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Gartner Reports
Barcode Barcode

What is the function of a barcode in logistics?

The barcode is a graphical representation of digits and letters. Classic barcodes are so-called binary codes, as they comprise a sequence of black and white bars. The data contained therein can be captured using a barcode reader. The barcode serves as a data input tool and offers the following advantages over other such tools: 


  • Data input is very accurate and fast
  • User training requires only a few minutes
  • Barcodes can also be scanned contactlessly from a distance
  • Scanning can be performed automatically or manually
  • The media required to generate a barcode (paper, labels, colour ribbon, etc.) are inexpensive.

Disadvantages of barcodes include the special devices required for their use and software modifications and/or software extensions that may be necessary. Furthermore, barcodes are not suitable for the input or representation of variable data. 

In which areas are barcodes used?

The average consumer will be familiar with barcodes primarily from the supermarket. There every product is assigned a specific article number, by means of which the cashier can determine the price. This speeds up the checkout process, since the article prices do not have to be added up individually, and also reduces the susceptibility to errors. Barcodes are also commonly used in industry. They make logistics processes, in particular, easier to control. In combination with a warehouse management system, stocks of goods can be checked at any time and any supposed discrepancies can be addressed early on. The implementation of barcode systems also makes it much easier to manage inventories. There are areas in which barcodes play a more important role than in others, but they are useful in essentially every industry. For example, many website operators use QR barcodes to draw attention to website.

Different types of barcodes

Since the invention of the barcode in the mid-twentieth century, different subcategories have developed over the years. However, the main distinction is between 1D and 2D barcodes.

1D barcodes comprise the characteristic barcode and a sequence of numbers, or in some cases a sequence of letters. The European Article Number (EAN), which is used primarily in the trade of goods, is very well known. This is a unique product identification according to international standards. Also common is the ITF (Code Interleaved 2/5) barcode, which is used mainly in industry and warehouse management. This barcode ensures the clear identification of items and thus effectively contributes to orderly warehouse management. Barcodes in the warehouse also enable the implementation of picking methods such as pick by voice.

The second type of barcode is the 2D barcode. This barcode takes its name from the rectangular area on which all the information is located. Because it uses both the x and the y axis, it has a significantly larger area for information than the one-dimensional variant. Among the best-known types of 2D barcodes are DataMatrix and QR codes. These remain legible even if up to 30 percent of the code has been destroyed. The PDF-417 barcode is often used in warehouse operations, as it can also be decoded with conventional readers.

In addition to one and two-dimensional barcodes, there are also three and four-dimensional models, although these are used far less frequently. While the 3D variant works on the basis of colours, 4D barcodes are animations. The amount of information here is many times greater. However, there is a risk that the barcode colours may be changed by wear and tear, for example.

How do you obtain barcodes?

Barcodes are best produced using software. Although there are also free alternatives, it is better from a business perspective to use professional providers. This guarantees readability and low susceptibility to errors. The same applies to printing barcode labels. If you do not have a label printer, you should order the barcodes from a print shop. This yields the best results.

Example Barcode
More interesting definitions Return to the Logistics Lexicon