Put simply, a barcode is a machine-readable representation of data, either in one-dimension or two-dimension format. The benefits of barcoding are speed of data entry and accuracy. Black and white bars or matrix patterns are used to create the barcode, and depending on whether it is 1-D or 2-D. A 1-D barcode appears as vertical black and white lines, commonly seen on the products on our grocery and retail stores. A 2-D barcode will look like little black and white squares stacked on each other. The most common and public usage of 2-D barcode is by FedEx. They use 2-D PDF 417 barcode to track every package they ship.
The first bar code patent was issued in 1952 to Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver, using what looked like a bulls-eye symbol that was made of concentric circles. Bar codes were used as far back as 1932 when a group of students who did a project where they required customers to select their merchandise by removing the correct punch cards from the catalog that corresponded with the items that they wanted. In 1970, the Uniform Grocery Product Code Council and McKinsey & Co. created a numeric format for product identification in bar codes. In 1973, George J. Laurer invented the UPC (Universal Product Code) that we know today. Commercial bar codes were not used until the mid to late 1960s, and the initial application was for industrial use. Some of the early adopters of barcode technology were the railroads and the US Postal Service.
In 1967,bar codes were used on the American Railroad, known as KarTrak. It took almost 7 years before there was 95% coverage of the fleet, but the project was ultimately abandoned in 1975 because of the technical difficulties in reading the barcodes. At that time, a similar technology call RFID (radio frequency identification) became available but was considered far too expensive, so it was not used. However by 1991 RFID technology had improved and become less expensive and it became mandatory for all rail cars to be identified with an RFID tag.
The US Post started studying applications and uses for barcodes in mail delivery during the early 1970’s and by 1982 the US Postal Service implemented the POSTNET code for tracking mail delivery across the United States. Within five years the US Post had installed barcoding systems in most every major city in the US.
The actual first invention of the barcode was done by the Irish, and likely based on the Irish alphabet from the first centuries AD, which looks like a form of bar code itself. Today, barcodes have a variety of applications, including identifying retail products, mail sorting, warehouse use, and even for patient identification and tracking in hospitals.
About The Author: GoDEX International is an engineering company that specializes in designing and manufacturing barcode printing products that lead the industry in the value price, high performance category. GoDEX has offices in the US, Europe, Taiwan and China and its products are distributed world-wide.
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