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How do barcode scanners work

By aisltd, Wednesday, 23rd October 2019 | 0 comments
Filed under: Publications.

Barcode scanner technology was developed back in the 1970’s but it really only became popular in the 1980s and 90s when shops and other retail industries started investing in computerised checkouts that used electric point-of-sale elements.

In the 1980s and 90s barcode scanners cost thousands but today they are much more affordable and they can do so much more too.

How Does A Barcode Scanner Work?

In order for barcodes to make sense, there has to be a way of reading them. This is what barcode scanners do. They must be able to read the barcodes on products with speed and then feed that information to a computer or a shop’s checkout, where they are identified immediately using a database.

Whether you use a handheld mobile scanner or a fixed checkout scanning system the procedure is essentially the same and we’ve detailed it below.

  1. The head of the barcode scanner shines an LED or laser light onto the barcode.
  2. The light is reflected back off the barcode into a light-detecting electronic component in the scanner called a photoelectric cell. The white areas of the barcode (we are using a simple black and white barcode as the example for this guide) reflect the most light and the black areas reflect the least.
  3. As the barcode scanner moves past the barcode, the photoelectric cell generates a pattern of on-off pulses that correspond to the black and white stripes on the barcode.
  4. An electronic circuit that is attached to the barcode scanner then converts the on-offer pulses into binary digits which are sent to a computer that will detect the code.

Some barcode scanners have a single photoelectrical cell, but more sophisticated models will have a line of cells that enables them to detect the entire barcode in one go. Barcode scanners detect the different sequences of black and white stripes which the technology inside them converts into decimal numbers which can then be interpreted by the software. Without a barcode scanner doing all this we wouldn’t be able to scan items at the checkout and have the till automatically show us how much we have to pay.

Technology is continuing to advance and barcode scanners are now used in almost every industry in the world, from the educational to the pharmaceutical.

There is a movement in the industry at the moment to update the now outdated windows CE barcode models so latest versions are used especially in warehouse operations and as technology advances we will see more and more improvements being made.

If you need any help or advice in choosing the best barcode scanner for your company, be sure to get in touch with one of our specialists. Here at AIS Ltd, we offer the latest barcode scanners from world leader Datalogic and our experts are always on hand to answer any questions you might have and advise you on the best model for your operations. Check out our barcode scanners page for more information on our range of mobile barcode scanners, desktop models, and more.



Automatic Identification Systems Ltd


Automatic Identification Systems Ltd
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Little Island, Cork,  
T45 C925, Ireland

Phone: +353 (0)21 2355540


AIS Automation Ltd
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Dundalk A91 HF95, Ireland

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5835 DS Beugen
The Netherlands

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