The problem with barcodes for factory and warehouse tracking

Warehouse worker scanning barcodes on boxes in a large warehouse
Warehouse worker scanning barcodes on boxes in a large warehouse

Barcodes are ubiquitous in the modern world, appearing on everything from books to vehicles. They are also ubiquitous in manufacturing for identifying and tracking parts, components, bins, tools, and finished products on the plant floor and into the supply chain.

There’s a big limitation with barcodes, however: They’re prone to error and encounter other difficulties in high-volume manufacturing settings.

Systems integrator Polytron described some of them at the IoT for Manufacturing workshop at Georgia Tech:

  • Orientation may prevent reading of barcodes
  • A barcode reader can only read one barcode at a time
  • Barcodes have to be reprinted when information changes
  • Physical damage to barcodes is common in manufacturing, through abrasion or other wear and tear
  • Barcodes can’t be automatically read in certain situations

Polytron’s Lead System Architect Jim Flagg was describing serial number barcodes at a plant making filters, but it’s easy to see how other types of barcodes, from 2D to UPC, might be affected by some of the issues described above.

The replacement described by Polytron involved RFID — a more efficient tracking of product through manufacturing, distribution, and the end customer’s facility.

This is an excerpt from Priority Payload Report.

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