Barcode Scanner Technology Explained – Wireless WiFi Scanners

29 12 2011
WiFi Barcode Scanners - Scanning with real Freedom!

WiFi Barcode Scanners – Scanning with real Freedom!

In the last post we talked about Bluetooth Barcode Scanners, however there is another type of wireless barcode scanner that uses WiFi technology instead of Bluetooth.  Bluetooth is regarded as a PAN technology (personal Area Technology) and is largely designed for connecting things wirelessly that tend to be within a few meters of each other.  WiFi is the technology we all know and love (Or hate when it fails) that our wireless routers at home use.  WiFi is a LAN (Local Area Network) technology and it’s designed to connect things together over far great distances, more like 300-400 meters so it often connects devices  on the same site.

The Beauty with WiFi based wireless barcode scanners is that they can start to give you real freedom as they can connect and talk to your own network without the need to install tills or PC’s all over your site.  Often your wireless network infrastructure is already present and it’s just a case of tweaking and updating it to ensure no back spots or bottle necks and you;re away.

Why Bother with WiFi based Barcode Scanners?

Well there are a lot of barcode scanners on the market that can do a lot of processing and logic right on the scanner.  In fact some are nothing more than scanner-like design rugged PDA’s with full operating systems on them that can be programmed to do anything you want.  This means you give your users the freedom to walk about your huge warehouse, scan and not worry about having to always be within range of a host device to capture and deal with all the data being scanned.

Whereas Bluetooth scanners are great for just removing wires, WiFi ones can give you huge freedom to walk around your whole site talking directly to a server located safely away.

Two typical WiFi based Barcode Scanners - Rugged and Wireless

Two typical WiFi based Barcode Scanners – Rugged and Wireless

Benefits of WiFi over Bluetooth

Range – is the main thing here, giving you as much range as your want only restricted by your WiFi network.

Ruggedness - if you work in a rugged environment then this type of barcode scanner puts less tech in the rugged environment.  Your sensitive equipment like servers, PC’s, tills and printers can all be removed from the rugged areas, leaving only the (Hopefully rugged) Wireless barcode scanners at any risk to the cold, wet, dusty and tough environment.

Functionality - WiFi Scanners tend to have far more functionality built-in to them and they also have keypad options so you can use them in much the same way as a full rugged PDA and they can often be all you need for the whole application.  They also tend to have far great scanning engine options with Extended range etc scanners being available.  Bluetooth scanners tend to be small, cheaper scanning devices with not much else about them!

Ergonomics – WiFi scanners are designed for all day use, they are usually “Phaser” in style with superb ergonomics.

That’s it then the bumper barcode guide is all but complete and we’re going to end the blog here for this year.  See you all in 2012 and lets hop its a prosperous year for us all!

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

Barcode Scanner Technology Explained – Wireless Bluetooth Scanners

29 12 2011
Bluetooth Barcode Scanners come in all shapes and sizes

Bluetooth Barcode Scanners come in all shapes and sizes

So we come to wireless scanners, and we’re going to split this section up into 2 parts because there are 2 wireless technologies in WiFi and Bluetooth.  This blog talks about Bluetooth barcode scanners.

Bluetooth scanners still come in 2 different types.  Ones that are optimised for retail environments and ones that are designed to be connected and used with more generic equipment like Android PDA’s or iPads but essentially they both use the same Bluetooth technology to connect.  Bluetooth is wireless standard designed to connect devices locally.  Often referred to as PAN (Personal Area network) technology you can think of it as something that replaces all the wires you have at your desk and it could be thought of as a rival technology for wired solutions like USB or Serial etc. Despite being a commonly known standard it’s only until recently however that all the different manufacturers implementing it have actually got it talking to each other.  We’ve seen BT technology come on leaps and bounds in recent years in the Rugged market due to this and it really is a technology that can be used quite reliably now in the right environment.

Typical Retail Bluetooth Barcode Scanner

Typical Retail Bluetooth Barcode Scanner

Retail Bluetooth Barcode Scanners

These have been around for some time now and they literally remove the wire that connects the scanner to the till or PC.  They “talk” to their own cradle only, which in turn connects to the till or PC via a cable.  This means that you can have wireless barcode scanning in many different environments, only restricted by the type of host till or PC you have and the cable connections that the manufacturers make.  The cradle tends to charge the device and some can act as presentation cradles too so you can charge and scan at the same time (Kind of defeats the object though really!).

We’ve seen proprietary technology spring up here which has seen various flavours of BT connection.  The benefits of this are that the connections have become more secure, have better range and also have a quicker response and transmit time.  However the main problem in the past has been that you can;t just connect any Bluetooth scanner to any Bluetooth enable host, like you can with BT smartphone accessories.

These bluetooth scanners remain focussed on their retail environment and present wireless scanning that’s robust.

iPad Style Bluetooth Barcode Scanners

The world is changing however and expensive IBM/Nixdorf tills have  become £300 WepOS terminals sporting normal Bluetooth or USB connections as they are essentially just Windows XP PC’s.  Also the rise of the Tablet PC and barcoding in general have driven for ways to connect more generically using Vcom or HID protocols that most standard BT connections talk over.  We have seen quite a lot of Bluetooth barcode scanners spring up in the last few years bring often rugged, flexible and easy set-up bluetooth barcode scanning to a range of different devices.

The Pro’s of Wireless

  • Convenience – No wires = far great freedom to scan!
  • Scanning efficiency - Because they’re wireless you can get all kinds of better angles when scanning awkward, heavy items.
  • Range – WiFi and some BT scanners can give you great range and the freedom to wonder around a store or warehouse with scanning capability.

The Con’s of Wireless

  • Power – Wireless means you need to carry a battery which means it needs charging constantly or you’ll be scanning no more!
  • Weight – Again due to the battery Wireless barcode scanners are heavier.
  • Loss – Believe or not but you can lose these things!  Also they tend to need to be more rugged due to the fact they can be more easily dropped, lost and left in rugged environments (like outside!).

The Future of Bluetooth Barcode Scanners

Well at the moment the above two categories have very different looking scanners.  I think we’ll see retail style barcode scanners appearing that can just connect to anything and we’re seeing some already in fact.  They’ll be a few examples of these that we’ll talk about very soon.

The Baracoda RoadRunners (left) and Opticon OPN2002 Can connect to anything via BT

The Baracoda RoadRunners (left) and Opticon OPN2002 Can connect to anything via BT

Class 1 Vs Class 2 Bluetooth

Quick word on this.  Class 1 basically gives you 10M range and class 2 gives 100M range.  There are a few 100M range models that we can show you that create a rival technology for the WiFi barcode scanners that we’ll talk about in part 2 of this blog next.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

Barcode Technology Explained – Rugged Barcode Scanners

27 12 2011
Need something rugged....There's a scanner for that...

Need something rugged….There’s a scanner for that…

OK, so a quick post today which is all about those yellow and black rugged barcode scanners.

There’s a conundrum in the barcode scanning market where people feel that rugged scanners are great, however most barcode scanners, especially CCD ones, are inherently droppable and as such most come with a drop spec of some nature, with all but the cheapest scanners usually lasting more than long enough to make them great value for money.

So why use a rugged scanner at all?  Well there are some obvious areas you would need a fully rugged Barcode scanner and we’ll point out some of them right here for you.

Inherently Tougher

Water and Dust - Despite being droppable, most barcode scanners are still not resistant to Dust and water penetration unless they’re fully rugged.  If you’re going to be using the scanners outside, or in a dusty environment then rugged might just be the answer.

Dropability - Rugged Barcode scanners are definitely tougher when it comes to dropping them, you only have to pick one up to see just how much better built they are.

Rugged by Design - As with RUgged PDA’s, the spec sheet isn’t the whole story.  Rugged Barcode Readers are also far more rugged by design.  They have recessed scan windows that are less prone to breaking, tough, grippy cases, usually have some metal about them and they are also yellow in colour so they’re less loosable!

Scanner Types - If you’re looking for specialist scanning engines then rugged scanners are often the only types that have this.  Extended range, High Density, Fuzzy logic are all technology’s that are largely found in more rugged barcode scanners and not the standard ones.

Cold and Heat – Mostly about the cold, rugged scanners can usually be used at lower temperatures and where the temperature is super low like in a cold freezer, they come with the accessories you need to function, like heated holders.

Wireless - Anything wireless tends to need to be a bit more rugged.  they can be dropped from higher, lost, left anywhere and so if you’re going wireless, consider that you might just need something a bit tougher.

So there’s still plenty to think about if your scenario might need something a bit tougher.  The downsides of rugged scanners are that they can be hellishly expensive and the sheer fact that you can replace them 5 or 6 times over with a decent non-rugged scanner gives you the choice to take a non-rugged with on the shelf replacement strategy too, but as you can see from above there are certainly scenarios that will still demand something more rugged.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

Barcode Scanner Technology Explained – Specialist Barcode Scanners

23 12 2011

So to round off this series of blogs looking at the different types of barcode scanning technology we’ll take a look at some of the more specialist areas barcodes are used in and the scanners required to scan them.

Omni-Directional Barcode Scanners

These are essentially laser barcode scanners but with a prism and multi-mirror interface inside that shines out a multi-line barcode read pattern.  Made popular by supermarkets they are a pretty reliable way of scanning barcodes from any angle or orientation.  You particularly see this technology employed in “in counter” barcode scanners or fixed “on counter” barcode scanners where hands free scanning is required.

High Density Barcode reading

Some barcodes just need to be small, I mean super tiny, can hardly read see the lines small and you need a specialist scanner to read these that is optimised for high density 1D barcodes.  As CCD and laser technology improves we’re seeing this technology get swallowed up by more and more standard barcode scanners now but I thought i’d mention it as there are still a lot of specialist scanners that do this and do it well.

Extended Range Barcode Scanners

These are typically laser based scanners that will scan a barcode from a pretty awesome distance, usually around 20-30 feet (10m).  They are designed to allow warehouse workers to walk around and scan the tops of shelves easily without having to clamber up and down them!  But we see them innovatively used in other scenarios from time to time too.  The downside of extended range barcode scanners are that they will not read barcodes at shorter distances, usually you have to be at least 1-2M away from them.

Near/Far Barcode Reading

It’s common for forklift drivers to scan a pallet form a distance before lowering it, but to then need to scan items in it at closer range and Intermec has a solution in their Near/Far Imager technology.  To alleviate the range issue these near/far barcode scanners, as they suggest, will give far more flexibility to scan barcodes at a distance but also at closer range.  You don;t get the same distance as Extended range, you can also get them to scan under a meter, and they need configuring and testing for each environment they work in.  However they use 2D scanning technology which can be altered on the fly by clever use of the SDK’s that come with them.

DPM Barcode Scanners

Direct part marking is used to mark metal parts directly but literally tattooing or engraving the barcodes into the metal.  Using 2D barcodes these scanners require a huge amount of R&D into their scan technology and lighting in order to read these types of barcode at any kind of efficiency.  Expensive, very few options, but if you’re in the motor industry chances are you’ll need a few!

High Speed barcode Scanners

USed where a super high throughput of barcodes is required.  Bottling or labelling companies for instance can have requirements to scan barcodes at a rate of 500 per second or even more and a specialist scanner is needed to do this.  Usually small and fixed and requiring bespoke mounting and set-up there are laser and 2D images that can scan in the 1000+ scan per second rates if required.

So that covers everything, hope this series has helped.  Tomorrow we’ll continue the technology theme by looking at Wireless barcode scanning technology

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

Barcode Scanner Technology Explained – 2D Barcode Imagers

22 12 2011
2D barcode Imager camara clearly shown on left, activated on right shows the green and red lights used to help aiming and reading the barcode.

2D barcode Imager camara clearly shown on left, activated on right shows the green and red lights used to help aiming and reading the barcode.

The last type of mainstream barcode scanner we’re looking at today are what’s known as “2D Barcode Images”

2D Barcode Scanners are commonly known as images because of the technology they use to read barcodes.  a 2D barcode Imager is basically a camera which uses a 2D array of CMOS sensors.  The array is then used to build up the barcode which is deciphered using some kind of image processing technique.  These type of barcode scanners are essentially just cameras with a bunch of lights on them to help with contrast and reflection.  However this statement is a little bit belittling as the technology used to actually get a 2D imager to scan efficiently is remarkably complex and clever.  You just need to use your smartphone to scan a barcode to see the difference.

You can see a 2D barcode scanner in action right here, and as you can see they are really quite good these days!

Pro’s of a 2D Barcode Imager

  • Will scan all Barcode - 2D Images will read 1D and 2D barcodes, whereas a 1D CCD or laser scanner will never be able to read a 2D barcode.
  • LCD Readable - 2D Images will read from an LCD so can be used for pure ticket solutions, where reading off a smartphone screen is required.
  • Robust – No moving again so they are inherently robust.
  • Configurable - 2D scanners tend to be far more configurable so you can tailor your scanner more exactly to your environment.  You can tweak the lighting, where the scanner looks for the barcode, fix ranges and perspective of the scanner amongst many other things.

Con’s of a 2D Barcode Imager

  • Harder to Aim - No scan line or pattern means that they can be harder to aim, they often have a special aimer but this can affect the reading of the barcode.
  • Less efficient - When scanning 1D barcodes especially, a 2D reader up to now, has not been as efficient at or aggressive as CCD or laser scanning technologies.  This is being challenged now though with the newest 2D images hitting the market almost being on a par now.
  • Expensive - The parts, the tech and R&D required are more costly and therefore so is your barcode scanner!
  • Range- Whilst range and flexibility are more tweakable, the general flexibility when you;re scanning is less than a good CD or laser scanner.

    2D Barcode Scanners have average range/Flexibility but can read any barcode type.

    2D Barcode Scanners have average range/Flexibility but can read any barcode type.

2D barcodes however are so much better as an overall barcode technology so 2D barcode Readers are here to stay.  They’re also getting cheaper, better, faster and some manufacturers are even dropping their Laser or CCD lines in some products now due to this.  Motorola’s MC65 rugged PDA is one such example.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at some specialist area’s that need specialist barcode scanners.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

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