3D Barcodes

A brief explanation of 3D barcodes - what they are and how they are used.

In recent years manufacturing companies have been trying to implement a barcoding system similar to the barcodes for purchases and the retail industry. The only problem is that in manufacturing there are high temperatures, extremely solvents being used, as well as a wealth of chemicals and processes that inhibit the use of a label with bars on it. The manufacturers need to identify individual parts and not just the entire batch as it has been done for years. They wished to improve their inventory and tracking system - and have done so through the use of 3D barcodes.

3D barcodes use the same basic principle as linear and 2D barcodes. An image of some sort is applied to a product and then read by a device to log, categorize, inventory, or track an individual product. As previously stated, the manufacturers need a more permanent solution than a label or sticker. The 3D barcode is engraved or applied to the product itself as a part of the manufacturing process. The bars are not read by variances in reflected light as with linear barcodes but by determining the height of each line. The time it takes the laser to bounce back and be recorded determines the height as a function of distance and time and the character represented by the code can be interpreted.

The 3D barcodes are embossed on the product and the scanner recognizes new characters in the string by the lower regions of the code. This works in much the same way as the white lines or spaces in linear barcodes. The gap allows the system to record a new height of a line, and thus a new number or alpha character. The 3D barcodes also make it nearly impossible to alter or obstruct the barcode's information and results in fewer inventory mistakes and in turn lowers operating costs of a manufacturing process. The code can be part of the manufacturing process or applied after with a press.

A direct part mark (DPM) barcode reader for 3D barcodes captures the reflected image after passing a laser over it; the same laser technology used in home digital or office scanners for documents and images. Once the data has been recorded it is digitized and a digital processing unit is employed to interpret the image. Since the system works on height variances the addition of color or paint has no effect on the end result, especially since manufacturers are extremely precise with the application of paint in regards to the thickness of the coat which could, but does not, affect the height of the 3D barcode.

The scanners of 3D barcode technology can be found in hand held versions as well as integrated into assembly lines as part of the process. They can be used to track a part on the line to assess efficiency of the production process, or to account for the number of man hours needed to create a single part. This can help reduce under pricing products and save the company on production costs. The 3D barcodes can, of course, still be used as an inventory system and for purchases. The parts in question are each scanned before being placed on a truck or train and can then be verified when delivered. The 3D barcodes will become more prevalent in manufacturing in the coming years and will drastically affect the costs and savings of industrial manufacturing companies.