The Barcode and The Laser Have Had A Good Run, But It's Time To Rethink Your Options
Ahh, the barcode. The familiar image of data transfer trusted for nearly 50 years. The black and white striped workhorse of logistics automation that has become a true classic. It’s like your grandpa’s pick-up truck: certainly not flashy, but so well worn and always ready to work. And, nothing goes better with a barcode than a laser scanner, it is the logistics version of PB&J.
So why would anyone ever consider breaking up this dynamic duo?
Yes, I am here to tell you that the barcode can do better. It’s time to move on. Laser and LED scanners may promise all the muscle and accuracy, but here is the often over-looked secret: your average smartphone camera will outperform a ruggedized laser scanner 9 times out of 10.
If you are considering zipping off a PO for a shipment of ruggedized laser scanners, consider this first.
(1) Cameras are Smarter Than Lasers
With the ongoing development of software and reader technology, optical scanners are moving to the head of the class.
Able to Multi-Task
Unlike LED and laser readers, camera-based barcode scanners can perform multiple functions upon reading a barcode. After acquiring the image, a digital camera passes it off to software. From here, the image can be optimized, converted to grayscale and ensuring the barcode is extracted from the entire camera image. This is why image-based scanners are more forgiving when locking in on the barcode, and even more useful, camera scans can locate multiple barcodes at once.
Able to Read Multiple Languages
Moreover, lasers cant read many barcode types. Because of the nature of laser light, only a narrow slice of the barcode can be read at once. By design, laser readers are limited to Code 39, Code 128, UPC, and a few others. The biggest drawback to commercial laser scanners is their inability to read 2D symbols like QR codes or Datamatrix. Because there is no sweep pattern within laser devices, they are unable to scan the entire 2D barcode.
Able to Work in Print And Digital
It used to be that barcodes were printed and affixed to objects and laser scanners ate this sort of thing up. But more and more situations call for various backlit screens like smartphones, tablets, and computer monitors to display the barcode. Whenever a situation calls for digitally displayed barcodes, lasers have to take a seat. Once again, only camera-driven scanners will be able to read the image.
(2) Camera Scanners Have Fewer Errors
The Achilles heel in most every laser scanner is low-quality barcodes. One of the most frustrating and costly errors perpetuated by laser readers is invalid or unreadable data from faded or low contrast barcodes.
Because camera-based barcode scanners use image analysis technologies, it gives them a massive leg up over traditional laser scanners. Teams that use camera-based scanners find far fewer errors because cameras are instantaneously converting the image into grayscale and enhancing the quality.
(3) Camera Scanners are More Affordable
The bottom line in this comparison is actually, the bottom line. When you stop and think about it, the fact that all of this processing and image recognition comes built into $150 smartphones, it really is quite staggering.
Generally, the cost of a laser scanner is 4-5 times more expensive than a standard smartphone with a ruggedized case. In our experience, companies who invest in this camera driven smartphone approach have done the math and concluded they are still coming out ahead, even if they have to replace a device 3-4 times.
Making The Switch
In the end, the best tool for the job is the tool that is dependable and usable. For these reasons, optical scanners are pulling ahead as the tool of choice for logistics, manufacturing, and last mile delivery companies.
Yes, there was a day when some would scoff at the idea of a camera phone being taken seriously as a logistics tool, but the times, well, they tend to change.