Most people associate barcodes and other machine-readable codes strictly with retail and medical products. However, they’re also heavily used with tags and product nameplates in industrial applications.
So how do you decide what type of code makes sense for your product? Here’s some information on each code, their capabilities and uses in industrial settings.
Barcodes are a machine-readable, one-dimensional code that most users can associate with the UPC code found on packaging in the retail industry (i.e. grocery items, books, clothing tags, sporting or concert tickets). These codes require a scanner for readability. One-dimensional barcodes carry information such as numbers and keyboard characteristics, but are limited in characters to their size (typically 20-25 characters max). The most common uses in industrial settings for a one-dimensional barcode would be serial numbers, product numbers or production date information. These are typically used on products that require a legible serial number that lasts the life of the product.
Data Matrix Codes
Data matrix codes are machine-readable, two-dimensional codes that can carry numeric and text data. Unlike a barcode that is limited to characters by size, data matrix codes can carry over 2,000 characters in their code. Like barcodes, data matrix codes require a scanner for readability but there are specific mobile apps that can be used to scan these codes with either tablets or smartphones. Not only can they carry more characters, data matrix codes can be printed much smaller than a barcode and still be machine readable. Because they can hold so much information, you’ll commonly see them used on electronic components and in the medical industry. They are also printed directly onto products used in industrial settings where information needs to be permanent and there isn’t the available space for a larger barcode, such as valves and small machined parts.
Unique Identification Marking (UID)
Unique Identification Marking (UID) is a machine-readable, two-dimensional data matrix code that is specifically unique to the item it is attached to. This means that no two UID codes are alike. It is used by the US Department of Defense and required to last the life cycle of the product it is made for, so most commonly UIDs are produced on metal.
Like data matrix codes, UIDs carry information such as manufacturing data, serial numbers, agency codes and batch codes. The difference is the tags that carry the UID must meet certain requirements for production and mil-specs. The tag substrate is usually required to be metal and the process of printing the UID must be permanent. This is achieved generally through anodize etching, metal photo or laser engraving. These tags are commonly found in contract work for the US Government.
Quick Response Codes are machine-readable, two-dimensional codes that commonly point to a website or URL. These codes are read with an imaging device, such as a camera, and can be read using smartphones and tablets. QR Codes are primarily used for advertising and are commonly found on food packaging, in magazines, on billboard advertising and even your television screen. But they are also used in the industrial sector on tags and product nameplates.
Since QR Codes send the end user to a website, they are commonly used to point to online user manuals, customer contact information, pages for re-ordering machine parts and of course ,company homepages. This can offer a lot of opportunity to industrial suppliers to streamline information to customers and save on expensive paper printing costs. One of our customers was able to do away with adding printed manuals to all of their product deliveries by permanently adding a QR code to their product nameplate and housing the manual electronically on their website. It saved them money by eliminating paper manuals and helped with their company’s green initiative.
So which codes might help your company become more efficient in delivering pertinent information to your customers? Does your company need to start serializing your equipment but hasn’t put a project plan in place yet? Is there an opportunity to save your end user time in locating a manual or parts?