The Easy Guide to Barcode Inspection

Guest Post by Marvin Magusara, GlobalVision Inc.

A barcode is the most sensitive and complex part of a packaging label, yet it is also the most useful. So, inspecting / verifying a barcode is a crucial part of the packaging quality control process. A company may use in-house systems for producing packaging labels and barcodes, whereas many companies outsource this part of the work. North America and Canada are the top countries for packaging and labeling automation technologies and services, because of the rapid high tech advancement for packaging quality control.

This is a guide for businesses which are either just starting off with their own product barcode production, or switching to in-house barcode production, or looking to improve their existing barcode production and verification process.

Barcode Quality Plan

Before getting to the barcode verification phase, a company needs to have a well defined production and quality control process workflow. This workflow must take into consideration the industry specific methods and standards for different types of barcodes and industries. The standardization authority for most common barcodes is GS1, former EAN and UCC. Although the EAN and UCC barcode languages are still some of the most used, the defining authority is now GS1. It’s highly important for company decision makers, quality control specialists, and tech personnel to be informed of the GS1 General Specifications and to keep up to date with the standardization changes. The GS1 website provides useful guidelines and instructions for barcode production and verification on their website. These guidelines help companies generate barcodes which comply with necessary ISO standards. The GS1 system also enables more ambitious companies to generate their own barcodes. Defining the requirements and specifics of a barcode is the first preparation phase which leads into production and inspection. GS1 provides a step by step guide through a 10 Step Process for implementing barcodes.

“Ten Steps to Barcode Implementation
Step 1 Get a GS1 Company Prefix
Step 2 Assign numbers
Step 3 Select a barcode printing process
Step 4 Select a “primary” scanning environment
Step 5 Select a barcode
Step 6 Pick a barcode size
Step 7 Format the barcode text
Step 8 Pick a barcode colour
Step 9 Pick the barcode placement
Step 10 Build a barcode quality plan

By looking at the above example, it’s easy to conclude that the barcode quality control begins at the start of barcode creation.The above is a simplified and rather generalized barcode production and quality control workflow example. The number of approvals and adjustment requests will depend on the specific industry requirements and company systems, and of course on the technologies and methods being used in the process. The barcode quality plan must define the minimum requirements for a barcode to pass the inspection phase.

Excerpt from the GS1 General Specifications –

Printing process and print quality

Before choosing a barcode, the company must know which printing methods will be used in order to ensure maximum print quality of a barcode. In best cases, a barcode must pass a pre-printing inspection phase and a test print job phase. The printing methods and equipment vary among different industries and companies. But, the important thing to remember is that a barcode with static information can be printed through traditional printing systems. Whereas dynamic barcodes require advanced digital printing methods and technology.

Things to consider when choosing a barcode

Large and common industries such as pharmaceuticals, retail, food, and transport and logistics, all have clear and specific barcode quality standards and usage guidelines. This is the inevitable factor which affects the choice of barcode. Each industry uses different types of packaging methods and materials. So that’s another specific which must be considered when choosing a barcode. The size of the package is also critical when it comes to choosing the best barcode type. As well as keeping in mind the additional key segments of the package; the label and artwork. So the best quality barcode will have to be one which is proportional to the rest of the package and label contents. Finally, the purpose of the barcode and the data that it will contain is another key specific to consider when choosing a barcode type. After the inspection, a report should be shared with all stakeholders and partners. If a barcode didn’t pass the quality inspection, a report should clearly pinpoint the fail cause and the barcode should be returned to the production phase and stakeholders for adjustment.

Packaging and Labelling automation solutions

As mentioned at the beginning, a barcode is a key element of a package and label design. Although a barcode should pass the inspection phase before being added to the packaging or label artwork, many companies rush to get the artwork done at the same time the barcode is being produced. In some industries, this is okay and it works efficiently. Especially in businesses which use standalone sticker barcode labels to add to packages. Whereas more demanding industries, such as the food and pharma sector, require carefully planned barcode and label implementation.

The barcode inspection phase

A company should take great caution in the pre-production phase to consider all of the key factors before choosing a barcode type and approving the production process. Companies which decide to use an in-house system for barcode inspection and printing solutions must have a clearly defined workflow with an integrated packaging quality control software for automation. Manual barcode inspection is outdated, inefficient and prone to human error. If the pre-production phase and production workflow are clearly defined, chances are that only digital barcode verification via a pdf file will be sufficient. However, the type of solution being used for barcode inspection will also influence the whole production and quality control workflow. An advanced barcode verifier should be able to check multiple barcodes at once, the standardization compliance, barcode sizes, pre-print and post-print barcode documents, quality grading, and to carry out additional company specific tests.