saved and printed on a PC. Additionally the REA Scancheck 3 can be remotely configured by TransWin32. REA TransWin32 is designed for PCs with Windows 2000, XP and VISTA.
REA Article Look Up   This option allows an article description to be shown on the display of the REA Scancheck 3. Each article can be assigned with price and date fields. The date fields will be compared with the date in a GS1-128 barcode. If the encoded date is outside of the range specified in the Article Look Up the REA Scancheck 3 will show an error message. This function is very useful to extend bar quality control with the verification of data like “best before use”
REA Comparator   This option allows the comparison between a master code and the verified codes. If the verified code content is not identically with the preset, the REA Scancheck 3 shows an error message. Report printer REA TD-GPT-U The portable thermal printer is connected by an USB cable to the REA Scancheck 3. The printer has its own power supply by using an internal rechargeable battery pack. The printer uses 57 mm wide thermal paper. The paper roll is fixed inside and cannot fall out while using the printer portable. The printer is able to print the scan reflectance profile.

Axicon Verifiers - CCD

  REA Scancheck 3
If you only want to verify retail EAN/UPC symbols at a fixed location, then the Axicon 6000 is probably the best solution for you. If you want to verify all sizes of outer case and pallet labels, then the Axicon 7000 is one solution. Due to the large aperture required to verify larger codes, the Axicon 7000 cannot verify retail EAN codes, or any other small code for that matter. To that end there is now the Axicon 6500 which is a bit of a hybrid and allows you to verify all retail EAN/UPC symbols plus most other small codes plus the smaller outer case and pallet symbologies which are usually printed onto labels. There is a maximum scan width of 125mm including light margins. You can make each of these units portable at an extra cost using a plug in PDA called the Axicon 9025 portable display unit.  

2D Verification

Becoming more and more common now is the use of two dimensional symbologies such as Datamatrix, and PDF417. To be able to read and verify these types of codes you need imaging or camera based systems. The market leader here is the INTEGRA range manufactured by Label Vision Systems INC. in Peachtree near Atlanta in the USA. Isis Integration is the UK Distributor for Label Vision Systems.

LVS Integra 9505 - Camera

  LVS Integra 9505
LVS manufactures and sells print quality inspection systems based on electronic imaging technology. LVS systems function in off-line or online mode. The INTEGRA 9500 and 9505 are off line systems that verifies barcode (1D) and matrix code (2D) to ISO standards 15415 and 15416 as well as other ISO standards. The INTEGRA 9500 is the only 1D and 2D verifier to be certified to GS1 (formally EAN/UCC) barcode standards. It also meets MIL STD 130M for any USA Department of Defence requirements and is 21 CFR part 11 compliant ready for FDA applications. The beauty of this type of system is you can verify both linear and 2D symbologies and you can store the image with the verification report.  



As you will by now of realised, there is a little more to barcodes than perhaps you at first thought. At Isis Integration we offer free on-site barcode audits where an auditor approved by Tesco, Sainsbury’s and ASDA will visit you and produce a strictly free and confidential barcode audit. He will look at all your procedures, collect and analyse barcode samples and make recommendations as to what action, if any, is required to bring your barcodes up to the standard required by the major UK retailers. The service is completely free so you have nothing to lose!

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