Other Voices: Why 2D warehouse barcode labels are increasing in popularity

Compactly storing large amounts of data, versatile and resilient 2D barcodes are suited to complex, smart warehouses.

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Editor’s Note: The following column by Ethan Adams, ID Label business development manager, is part of Modern’s Other Voices column. The series features ideas, opinions and insights from end-users, analysts, systems integrators and OEMs. Click here to learn about submitting a column for consideration.


“More” is a word that aptly describes the expectations placed on today’s warehouses and distribution centers.

More inventory. More throughput. More rapid order fulfillment. More pressure on warehouse operators to meet increasing demands.

Luckily, “more” is also a word that describes the capabilities of today’s barcoding solutions. In particular, I’d like to address how two-dimensional barcodes are a smart solution for today’s smart warehouses and distribution centers.

The benefits they offer include:
● Greater data storage in a smaller format
● Robust tracking and management
● More versatile scanning

Barcoding’s vital role
A warehouse barcoding system is essential today. With its automated data capture, it supports inventory visibility and tracking that can greatly improve operational efficiency and speed.

Warehouse management software can cover a great deal of information about each product, case or pallet. And that means today’s barcodes must be able to contain copious amounts of data.

With many of our warehousing clients, we’re seeing an increase in use of two-dimensional barcodes, which can support greater data requirements in a smaller barcode image.

1D vs. 2D barcodes
Traditional linear (1D) barcodes contain a limited amount of information, roughly the equivalent of up to 20 characters. Two-dimensional (2D) barcodes, on the other hand, can store thousands of characters of information. That’s because 2D barcodes encode data vertically and horizontally.

Not only do they contain more data, they’re typically smaller than 1D barcodes. This can be beneficial if a rack bay or bin area contains a dense number of positions.

A 2D barcode can contain information like product name, serial number, lot number, date of arrival, date to be shipped and more. A single scan captures all the pertinent information, which is then easily accessible in the facility’s inventory management software.

Easier scanning with 2D
2D barcodes require imaging scanners to read them. An imager doesn’t use reflected light like a traditional laser scanner. An imaging scanner can read a barcode in any direction – even upside down. Warehouse workers like them because it translates into faster, easier scans. They can also typically read a 2D barcode that might be slightly damaged from, say, a close encounter with a lift truck. That means less manual data entry and less opportunity for errors. 2D imagers have the added benefit of being able to read linear barcodes, too.

One thing to watch for is glare. Occasionally, imaging scanners have difficulty reading barcodes with any glare that might be reflecting off a glossy finish. Labels with a matte finish avoid those potential problems.

Ideal for vertical location labels
2D barcodes are particularly beneficial in vertical (totem) location labels where space on the upright rack is limited. The larger information capabilities allow for a compact barcode that contains both a location ID and a multifunctional data string.

In short, 2D barcodes are being used more broadly for a reason: They’re a perfect solution for today’s complex, smart warehouses.

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