Looking At 3D Barcodes, What Are They and How Do They Work

While most people will be able to recognize 1-dimensional UPC barcodes from shopping at retail stores or the 2-dimensional barcode from scanning concert tickets or airplane boarding passes, it is doubtful that the average person has come into contact with a 3-dimensional barcode (3D Barcodes).

You might be asking yourself, why do we even need to replace the 2D barcode anyway, when it already works so well? With all the extra information it already has, what more could you need? If you are one of those people and are looking to buy a barcode of this kind, never fear!

3D barcodes are very new to the world of technology and only used in specific circumstances, and therefore rather misunderstood. In reality, 3D barcodes are more of an upgrade of the 2D barcode rather than a replacement really – and invaluable in certain industries. Let’s take a closer look at what 3D barcodes are and how they work.

Where did it all start?
When it comes to barcodes, South Africa and its industrial and manufacturing businesses have been attempting to introduce a barcoding system analogous with the barcodes used in the retail industry for point-of-sale purposes. This proved to be easier said than done because in manufacturing, the temperature of the atmosphere tends to be higher than normal, and a range of chemicals and harmful processing techniques are constantly an issue, which makes the feasibility of using a normal barcode with printed bars on it difficult to nearly impossible.

On top of this, those who manufacture products need to be able to discern separate parts of products and not simply the product in its entirety – as has been the custom for years. And so, in an effort to allow the manufacturing industry the possibility of an inventory tracking and managing system that worked as effectively as it had in the retail industry – 3D barcodes were created.

How do 3D barcodes work?
A 3D barcode number has the same basic principle as 1D and 2D barcodes in terms of their shape and how they operate. A barcode image is put onto a product, which is then scanned by a device to record and classify inventory or to keep track of each product as it moves through the supply chain. However, instead of this being the normal adhesive sticker form, the unique barcode is engraved or embossed onto the product itself when it is manufactured so that instead of having lines of different widths, the lines have different heights.

A 3D barcode scanner is then used, which works the same as a normal barcode scanner, however, the laser determines the height of the barcode lines by the time it takes for the laser beam to ‘bounce back’ from each bar. The quicker it takes for the light to bounce back, the higher the bar. This differs from the scanning process of other barcodes that would read the widths of the bars according to their size in relation to the white background they are on.

How are 3D barcodes scanned?
The process of categorizing parts with 3D barcodes and how they are scanned is referred to as direct part marketing, or DPM for short. The scanners used to read direct part mark barcodes have a laser similar to those that are found in home and office scanners used for scanning images or documents into a computer.

DPM scanners exclusively read the height differences of the barcode, therefore it is unnecessary to stick to the rule that all barcodes should be black and white because the use of colour has absolutely no bearing on the barcodes ability to be scanned. This is because normal scanners work by reading the white space between the black lines to decipher the barcode, but 3D barcodes are no UPC codes!

Interesting ways 3D barcodes are being used today
Aside from identification of manufactured items, one of the most innovative ways that 3D barcode technology is being used is to identify when certain goods have been stolen. Although there are no working examples of this as yet (not that I could find at least), there is an idea to adhere minuscule 3D barcodes on expensive items like art and jewelry so that if these items are ever stolen, they can be identified.

This works like this; you buy barcodes in their 3D form, then a special drill makes a hole into the plastic surface of a minute square which is to become the future 3D barcode.

The square can then be adhered onto the valuable item with some sort of glue or laced onto other items like paintings. Then, if the item is ever stolen and attempted to be resold, the barcode can automatically alert the person to the situation! What a unique and interesting idea!

With barcode technology having come so far as to be made into 3 dimensional codes that are indestructible and unaffected by colour limitations, the potential and future for barcode technology really is limitless, unlike the standard EAN barcode. And while 3D barcodes remain confined to the manufacturing industry, they are proof of how dynamic and powerful the barcode can be and how they are helping make everyday life run far more smoothly.

If you are looking to barcode your business, follow this link to buy barcodes South Africa!


Staff Writer

All articles published by Staff Writer have been contributed by all our reporters and edited and proofread by our editorial team.
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