Reading between the Lines: Forty Years Later, Bar Codes Keep Supply Chains Churning

By Tuttle, D Ray | THE JOURNAL RECORD, September 30, 2014 | Go to article overview

Reading between the Lines: Forty Years Later, Bar Codes Keep Supply Chains Churning


Tuttle, D Ray, THE JOURNAL RECORD


TULSA - People take the bar code for granted, but those slender marks have become a cultural icon.

Forty years after the Universal Product Code was first used in an Ohio supermarket, billions of transactions a day involve the symbol.

Without the ubiquitous codes, the economy would have trouble functioning, said Richard D. Bushnell, who co-authored Getting Started with Bar Codes: A Systematic Guide. The book offers a step- by-step process in how to use bar codes.

In the early days, bar codes were about reducing the time it took and the errors in checkout lines. Later, the codes were about controlling the flow of inventory and logistics, Bushnell said.

"Companies needed to know where product was when it passed a particular point," Bushnell said.

In the beginning, manufacturers only had ballpark inventory figures. Now, they track product in detail. Just-in-time manufacturing was made possible by using bar codes, which allowed industry to shrink inventory and cut costs.

"Companies have been able to reduce dollars tied up in inventory which previously was tied up on product sitting on warehouse shelves," Bushnell said. "Today, the Kmarts and Wal-Marts, all the retailers, want bar codes, because they want to know exactly what they have received, know exactly where they put it, so they know exactly how many they have and they only store what they need in real time. The bar code enables a person to scan product at the point of sale, which triggers a computer to order more product."

Gavin Manes, president and CEO of Tulsa-based Avansic, a digital forensics company, agreed with Bushnell that the bar code plays a significant role in the supply chain.

"At Avansic, being a tech company, we use bar codes all the time, as we inventory about 40,000 hard drives," Manes said.

Manes said the stripes live on because they are cheap. While newer technologies allow for greater data storage, the bar code will not be eliminated, he said.

While most people link bar codes with retail, the black-and- white lines are on everything from luggage at the airport to letters delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. They are attached to everything from library books to pieces of fruit.

All bar codes are not created equal, Bushnell said.

The evolution of the bar code reveals how it went from retailers reading a serial number and price to manufacturers embedding more elements in the code, adding the entire alphabet to the numbers and creating alphanumeric figures, Bushnell said.

Plus, there are variations of the bar code. For example, the technology called radio frequency identification, or RFID, is like a bar code that uses radio waves. It uses a small tag with a circuit that beams information to a receiver. …

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