Universal Product Code Last year on a camping trip Lisa Warden and her daughter Jessica stopped for groceries in an extremely small town. While shopping, Jessica kept hearing an unfamiliar noise and asked what it was, but Lisa was not sure what she was talking about. Because Lisa remembers the cash register age she did not realize Jessica had never heard one actually working in a store. When they were in the check out line Jessica pointed at the old cash register and told her mom that is the noise she has been hearing. Lisa laughed and tried to explain that at one time all stores had cash registers like this one.
Jessica was born in the computer age and could not comprehend the thought of cashiers and baggers doing so much work. Before bar codes, cashiers had to look at each price tag and manually key enter the dollar amount. This made the consumer have to wait in long check out lines, which did not make for a pleasant experience. Because the cashier was busy entering each items price, he or she did not have time to bag the merchandise. The retailer had to hire another person to put the products into bags, and this increased the prices.
Ed Leibowitz reported that supermarkets net margins were one percent in the more profitable times, but down six percent by 1970 (130). Their inventory control did not help their net margins because of the considerable time it took and their employee wages they paid. Consumers, retailers, and producers have benefited with the invention of the bar code by saving time and money. The bar code is a series of thirteen numbers written in a coded form of black and white lines that a scanner can read. The definition according to The Computer Desktop Encyclopedia is, The printed code used for recognition by a bar code reader (scanner). Traditional one-dimensional bar codes use the bars width as the code, but encode just an ID or account number. Two-dimensional bar codes, such as PDF417 from Symbol Technology, are read horizontally and vertically.
PDF417 holds 1,800 characters in an area the size of a postage stamp (Freedman 62). The Universal Product Code (UPC) is thirteen numbers divided into three sections: the first five digits are the manufacturers code, the next seven digits are the products code, and the last digit is a check digit (Hartston). The bar code currently being used is one-dimensional, but the appetite for including more and more detail in bar code messages seems to have no limit. An items label has limited space, and because of this, stacked bar codes, better known as two-dimensional bar codes have been developed. Explained in Using Bar Code–Why its Taking Over, A symbology called Code 49, the first stacked bar code to receive widespread interest, was introduced by Intermec Corporation in 1987. The following year Laserlight Systems, Inc.
introduced Code 16K as an entry in the symbology category. Since then, several additional stacked symbologies have been introduced. The stacked symbology of Code 16K is designed to contain from 2 to 16 rows of bars. Each row has a row designator (in UPC symbology) on each end of the row, and five message characters between them in Code 128 format. This gives Code 16K a message capacity of 77 full ASCII characters, or 154 numeric characters, within a very small label (Collins 38). Two-dimensional bar codes are not yet in the mainstream of bar code technology.
They do represent the direction in which the technology is headed. Railroad cars used bar codes in the 1960s to track each car to provide accounting reports for freight car rental. Bar codes were first patented in 1949, but it was retail that bar coding made its mark (Gowrie). Retail bar coding first appeared on a pack of gum at a Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio, on June 26, 1974 (Glanz 9). “Bar code scanning is probably the single most revolutionary thing that has happened in retail sales in 50 years,” says George Goldberg, founder and former publisher of SCAN, an industry newsletter (qtd. in Gowrie). Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard “Bob” Silver, mechanical engineering instructors at Philadelphias Drexel Institute of Technology, overheard a supermarket executive trying to sell the Drexel dean on a research project to automate the checkout counter.
The dean declined, but Woodland and Silver began pursuing the research on their own. Woodland left Drexel but could not stop thinking about the concept. He first thought of a code, and the only code he knew was Morse. Sitting on Miami Beach thinking of dots and dashes, he reached into the sand and drug his hand. He looked at the different size lines each finger made, and the bar code image hit him.
Silver designed an electronic decoder for the scanning device Woodland created. Woodland then took a job at IBM, hoping he could interest the company in developing his invention (Leibowitz 130). Without the concept of a bar code, the busy world of retail would be a slower place. It is unbelievable how his persistence would effect the world. This is how the bar code and scanner work according to Chuck Haga, The heart of the scanner is a laser about the size of a pencil eraser.
It shoots a beam of light that passes through a lens and strikes a mirror mounted on a spinner working at 6,000 – 8,000 revolutions per minute. The laser beam is swept in a circle and bounced off more mirrors, producing more than 2,000 scan lines a second, each zapping the label at a different angle. As the laser beam hits the bar code, it sees white spaces and black bars. The beam bounces back, and the scanner collects, measures and decodes the patterns of reflected light. It comes up with a series of numbers, a sort of product license plate, which shoots into the stores database to find the price.
At the same time, the transaction may adjust the stores inventory records and even trigger replacement orders–all in less time than it takes to ask “paper or plastic?” (1A). Most users of bar codes rely on both speed and accuracy to improve their operations. In the beginning consumers were leery of the accuracy of the bar code; Carol Tucker Foreman, therefore, started an anti-bar-code crusade. She was on Phil Donahues talk show and asked his viewers to send money to the Consumer Federation, and they would use the money to stop the use of bar codes, revealed in Smithsonian (Leibowitz 130). The crusade did not like the idea of their products lacking a price tag and feared the stores would over charge them. Emphasized in Discount Store News, price checks at 1,033 stores in thirty-six states found that, on average, twenty-nine out of every thirty items tested scanned prices accurately, proving crusaders fears were unfounded (Rankin 14).
In the retail business, the bar code has shortened the check out lines, making the consumers shopping trip a happier adventure. The cashier is more cheerful with the customer because he or she does not have to concentrate on the price of each item. The customers most bought items will always be on the shelves because of the efficiency of the bar code updating the daily inventory. “Every night the exact number of grocery items sold that day is replaced by the distribution center, and the stores shelves can be replenished the next morning” (Collins 13). Because this process is so exact, marketing products has improved, satisfying the customer and increasing the merchant’s profits. Used in all types of businesses the bar code is a very helpful tool.
United Parcel Service started using them to help keep track of their customers air packages. When a person or a company sends a package they want to know where that package is at all times, especially if they send it with a more expensive service such as next day air or second day air. To satisfy their customer’s needs, United Parcel Service decided in 1989 to start using a bar code on their next day and second day air labels. At first the scanned information was only available to United Parcel Service employees, but the customer could call and find where their package was. Two years later United Parcel Service created their own web site. If a customer needed to know where their package was all they needed to do was to log on to the web site and key in the tracking number from their packages label.
Larry Pontinus offered, that if United Parcel Service would have known the importance of the bar code they would have demanded their customers use them on every package shipped. This is were the company would like to be by September 1, 2000, and have three facilities already testing “smart packages”. The facilities use less man power and more technology to distribute a …