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The history of barcodes in manufacturing

The history of barcodes in manufacturing

Barcoding is an incredibly convenient inventory management solution for businesses of all kinds. Since their first widespread use in the 1970s, bar codes have revolutionized the worlds of retail and manufacturing.

Bar code beginnings
On June 26, 1974, – just after 8 a.m., according to the Smithsonian – the first grocery store bar code was scanned at Troy’s Marsh Supermarket in Ohio. A customer purchased a multi-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum, and that instance sparked a revolution that spread across every industry.

The simple black lines people recognize today resulted from years of innovation. In 1948, a supermarket executive asked the dean of the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia to create a way to speed up the checkout process. While the dean ignored his request, Smithsonian said, a student named Bernard Silver heard the conversation and passed the idea to his friend, Joseph Woodland. Woodland immediately began working the idea and eventually left graduate school to develop it further.

In January 1949, while living in his grandfather’s apartment in Miami Beach, Woodland had a breakthrough. He began thinking about Morse code one day at the beach. Woodland tried to convert the code into visible form and came up with a bull’s-eye design. The lines making each circle could vary in width, signifying different information. He and Silver patented the codes in 1952. While the bull’s-eyes were simple to make, the technology to read them was not cheap to acquire. The two eventually sold their patent for $15,000.

Faster checkout lines
The issue of speedy checkout rose again in the early 1970s. Businesses were losing far too much money at the cash register, so several industry leaders came together to fund the creation of a Universal Product Code. IBM presented them with a deviation of Woodland’s invention; Woodland had actually worked with the company before selling his patent. Another employee at IBM, George Laurer, was told to evolve Woodland’s idea. Laurer did away with the circular design, instead creating a rectangular code.

Supermarket owners were ecstatic, and they began using the codes in place of price labels. According to Fortune, the average shopper wasn’t very welcoming of this idea. Consumers were already anxious from inflation, and the lack of prices on grocery store items made them fear they were being overcharged. Eventually, state governments passed laws requiring price labels to calm consumers.

It took until the 1980s for bar codes to grow popular in grocery stores, Fortune reported. However, they were still in use in other areas of business. The railroad industry began using them in the mid-1960s – codes were printed on the sides of railcars so controllers could know their location at any moment. This system was effective but short-lived as the codes faded over time.

General Motors began using bar codes on its assembly lines in 1971. Fortune wrote this enabled the company to reduce production line errors to nearly zero. Then, the U.S. government started using the codes in the 1980s. Since then, bar codes have spread to all aspects of the economy.

Modern bar codes
Today, bar codes are used in businesses all over the world. Mail carriers use them to track shipping, airlines use them to check in travelers and manufacturers use them to record inventory.

Bar codes make inventory management simple and painless. Their portable nature means they can be placed anywhere, and scanning one allows employees instant access to the information the code contains. Bar codes are also scalable, so they can be placed on small materials. Similarly, modern advances have made codes resistant to harsh conditions. Thus, manufacturers can use NAV barcode scanning to easily manage their warehouses, no matter what sort of merchandise they create.

Interested in using barcoding to help your manufacturing company? Download the “Keeping the Physical World and the Virtual World in Sync” white paper.

Posted in: Barcoding

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