By Steve Pierce, Firmware Engineering Manager at Code Corporation
Well-known programming language is overlooked data parsing tool
Since springing from a line drawn on the sand of a Miami beach, the humble barcode has corralled the world’s mission-critical data within blocks and bars to serve humanity. For instance, barcodes are long-proven to reduce medication administration errors by up to 85%, prompting the FDA to mandate them nearly 20 years ago.
There are now 40 barcode types (also called symbologies) holding anywhere from 2,000–7,089 characters of vital info like manufacture date. This diversity and complexity make data-parsing devices key to the kingdom.
“The more data that’s encoded in my barcode, for me to use that data, I need a way to parse, sort, and contextualize it,” explains Vernon Witney, solutions architect at Code Corporation.
A Deluge of Data
Indeed, the supermarket’s ubiquitous 1D linear barcode no longer meets today’s demands. Tightening regulations, production advancements of Industry 4.0, and the need for near-instant decision-making have industries flocking to 2D barcodes. These symbologies stack data horizontally and vertically, limiting the physical space barcodes need. To standardize formatting for the data that protects people, places, things, and the bottom line, GS1, the global barcode authority, has created 500+ Application Identifiers (AIs). Predictably, AIs are diverse; examples include NATO Stock Numbers, harvest date, and catch area.
“Take Transport AIs, like net weight, for example,” Witney says. “In scanning a barcode with a description of goods into a host system, I can see immediately how heavy a package is, and I can make a business decision based on that weight.”
So, how do firms cope with this deluge of data?
“The root to using all that data is data parsing,” Witney explains. “You can’t just have one long data string without any order or sense.”
At its most basic, data parsing is extracting relevant data from a source (e.g., barcode) and converting it into a useable format. A common example is scanning a driver’s license when selling tobacco products. Another familiar one is applying for in-store credit or enrolling in a store loyalty program. A quick scan of the barcode on a government-issued ID can extract basic info and automatically populate parts of an online application to expedite application.
A Trio of Data-Parsing Options
To parse barcodes for specifics, such as UN/ECE meat carcasses and cuts classifications, firms typically ask manufacturers to create custom firmware that is hardcoded into a barcode scanner. However, this process is lengthy and costly because it diverts engineers from R&D.
“I’ve worked at places where we’d require a volume of 1,000 devices for custom data-parsing firmware,” Witney explains. “And if it’s not precisely what the customer wants, we have to go down that path again. $100K is not uncommon for customization.”
On the far end of the spectrum, some end-users opt for mobile, camera-equipped Android or iOS devices for basic barcode scanning. Third-party developers then create a bespoke data-parsing application. Although fast, shortcuts like this aren’t cost-effective.
Locking Down Data Parsing?
“As barcode scanners are developed, each one is usually an iteration of what came before it—they’re improvements, but have the same core,” Witney theorizes. “You can’t just throw 40 years of development out the window; it’s expensive to do that.”
He also added that there hasn’t been a strong need for new data capture approaches, but tightening traceability and authentication guidelines are forcing changes right now.
“Traditionally, it’s been all about capturing up to 40 digits and transmitting them—that’s it,” Witney explains. “Many times, it’s even been a lot less like focusing on [a UPC’s] 13 digits in retail.”
Similarly, data parsing at the point-of-sale prevents UK shopkeepers from breaking laws by selling expired goods.
“If you can catch that at point of sale with a 2D barcode, you’ll be compliant, and compliance has a value as well.” Witney states.
About the Author
Steve Pierce is the Firmware Engineering Manager of Code Corporation. Code is an industry pioneer, leader, and champion for barcode and data capture innovation. It designs and manufactures a complete line of market-leading hardware and software data capture solutions. For more, visit www.codecorp.com.