With outsourcing becoming a trend in many industries, traceability of components has become a major focus for quality and inspection purposes. An advancement in traceability and part marking is 2D symbology, a marking method that can hold much more information than the traditional bar code marking.
"A traditional 1D bar code contains about 14 characters of data," says Mark Correa, director of product marketing, Symbol Technologies, a provider of bar code scanning equipment, handheld computers, and wireless LAN solutions. "With a 2D code, hundreds of characters can be coded. For example, on a ID bar code, a product could be identified with a fixed product number. With a 1D code, the batch number, the lot number, when it was produced, and which factory it came from could also be recorded."
Datamatrix is one of the types of 2D codes. The Datamatrix mark uses one quarter of the space usually required for barcodes, a feature that is especially useful in the electronic, automotive, aerospace, and pharmaceutical industries. Another advantage 2D has over traditional bar code is built in error correction. If any part of a traditional bar code is destroyed, the marking is unreadable by a scanner. 2D codes have built-in error correction, making them less prone to this type of damage.
"2D codes eliminate any human error that would come from someone reading a code and typing it into a computer incorrectly," says Correa. "It's much faster and more accurate to do it with a machine. If you need to track or trace your products through the manufacturing process or service them once they are in the field, automatically identifying them is a lot more time-efficient and accurate than having to hand punch a code in."
The 2D symbology also has other advantages, such as security. "This marking could also be used to minimize other people reading your codes," says Bill Mikelonis, vp marketing and sales, Macrotron Systems Fremont, CA-based provider of printed circuit boards. The company uses 2D data matrix marking on its products. "It is sort of an encrypted code since it's not yet widespread."
Making the code
Any company can select and use its own 2D scanning technology, but in industries where outsourcing is used and traceability over various manufacturing facilities is required, a standard is necessary.
"Almost every company in the Auto ID industry has invented its own bar code, but industry standards organizations have essentially recommended use of one of three...