Which bar code system?
Bar code is a well known Symbology within the family of AUTO ID Technologies.
Does Bar code still fulfill the requirements of the users applications for Health Care products, but also on documents or for patients? The Comparison of technologies will show, where Bar code stands today.
An important element is the degree of standardization for methods to improve quality in organization and materialflow, the most appropriate linear and 2-dimensional Bar code standards will be shown with its features.
Applications may differ, but the methodology in using automatic identification for error free data capture. Medical products need a different consideration than blood bags or even food or documents, not to forget the transport application between production storage and use. Fur-ther developments are in process not only on technology level but also with the degree of use and its deep integration into processes for quality, security and traceability.
State of the art
Bar code was recognized already in the 70th as a tool to achieve accuracy marking and scanning health care products as blood bags. The development of the Health Industry Bar Code HIBC followed, being in use widely today for marking of medical products, pharmaceuticals, patients and documents in hospitals. The GS1 and UCC Bar code now has its place on just every food or non food product as a up to 12 digit article number, but without serial encodation for traceability purposes, as the HIBC code includes as a symbology independent structure, where Code39 or Code128 fits to. Equipment is available to reasonable pricing, so no problem in using the robust symbologies of Bar code. But the development in the market does not stand still, so considerations have to be given both to technologies and applications.
Technologies in Comparison
Not only Bar code offers accuracy for data capture, other technologies have been implemented in different areas already where an feature update might be required.
Lets compare the most common technologies in this field:
- OCR Code,
- Chip Card,
- RF-ID Transponders
but also new inventions as voice- and image recognition.
If we give the appropriate weight for the features needed for logistical processes and material handling, than international standard, flexible scanning distances and also low cost seem to be the knock out criteria's for other technologies than Bar code today.
The defacto standards for Bar codes have been changed into an European Norm status in 1995. The most common logistical code, which is Code39 got the EN 800, Code128 the EN799 number and the related quality standard became the EN1635. The 2-dimensional options of this linear symbologies CODABLOCK A and F became norm status with AIM as USS and AFNOR with Norm FDZ 63-321 and FDZ 63-322 to support applications where linear Bar code would exceed the space available.
Applications at production side with the need for automatic and error free data capture are off course product labeling, quality control and shipping, transportation follows with the distribution. Finally at destination logistical treatment, again quality control and tracing need Auto ID. Common from the overall view is the traceability, different are physical conditions, relevant data and the handling. Where Transportation does not need to specify the differences of the carrier, except the different services, the product areas require special considerations such as:
- Blood products
- Medical products
- Pharmaceutical Products
All this occurs in a hospital asking for preciseness and accurateness in logistics and use, together with proper documentation.
The general movement is in optimizing the systems. The ISBT just recently decided to go to a harmonization with a international data structure to be put onto Blood bags via ISBT128 and its 2-dimensional option CODABLOCK to achieve the required security. This is a major step for the health care segment for the benefit of the users in the hospitals as well. The UCC/GS1 organization developed the EAN128 structure to add the missing feature of traceability to the GS1 code. The HIBC code was updated to include the latest developed EAN data segments with the global approach for general traceability within Health Care and added there for the 2-dimensional features of Code128 to open the usage of the most secure data encodation in several fields by help of the CODABLOCK standard. Medical suppliers, Dental suppliers and other manufacturer with the need of complete messages on small labels have now the choice of unique, secure and flexible marking system, specified with the HIBC guidelines, shortly with more details. Still pharmaceutical products don't have the same codification structure always according national responsibilities. As we can recognize different products are arriving in a hospital marked with different symbologies and different data. But the good news is, that all of the marking now is made according common standards specified properly, so the systems can be set up for automatic discrimination but clear recognition for application related handling within organizational systems and its data bases as the job for the computer programmers. Everything speaks for consequent use of all the encoded data per scanning at all relevant points of a logistical chain for error free quality treatment in transparent environments.
Since industry groups as ISBT for the transfusion segment just decided for a new secure system, even with the option of 2-dimensional Bar code, the future began already. Off course technologies are constantly in a development phase, so Bar code as well and all relevant devices. Migrating to a higher level of security it can be expected, that the 2-dimensional Codes will get much more acceptance than in the past as a matter of application related development and know how in this field, which needs to be build up.
Pilot projects help to get experiences as shown with the 2-D Code labeling and reading with blood bags, medical products, documents with the CODABLOCK standard. But the next steps are in preparation specially with small electronics, where the optical matrix code Data-Matrix is in test, or the omni directional readable MaxiCode for transportation and sortation. Not to forget the RF-Identification technologies offering good features of tagging items invisible for a live time, which could be a advantage for medical products as well or even of implants. No doubt, the greatest development is with the understanding about all over security and traceability under the term of general tracking and tracing, where the securest system seems sometimes not secure enough, there for we need further development both in technology and in application.