How to Choose the Right Barcode Scanner
Barcode scanners allow businesses to track volumes and sales on incoming and outgoing inventory. Thanks to recent developments in computer operating systems, port connections and wireless technology, it's now easier than ever to simply plug in and activate a barcode scanner of any design. With so many options on the market, various questions have arisen regarding the best barcode scanners for inventory control in operations of various capacities.
What Are the Different Types of Barcode Scanners?
So what is the difference between a barcode reader and scanner? Each model performs the same basic functions. The differences are down to how a barcode is read, decoded and entered into a system.
Today, such functions are available in a range of stationary and mobile models. Read on through the following barcode scanner buying guide to determine which type and format would make the best barcode scanner for your retail store or operation:
1. Laser Scanners
The laser scanner is one of the more high-tech tools for barcode reading. In scanners of this type, the laser serves as a light that reflects through a series of mirrors or prisms that read the barcode. .
Laser scanners are designed to read linear 1D barcodes and can read anywhere from six inches to two feet away. As such, laser scanners consist of multiple internal glass or plastic parts that move with each scan — making the laser scanner more vulnerable to breakage than an image scanner. Aside from the laser factor, barcode scanners of this type function in a similar manner to pen readers. .
2. Image Scanners
An image-based barcode scanner uses a tiny digital camera to capture the image of a barcode. The captured image is then scanned and read by an attached computer system for inventory purposes. A typical image scanner will only have the ability to read barcodes at distances of a few inches, though newer models like the Honeywell 1300g have become more competitive, distance-wise, with the average laser scanner. Honeywell models are among the best barcode scanners for small business outlets as well as larger operations in the industries of field service, warehousing and logistics.
Due to the uncomplicated nature of the camera-based internal mechanisms, image scanners are less prone to impact damage than laser scanners. As with laser scanners, image scanners are solely intended to read 1D barcodes.
3. 2D Area Imagers
A 2D image scanner is much like the regular image scanner, except for the fact that with a 2D, all barcode types — 1D, 2D and stacked — can be scanned. Barcodes are more easily read with a 2D imager, because the barcode can cross the scanner in any position, be it vertical, horizontal, right side up or upside down.
With laser and regular image scanners, a barcode can only be read when it's held horizontally across the capturing eyes. Therefore, items can be scanned quicker and with a lot less hassle than with a 2D imager. With some 2D imagers, such as the Honeywell 1900, a barcode can even be read off non-label surfaces, such as smartphones and computer screens. As such, the 2D imager allows businesses of all types to speed up processes and expand the range of barcoding options.
4. CCD Barcode Scanners
Charge Couple Devices (CCD) barcode scanners are equipped with a row of miniature sensors at the front of the reader. The CCD scanner generates waveforms that correspond to particular bars and spaces, and this information is decoded within the scanner and then sent to the computer system. Whereas laser and pen scanners measure frequencies of reflected light within the scanner, a CCD scanner measures ambient light that emits from the barcode.
5. Pen Readers and Barcode Wands
In a pen or wand barcode reader, the tip is equipped with both a light source and photodiode. With a drag of the tip across a barcode, a waveform is generated that correlates to the width of particular spaces and bars, and this information is then decoded and entered into the computer system.
What Are the Different Scanner Formats?
After you've determined which type of scanner is most suited to your business needs, the next step is to choose the most suitable form of the type in question. If you run a conventionally laid out storefront with checkout terminals, you'll likely prefer a set of stationary, plug-in scanning devices. By contrast, a large floor full of heavy inventory could necessitate scanners of the cordless variety. Thankfully, various needs can be met by today's scanners, which come in the following five forms:
The most commonly used form of scanners are handhelds, which come in corded and cordless varieties. Handheld scanners are easy to use — you simply hold the scanner around the gripping handle, point the scanner at a barcode and press the button.
Some handheld models come with stands, which allow for hands-free use. Handheld scanners are convenient for use in all industries where barcodes apply, such as grocery stores, warehouses, field services and healthcare facilities.
Presentation scanners are designed for stationary, wide-area reading. A presentation scanner is made to be placed on a countertop to read the barcode off each passing item. Unlike with handheld scanners, there's no aiming involved. You simply take each item, hold the barcode before the presentation reader, and the code is scanned quickly and easily. Presentation scanners are often seen at the checkout counters of retail stores.
Thanks to the wide reading capacity of presentation scanners such as the Metrologic MS7580, multiple barcodes can be read in quick succession. With various models to choose from, Metrologic offers some of the best barcode scanners for field service, medical records and retail outlets.
3. Mobile Units
Though designed for a whole lot more than barcode scanning, handheld computer devices allow business personnel to scan barcodes — free of cords or bulky stationary devices — any place within Wi-Fi or Cellular (WAN) range.
This can be especially useful for inventory personnel on the floors in large department warehouses that contain lengthy rows of heavy items. Rather than transport everything through the same check-in and checkout terminals, barcodes can instead be read through an app on a handheld device from any location on a warehouse floor and remotely entered into a company's computer system.
Mobile units also make it possible to read barcodes in remote locations where larger, plug-in variety scanning systems would be impractical, such as when you set up a sales booth at an outdoor country fair with no nearby electrical outlets. Even in locations that fall outside of Wi-Fi range, a mobile unit can save the info from each barcode scan for later entry into a company's inventory data system.
4. In-Counter Scanners
Like the presentation scanner, an in-counter scanner is a stationary device that allows clerks and customers to swipe barcodes across the reader for instant, easy scanning. The difference here is that an in-counter scanner is designed to be embedded onto the top of a checkout counter. As such, in-counter scanners are often seen at checkout and self-service lines in grocery stores.
One of the more popular in-counter scanners is the Datalogic Magellan 8300, which allows for easy integration and operation in any indoor setting. Whether you're looking for a barcode system for a small retail business or a larger operation, Datalogic offers some of the finest barcode scanners for logistics in any field of business.
5. Fixed Mount
Intended for more specialized uses — such as warehousing, manufacturing and logistics — fixed-mount scanners are designed for integration into large systems of automation. A scanner of this type is usually incorporated into a kiosk or perched onto a conveyor line.
Available in a range of speeds, a fixed-mount scanner can read codes automatically with no manual triggers or buttons to push. Therefore, the fixed scanner is convenient for the data entry of large backroom inventories, which can be carried out along conveyor belts with no human intervention.
6. Corded and Cordless Barcode Scanners
In the past, a barcode scanner needed to be connected by a cord to a computer system for the info to be entered into an inventory database. Today, cords are not necessary due to Bluetooth technology, which allows cordless handheld units to transmit info wirelessly across great distances. On certain models of cordless scanners, batch memory is provided.
When data is transferred through wireless means, the info is communicated from a remote reader to a base station that connects to a computer system. It doesn't even matter whether the computer itself has inbuilt wireless support — the base station and the remote scanner handle the transfer of data. Therefore, a corded scanner can easily be replaced by a cordless model without any reformatting or system upgrades for the computer system in question.
Corded scanners have also improved thanks to USB connections, the outlets for which are available on any modern computer system. A USB cord allows for easy plug-in and activation with no special formatting required. When you replace an old barcode scanner with a newer corded model, the setup involves little more than connecting the USB cable and activating the reader.
An important thing to consider as you choose between one barcode scanner over another is the physical resilience of a particular device. Can the scanner in question take considerable abuse and still work without fail, or could the rough and tumble of your working environment lead to costly repairs and replacements down the line?
The presentation and in-counter scanners you see at retail outlets and grocery stores are designed to handle the treatment expected in such environments. Therefore, such devices can generally be counted on to work as intended throughout their life expectancy. However, a device with more built-in ruggedness is needed for more challenging environments, such as warehouses, factories and work sites.
In a warehouse or factory setting, a handheld scanner could easily get dropped on the floor on a frequent basis. A conventional handheld barcode reader might not last long in such an environment. On the other hand, a more rugged model with a rubberized exterior could easily handle drops of at least six feet with no effect on performance.
A barcode scanner built for tough environments can usually be identified by either a red or yellow case. While the price for such a unit will be higher, the added initial cost is earned back over time by the longer life and relative lack of maintenance required.
How Do Barcode Scanners Work?
A barcode scanner normally comes in a kit that contains the scanner with a decoder and cable. The scanner reads the bars and spaces of a barcode on a box or product label and sends that information to the decoder. The decoder, in turn, translates the barcode info and sends that data through the cable to an attached computer system.
While the decoder is integrated into the scanner itself, some scanners are un-decoded. Kits of the latter variety will come with a separate interface unit that receives data from the scanner and inputs the info into the computer.
Barcode readers connect to computer systems through one of two outputs — RS232 or the keyboard wedge. The RS232 is the more complex of the two, as it allows you to modify data before it enters the computer system. RS232 will connect to a computer through an open serial port.
The keyboard wedge can connect simultaneously to a computer and keyboard. The interface for a keyboard wedge is simple and requires no software, but it doesn't allow you to modify barcode information before it enters the system.
Barcode Scanner for Medical Records
In hospitals, the accurate entry of data is vital to the well-being of patients. Barcode technology provides solutions for some of the unique challenges faced within the healthcare industry. In a field that can't allow for errors to occur, barcode readers allow hospitals and nurses to enter data about patients and track materials without complications. This, in turn, allows for increased efficiency and quality of care at patient facilities.
One of the toughest challenges faced by healthcare facilities is the control of inventory, which can be confusing and error-prone when there are thousands of products to order, track and replace. With a barcode scanning system, each product can be located instantly and replaced as needed. When the amount of a given product drops to a certain level, it can be reordered without mix-ups. Furthermore, products can be tracked within a hospital so nothing is left in the wrong place.
A barcode reading system allows hospitals to more easily track when a patient needs a particular supply and who on staff will administer its usage. Barcodes also make it easy to track items back to their manufacturer, which comes in especially handy when an item must be returned and refunded. Most importantly, barcodes allow for simple, error-free handling of the most important functions of healthcare — such as verifying which treatments, medications and dosage levels are needed for each patient.
Barcode Scanner Solutions From DBK
So what is the best barcode scanner for logistics vs. field service, or the most optimal barcode system for small retail business operations vs. large ones? It all depends on the roughness of your working environment, as well as the range, location and speed requirements of your operation.
For almost 30 years, DBK has been a leading provider of barcode system solutions for operations of all capacities. To learn more about our barcode scanner selection, browse our pages and contact our representatives today.