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The Future of Scanning

The Future of Scanning: 2D Imaging Technology
Scanning technology has undergone unprecedented innovation in the past two to three years, with 2D imaging now the fastest growing type of data capture technology. While the scanning market as a whole has grown 8%, the 2D imaging technology market has experienced 20% growth this year alone.

The surge in popularity of imaging represents a tremendous role reversal compared to the recent past, when laser-based scanning technologies had an 80% market share. Since 2006, however, imager-based products have steadily outsold laser-based ones. 

Although 2D imaging technology has been on the market for ten years now, it was previously only used in very specific applications (such as reading 2D barcodes with large volumes of data) and in specific industries. Now that the technology has reached the mainstream, however, it is being used throughout a wide array of fields, supported by industry standards. In markets such as Transport and Logistics where it has revolutionised express parcel delivery, its use is so widespread that it is now rare to sell handheld computers without integrated 2D imaging technology.

The migration towards 2D imaging can be attributed to a number of benefits provided by the technology over existing alternatives:

Ability to read more data

Two dimensional barcodes are able to encode more data than traditional 1D barcodes. While linear barcodes can contain up to 20 characters, 2D barcodes can hold up to 4,000 characters in an even smaller amount of space, making them more space-efficient as well. 

For customers, this means that instead of only being able to track a product or package with a number as it moves throughout the supply chain, they can include a database with complete item details along with the product or package. If a parcel is lost, a worker can simply read the barcode in order to determine where the item was sent from and where it needs to go.

Ability to read barcodes omni-directionally

Another benefit of 2D imaging technology is the ability to read barcodes better and faster.  By enabling the reading of barcodes from any angle, this means that workers do not have to twist their wrists when scanning barcodes that are in different positions.  Two dimensional imaging technology provides more ease of use and productivity.  In tests carried out by Intermec on the company’s breakthrough EX25 two dimensional imaging scanner, workers were told to scan a number of items from different directions 100 times. The results found scanning with the EX25 to be 66% faster than with linear laser scanners.  These findings are corroborated by independent tests conducted at the Kemira chemicals group’s finished goods warehouse in Tiel, The Netherlands, which found that each forklift driver saved as much as one hour per day by using the EX25 scanner.

Ability to recover damaged data

Two-dimensional barcodes embed error correction capability in order to recover data encoded in damaged or poorly printed barcodes. This ability to greatly reduce exceptions and manual processing has a direct impact on the overall productivity of data collection applications. It should be noted that all 2D solutions in the marketplace are not equivalent when it comes to reading difficult barcodes.

Ability to provide more than just barcode scanning

Since imaging scanners work by taking photographs of the barcodes and then reading these barcodes, this technology opens the door to a host of new applications that rely on images. One such example is professional document capture: Transport and Logistics companies tend to grow by acquisition, and each acquired company generally has its own shipping label and IT system. Integrating and standardising these systems can be a long and painstaking process.

One solution is to use imaging scanners for document capture. In this way, at the point of pickup a worker can take a picture of a non-standard delivery bill and send it electronically to their company for processing. This saves valuable time since it allows companies to take care of tasks that would otherwise be handled at the end of the day (when the worker would normally bring the bill back to headquarters). Future data capture applications include ID control for the delivery of valuable goods (iris recognition, passports and ID cards verification) and advanced OCR (optical character recognition) for recognising and deciphering characters on a document.

Ability to read barcodes directly off metal items (Direct Part Marking)

Finally, imaging scanners’ ability to read barcodes off items such as metal is a tremendous advantage. This means that instead of companies having to attach a sticker containing a barcode onto their product, they can emboss a barcode directly on the product. This is especially useful in the spatial, aeronautical or automotive industries for identifying key parts.

In summary, 2D imaging both provides increased efficiency and allows for new applications through image capture, establishing it as the leading technology of the future.

About the author

Christophe Lopez has over 10 years experience in the AIDC industry and is responsible for the product strategy of Data Capture products including handheld scanners, scan engines and decoders at Intermec