Barcode scan engines are ubiquitous yet often overlooked technology that power barcode scanners. The rise of mobile devices and e-commerce has given them renewed significance in the retail and logistics industry.
This article aims to provide insights into barcode scan engines, their types, and applications in modern and efficient equipment for scanning tasks.
What is a Barcode Scan Engine?
Barcode scan engines are electronic devices that can read and decode barcodes. The scan engine decodes the barcode by converting it into a digital signal for mobile computers and other electronic devices.
Barcode scan engines consist of multiple components that work as a unit. Barcode scan engines consist of the following components.
- Light source
- Mirrors and lenses
Please refer to our dedicated guide on how do barcode scanners work to get deep insights into each barcode component and the working of barcode scanners.
Depending on the type of barcode they can read, barcode scan engines are of two types – 1-dimensional or 2-dimensional.
Barcode scan engines are designed to be integrated with various systems or machines. Integrating scan engines into the host makes the host system capable of reading and processing barcodes. The host systems can be anything from handheld devices, stationary scanners, and computers to mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
Types of Barcode Scan Engines
There are different types of Barcode scan engines. Each type has its merits and limitations depending on its application and the environment in which they are used.
Let’s have a look at the most common types of scan engines.
Laser Scan Engine
As the name suggests, laser scan engines use a laser beam to read the barcode. They are used to read and interpret only 1D barcodes (and not 2D barcodes).
Working of a Laser Scan Engine
The components in a laser scan engine include a light source, sensor, decoder, mirrors and lenses.
The laser is produced by a light source component. This is usually a diode.
When the beam hits the mirror inside the scan engine, it redirects the beam towards the barcode. This mirror is capable of moving back and forth and rotating. This helps the mirror to sweep the barcode completely with the laser beam.
The reflected laser from the barcode is analysed by the sensor component inside. This can be a photodiode or a CCD (charged coupled device).
The sensor converts the light into electrical signals. The decoder component (mostly an integrated chip or software) converts these electrical signals into a readable format.
There are three basic configurations for laser projection in barcode scan engines:
- Moving Beam – In this configuration, a single laser line moves across the entire barcode area sequentially. It scans the barcode one line at a time.
- Rastering – In this configuration, the laser scanner captures multiple lines that cover the scanned area. This effectively results in scanning the entire barcode from top to bottom. This method is useful for decoding barcodes that may be slightly damaged or not printed uniformly.
- Omnidirectional – In this configuration, multiple laser beams are projected simultaneously at the barcode.
Each beam scans the barcode from different angles, enabling the scanner to decode barcodes regardless of their orientation.
Laser scan engines are suited for high-speed applications like conveyor belts and cashier lines.
Benefits of Laser Scan Engines
A significant advantage of laser barcode scan engines is their ability to function in low-lighting conditions.
Laser scan engines can read barcodes even when there is minimal ambient light available. This makes them particularly suitable for applications where consistent lighting might not be guaranteed.
Another notable benefit is their capability to read barcodes from a relatively long distance. Laser scan engines can successfully decode the bars from a few centimetres to several meters away. This is especially helpful for dangerous work environments and industrial applications.
Limitations of Laser Scan Engines
A major disadvantage of laser barcode scan engines is their inability to read 2D barcodes. They can only process 1D barcodes, such as UPC and EAN codes. This limits their applicability in manufacturing, logistics, and healthcare industries, where 2D barcodes are widely used.
2D barcodes, such as QR codes, are becoming increasingly popular due to their ability to store more information. With more Industries starting to adopt 2D barcodes, the use of laser scanners may see a dip in the near future.
Display screens of modern electronic devices are designed to prevent light reflections and glare. When laser scan engines direct light beams at digital displays, they are not reflected back into the sensor. As a result, laser scanners won’t be able to read barcodes from computers or mobile screens.
Linear Imager Scan Engines
A linear imager barcode scan engine, also known as a 1D barcode scan engine, works with data present in linear or one-dimensional barcodes.
Working of Linear Imager Scan Engines
The linear imager scanner functions similarly to a digital camera and uses a combination of LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) and CCD (Charge Coupled Device) technology to extract the code from the barcode.
The scan engine contains an array of hundreds of LEDs. These LEDs emit light that illuminates the barcode. The light reflected off the barcode is detected by a CCD sensor.
This reflected light is then converted into an electrical signal and is used to decode the information in the barcode.
Linear imager scan engines essentially slice 1D barcodes vertically. As the scanning progresses, it acquires multiple consecutive vertical slices of the barcode. These digital slices are then reconstructed and decoded to identify and interpret the complete barcode.
Benefits of Linear Imager Scan Engines
Linear imager scanners can capture barcodes at a much higher resolution than laser scan engines.
Though not as effective as Laser sensors, linear scan engines can also work in low-light conditions. This is because linear scan engines use hundreds of LEDs to illuminate the barcode.
Linear scan engines also provide superior accuracy and speed than other barcode scanning technologies. They are also known for working well with poorly printed barcodes or damaged barcodes.
Limitations of Linear Imager Scan Engines
Linear scan engines are usually more expensive than their laser counterparts. They also have a limited reading range.
If used in handheld form, linear scan engines need a steady hand. If not held steady, they capture distorted input from barcodes.
It’s also important to note that they cannot work with 2-dimensional barcodes.
Array Imager Scan Engine
Array imager barcode scan engines are also known as 2D imagers or area imagers. They are scan engines capable of scanning 2-dimensional barcodes.
Array scanners were designed to overcome the limitations of linear imager scan engines, including their inability to read 2D barcodes.
A key difference between array and linear imagers is the shape and arrangement of their sensors.
In linear image scanners, the sensors are arranged vertically. While in array imagers, sensors are arranged vertically and horizontally in a grid pattern.
Working of Array Imager Scan Engine
In an array image scan engine, the barcode is illuminated using a light source (typically an LED). This helps to ensure that the image captured by the scanner is of high quality.
Now, the image sensors in the scanner engine capture an image of the barcode. The image is then decoded using specialised software. This process of decoding barcodes with the help of software is known as image processing.
Benefits of Array Imager Scan Engine
Array scan engines have omnidirectional scanning capability. This means that they can read barcodes irrespective of the orientation or the barcode.
This makes array scan engines perfect for high-volume or fast-paced environments, such as warehouses and retail stores.
As they can capture the barcode’s image completely, array scan engines can easily work with damaged or partially obscured barcodes. They are also known for their faster processing and capability to capture multiple barcodes simultaneously.
Modern array scan engine models can also capture images and decode Optical Character Recognition (OCR) data.
Limitations of Array Imager Scan Engine
Array images are expensive due to their use of specialised software and advanced hardware. They are less effective than laser barcode scanners when it comes to capturing data from long distances.
Array scan engines also consume more power compared to other scan engines. This makes them unsuitable for places with limited access to a power source.
Image/Camera Based Scan Engines
Image/camera-based scan engines are similar to array imager scan engines. This system works by capturing a digital image of the barcode, which is then processed using specialised software to decode the barcode.
Image/camera scan engines are commonly used in smartphones and other mobile devices.
Image/camera scan engines can be used to read various barcodes, including 2D barcodes. They are portable and cheap as they do not require advanced hardware.
It’s important to note that Image/camera scan engines are not specifically designed to read barcodes. These scan engines have general-purpose image sensors that have a wide variety of applications.
The use of specialised software is what enables them to decode barcodes. If the image sensors are of low resolution, they work poorly.
Image/camera scan engines have lower resolution and less sophisticated image processing than array scan engines. They cannot be used for industrial-level applications due to their limitations.
Difference Between Array and Image/Camera-Based Scan Engines
Though an array and image-based scan engine may appear similar, they have some significant differences. Here is a table comparing array scan engines and image-based scan engines.
Array Image Scan Engine
Image/Camera Scan Engine
Use an array of sensors (such as CCD or CMOS) to decode reflected light
Use a general-purpose camera or image sensor to capture an image of the barcode
They are specially designed for barcode scanning
Works because the software can decode barcode images
Generally short range
Range depends on the image sensor used
Available at board level or housing
They are mostly a part of devices with a camera.
Can recognize and process barcodes faster
Comparatively slow with recognizing and processing barcodes
Have omnidirectional scanning capabilities
Need specific angles for barcode recognition
Honeywell And Zebra Scan Engines
Honeywell and Zebra are companies that produce a state of the art barcode scan engines.
Honeywell offers a variety of products, including scan engines, scan module, and decoding software for barcode scanners. Their 1D and 2D barcode scan engines are used worldwide and are known for their high accuracy. They also have decoder boards and barcode scan modules for industrial and retail use.
Honeywell and Zebra products can be used in various applications, including healthcare, mobile ticketing, inventory, mobile point-of-sale, airline services, vending machines, and more.
Zebra also offers a wide range of OEM scan engines, including array, linear, and laser. Zebra’s scan engines are designed to scan dirty, damaged barcodes. They are specially designed to survive harsh work environments and for high volume large-scale use.
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Benefits of Using Scan Engines
Using barcode scan engines offers several advantages, including.
- Scan engines offer high efficiency in handling large volumes of data quickly and accurately.
- Scan engines provide economic benefits by eliminating manual processing costs. Bar code scan engines are more cost-effective than other technologies like RFID.
- Scan engines are incredibly versatile. They can be used as handheld devices, deployed in mobile applications or connected directly to desktop computers. This makes them effective for a wide range of industries, from retail checkout areas to warehouses and more.
- Scan engines have high accuracy rates compared to manual data entry. They are also easy to be integrated into already existing systems.
- Bar code scan engines can provide real-time information about important data such as inventory levels, asset locations, etc. This can help make informed decisions and save time associated with managing inventory.
Common Issues with Barcode Scan Engines
Barcode scan engines can not read poorly printed, damaged or low-resolution barcodes. The type of material on which the barcode is printed (such as glossy paper or plastic) can also affect the readability of the barcode.
Insufficient or excessively bright light can create problems for the scanning engine. Direct sunlight and reflections from glossy surfaces may interfere with the working of the scan engine.
Distance and Angle
The scanner being too close or too far away from the barcode makes it difficult for the device to read it. Similarly, scanning the barcode at an improper angle may affect the recognition of the barcode.
External interferences, such as radio frequency and electromagnetic interference, can interrupt the functioning of a scan engine. These interferences are often created by nearby electronic devices or machinery.
A barcode scanning engine might malfunction due to hardware-related issues. These issues include worn-out or damaged scanning lenses, issues with the power supply, malfunctioning light sources, etc.
Compatibility issues may arise between the scan engine’s hardware, software, and the barcode symbology used.
In conclusion, barcode scan engines provide a cost-effective and efficient way to process large volumes of data quickly and accurately.
Above all, barcode scan engine technology is designed to reduce human error and saves time and energy. With proper maintenance and usage, barcode scan engines are a valuable asset for businesses.
We hope this blog has covered all the information you need about this topic.