Choosing the right barcode scanner for your business can be overwhelming. There are hundreds of models available, each designed with a different set of features to suit various specifications or business needs. Whether you need a barcode scanner for POS purchases, inventory management, field service operations, or any other purpose, choosing the right barcode scanner is an important decision.
The Right Barcode Scanner is a Valuable Business Tool
Asset tracking solutions enable organizations to optimize work processes, streamline data collection, simplify inventory management, better manage resources, and gain better control over maintenance operations. But barcodes, asset tags, and other asset tracking labels are only part of the solution.
Without a barcode scanner, the information encoded in a barcode label or asset tag is unreadable and unusable. A barcode scanner serves is a powerful data capture tool that drastically reduces the time it takes to capture and document important information about your company’s assets.
There are several types of barcode labels and asset tags, which use one of several types of symbologies to encode data that’s instantly captured with a momentary scan. Below, we outline the key considerations to help you choose the right barcode scanner for your company’s needs.
Image vs. Laser Barcode Scanners
There are several types of barcode scanners. While you’ll need to understand your unique business requirements before selecting the right barcode scanner for your applications, it’s helpful to have some background on the primary types of scanning devices.
Barcode scanners can be categorized in several different ways, such as hands-free, fixed-mount, portable data terminals, pen-type or wand barcode scanners, and more. In addition to such categorizations, most barcode scanners can be classified as image capture barcode scanners or laser barcode scanners.
Laser Barcode Scanners – Laser barcode scanners are the most common type of barcode scanners. These models are generally cost-effective though often read only standard 1D barcodes. A laser barcode scanner uses a red diode to read the black and white barcode markings on a barcode label. Laser barcode scanners have either a linear or omnidirectional scan pattern. The latter have a wider reading area and don’t require the user to have the scanner perfectly centered over the barcode at the correct angle, making them more functional for many applications than scanners with linear scan patterns.
Image Barcode Scanners – These are more sophisticated than laser barcode scanners. Instead of using a laser, image barcode scanners use image capture technology to scan barcodes and digital image processing functionality to decode them. But these are also more costly, although they come at a wide range of prices.
Barcode scanning mobile applications are another option, where a smartphone or tablet PC doubles as a barcode reader through the use of a downloaded app. Many of these applications allow users to scan multiple symbologies including 1D, 2D, QR codes, and more. If your company has a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program or offers company-supplied mobile devices, a barcode scanning app might be worth considering if it meets your requirements. With this option, employees only need to manage one device instead of both a mobile device and a barcode scanner.
Define Your Business Requirements
Knowing your unique business requirements is one of several important considerations in choosing a barcode scanner.
Utility companies, for instance, require rugged, durable barcode scanners that can withstand outdoor weather elements. Warehouses on the other hand may have several types of barcode scanners to suit different purposes, such as indoor barcode scanners capable of rapid scanning for inventory and more durable models for use at the loading docks.
Some companies may require barcode scanners that can operate in dim lighting conditions or wireless models to enable workers to capture data quickly and easily in the field or throughout a building. The following checklist will help you define your unique business requirements:
- Do you need a barcode scanner for indoor or outdoor use, or both? Companies with outdoor applications should look for barcode scanners with rugged durability. An IP rating (used by the military to define the durability of devices) of IP54 or IP65 indicates that a barcode scanner is capable of withstanding exposure to dust, water spray, and other environmental hazards.
- What symbologies do you need to scan? Asset tags and barcode labels are printed with one of several types of symbologies, from 1D and 2D to PDF417, Postal, OCR, DPM, and others. While some barcode scanners have a wide range of decoding capabilities, others only work with standard 1D and 2D symbologies.
- How often will your barcode scanners be used? Do you need to scan hundreds of assets at a time in rapid succession, or is your scanning activity more limited? Some barcode scanners are capable of rapid, continuous scanning – up to 60 to 120 images per second – while others require a few seconds to process each scan.
- What is your work environment like? Even indoor applications can expose devices like barcode scanners to potentially damaging materials like heavy dust, debris, chemicals, or moisture. If you have an indoor scanning application with potentially hazardous conditions, opt for a more durable model with an IP rating of IP54 or IP65.
- What is your typical scanning distance? Do you need to scan signs hung from the ceiling in your facility or do you scan assets within a few feet or inches of the user? Some barcode scanners are able to read certain symbologies at a greater distance than others. For instance, a barcode scanner may be able to decode 1D barcodes from several feet but require a proximity of a few inches to decode 2D barcodes. Some long-range barcode scanners are suitable for warehouse use and similar applications, enabling staff to scan barcodes from floor-to-ceiling distances.
- How mobile are your workers and how dispersed are your assets? If your staff will need to navigate throughout your building or facility and scan assets throughout the workday, a wireless barcode scanner is the better choice. For retail or similar applications on the other hand, a tethered barcode scanner may be sufficient.
Once you’ve defined your business requirements, you can evaluate barcode scanners in more detail to compare important specifications:
Mobility and Bluetooth Connectivity
If you’ve defined your business requirements, you already know if you need a cordless barcode scanner. While cordless scanners are convenient, not all cordless barcode scanners offer the same functionality. A cordless barcode scanner functions without being tethered to a power source, though it may not transmit data wirelessly to your central database.
That means that your staff could move about your facility or the field and capture data – usually with a storage limit on the handheld scanning device – and all stored data is later uploaded when the device is connected. Timely uploading of device data is key to avoid inventory conflicts and other errors from conflicting data captured on two handheld scanning devices.
If you’re looking for a solution that enables your staff to capture data on the go and have that data automatically transmitted and updated in a central database, you need a Bluetooth-enabled barcode scanner.
Power and Charging Requirements
You’ll also need to consider power requirements. Companies with field operations may have field technicians in the field for 10- or 12-hour shifts. Carefully evaluate the battery lifespan of handheld barcode scanners with your average scanning frequency in mind. If scanning is infrequent, a handheld barcode scanner may retain a battery charge for several hours longer than a scanner used for rapid scanning throughout a shift.
Some barcode scanners have extended-life batteries that are designed to last for longer use in field applications or when recharging mid-shift is inconvenient. If you find a barcode scanner that meets your requirements but has a limited battery life, sending backup batteries with your field technicians is one way to work around the problem.
Software Compatibility and Additional Functionality
Barcode scanners range from simple laser scanners that merely decode and transmit data to sophisticated data terminals with keypad data entry options and other functionality. Some run on the same operating systems as mobile devices, such as the Android operating system, while others have proprietary platforms. Some barcode scanners enable companies to develop their own custom applications through a SDK (Software Development Kit), making the options virtually limitless.
Compatibility with your existing software applications should be a key consideration when choosing a barcode scanner. Software that integrates with your asset management software means that you can seamlessly migrate and transmit data for a more up-to-date, better overall view of your organization’s assets. Some barcode scanners allow for multiple handheld units to connect with the same base unit, streamlining device management and reducing implementation costs.
Finally, device warranties should be a top consideration when you’re comparing barcode scanners. Most offer warranties of several years, but it’s a good idea to compare the specifics. Some models offer a warranty that’s honored from the date of shipment rather than the date of receipt or activation, while others offer a longer warranty on the factory device with shorter coverage for accessories.
While the options may seem overwhelming and the specifications complex, taking the time to carefully evaluate your business requirements and select the right barcode scanner is time that’s well-invested. The right barcode scanner will increase your team’s productivity, improve your data collection and analysis processes, and boost overall effectiveness.
About the author
Nicole Pontius is the marketing communications manager for Camcode, a global manufacturer of asset tracking solutions.
At Camcode, Nicole focuses on helping organizations better manage and track valuable assets through automatic identification and data capture practices.