Most asset and inventory control systems include either barcode labels or RFID tags to identify items. These tags are often used in combination with scanning hardware and a centralized enterprise asset management (EAM) platform to create a complete closed-loop process for tracking assets and equipment. But to choose the best labeling solution for your application, you need to know how to compare barcode labels to determine which labels meet your requirements. Implementing a barcode system has many benefits, including:
- Improved scalability
- Automated data collection
- Greater process efficiency
- Lower costs
- Increased speed
- Streamlined employee training
- Superior equipment and inventory visibility
When comparing barcode label types and styles, it’s essential to consider how well the features of each one fits with your desired applications. You may also require more than one type of barcode label in your facility to meet specific application requirements. Here are a few of the most important features to look for when choosing a barcode label.
Barcodes can come in hundreds of different configurations. In general terms, there are three basic types of symbologies, which include numeric, alpha-numeric, and 2-dimensional. The first two have a similar look with an arrangement of vertical lines that most people are used to seeing on everything from physical goods to mailing labels. 2D barcodes, such as the QR code, have become popular in recent years due to their ability to store more information – up to 7,089 characters from a single barcode. When assessing a barcode label, always check which symbologies are compatible with the scanning system that you intend to use.
The hardware that will be used with your barcode labels may also dictate some of the features you require. Handheld scanning hardware will often have different optimal scanning ranges versus fixed systems. Scanning can also be done in a linear fashion or omnidirectional orientation based on the hardware’s capabilities. Hardware scanning capabilities can potentially limit your choice of label orientation or may require some adjustments to your scanning process after installation.
The best barcode label size depends on several factors. These factors may impact the size of the final label and should be considered carefully as part of your overall design:
- Scanning distance. One major factor that affects scanning distance is your hardware, as mentioned above, and the second is your label size. The size of the barcode graphic, specifically the size of the vertical lines, will impact the distance from which a label can be scanned.
- Quiet zone. In addition to the barcode and any characters and graphics that will be on the label, you must also plan for some empty space. The quiet zone around the barcode is necessary for the scanners to detect and read the lines or squares accurately.
Barcode labels can be fabricated from several different metal and plastic materials. Each of these materials has unique properties that should be compared to your application requirements. These are some of the most significant considerations for selecting barcode label materials:
- Coating. Barcode labels are typically designed with a plain white background or with a retro-reflective coating. Standard white barcode labels are great for shorter distance scanning and typical use, while retro-reflective labels allow scanning from long distances of up to 50 feet.
- Durability. Applications in harsh operating environments require a durable label solution that can withstand more extreme environmental conditions. Waterproof labels are ideal for applications in which assets are exposed to moisture or rain, and UV protection and resistance to extreme temperatures are also desirable characteristics for outdoor applications. Metalphoto® photosensitive anodized aluminum is one of the most durable barcode materials available for standard applications. For added durability, Metalphoto labels can be coated with Teflon™ for resistance to paint and highly caustic or acidic environments. Other durable barcode label materials include stainless steel barcode labels, which are ideal for applications that require resistance to frequent cleaning with strong caustics. Stainless steel labels are often used in food processing, laboratory, chemical, medical, petroleum, textile, and marine environments. For less-demanding environments, polyester labels are often a suitable choice.
- Removability. Labels can be attached to surfaces with an adhesive or mechanical means such as bolts. Options for adhesive may vary based on the substrate material chosen. For high-security applications, there are unique options, such as destructible vinyl security labels that are virtually impossible to remove in one piece and tamper-evident barcode labels, which leave evidence of tampering behind if the label is removed.
- Flexibility. Some applications require rigid barcode labels that can be affixed to a smooth and flat surface. Others may be installed on a surface with a contoured or irregular shape, requiring a label that can conform to some degree. It may be helpful to inquire about the flexibility of any label you’re considering based on the material and substrate thickness.
- Printing. Several printing technologies exist for barcode labels, including inkjet, dot matrix, laser, and thermal. These will all have different levels of durability, cost, and shelf life. Label substrates may have different printing methods that are most suitable in each case, as well.
To compare barcode labels, you must consider the features for each label type. As we’ve discussed, the barcode symbology, label size, material, and finishing options will often be the most critical factors in addition to your in-house scanning hardware and software systems. Working with an experienced vendor like Camcode and considering the costs versus your intended printing volume will help you compare barcode label options and determine the best labels for your intended use.