Barcode Integrity – Decoding Validation and Verification

First Published: October 19, 2023

Introduction:

Ensuring each barcode’s accuracy and readability is paramount in the barcoding realm. This is where the concepts of validation and verification step in. Though they might seem synonymous, they serve distinct purposes in the barcode quality assurance process.

With retail companies constantly penalizing their suppliers when barcodes don’t meet specifications, ensuring that every barcode you apply to your products or packaging meets the correct standards is important.

This article delves into the nitty-gritty of barcode validation and verification, elucidating the differences and their significance in maintaining barcode integrity.

Unraveling the Definitions:

1. Verification:

Barcode verification is the process of evaluating the quality of the barcode image to ensure it complies with the industry standards and specifications.

A barcode verifier, an instrument designed for this purpose, assesses the barcode’s print quality and encoding accuracy to ensure it meets the required standard. The verifier provides a grade or report, giving insight into the barcode’s quality and ability to read accurately across different scanning environments.

2. Validation:

On the flip side, barcode validation ensures that the data is correctly encoded within the barcode. It’s not concerned with the barcode image’s quality but rather the data’s structural correctness. A validation process checks whether the data within the barcode is encoded in the correct format to match the standard for that barcode type. This step is crucial to prevent any data discrepancies that could lead to operational problems down the line and in the supply chain.

Delving Deeper:

Verification Standards:

Verification operates under a set of stringent standards set by organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and GS1. These standards dictate the parameters for evaluating barcode quality, like print contrast, modulation, decodability, and more.

The main standards that companies with products that travel through the retail or medical supply chains are:

GS1 General Specifications

This collection of standards covers the family of barcodes, all based on the concept of the GTIN, which is used to identify products.

The General Specification outlines which barcode type is used for each application and the quality level needed for each barcode to comply.

Barcode Verifiers:

I like the verifiers from Axicon and Cognex for verifying barcodes to ensure they comply with the appropriate standards. Both companies offer solutions for both linear and 2D barcodes and will also validate your barcode as part of the verification process.

Quality Standards

For linear barcodes, such as UPC, ITF-14 and GS1 128, the standard used by GS1 is ISO/IEC 15426.

This standard assesses the following parameters to come up with the overall grade for the barcode being tested:

Minimum Reflectance

Symbol Contrast

Minimum Edge Contrast

Modulation

Defects

Decodability

Decode

The standard for 2D barcodes, such as GS1 Datamatrix and GS1 QR Code, is ISO/IEC 15415.

As with the standard for linear barcodes, ISO 15415 analyzes a number of parameters and assigns an overall grade to the barcode.  

Symbol Contrast

Modulation

Fixed Pattern Damage

Axial Non-uniformity

Grid Non-uniformity

An additional standard used for 2D barcodes in direct part marking applications is ISO/IEC TR 29158 (AIM DPM-1-2006).

Validation Protocols:

Conversely, validation follows industry-specific guidelines, such as the GS1 General Specification. The primary goal is to ensure that the encoded data is in the correct format.

The Intersection and Divergence:

Though serving different purposes, both validation and verification are integral to the barcode quality assurance ecosystem. While verification is like a stern teacher grading your barcode’s print quality, validation is the diligent proofreader ensuring no data typos slip through. The former is more about adherence to universal or industry-specific standards, and the latter is about internal data accuracy.

A really fast and low-cost way to validate your GS1 barcodes is to use the CodeCheck GS app, available for both iOS and Android.

This app will quickly scan your barcode and show you where any errors might be; it can also produce a detailed validation report for each barcode – see this example. I’ve used this app a lot when setting up barcode labels for customers, and it ensures you’ve not made any formatting errors when building the barcode.

The app used to have a one-time payment but is now a subscription model. It’s still a bargain compared to the price of shipping products with incorrectly structured barcodes.

CodeCheck GS verifies both linear and 2D barcodes and can verify HIBC healthcare barcodes, as well as GS1.

The only thing missing (at the moment) is the ability to validate GS1 Digital Link codes – hopefully, that will be added at some point.

Note that plenty of industrial barcode scanners can validate barcodes, so you can also inspect them automatically, right on your packaging line.

The importance of checking your barcodes cannot be overstated as they collectively ensure that barcodes, the silent workhorses of numerous industries, perform their tasks seamlessly and error-free. The synergy of validation and verification processes thus forms the bedrock of reliable and efficient barcode-driven operations.

Conclusion:

Ensuring barcode integrity is a two-phased affair encompassing verification and validation. While they may diverge in their focus areas, they build a robust framework that safeguards against errors, ensuring smooth sailing in barcode-dependent workflows.

Having a verification and validation program is the best way to keep in compliance with your industry’s standards and avoid chargebacks from customers for non-compliance.

Further Reading:

GS1 General Specifications

Axicon Barcode Verifiers for information on the standards for linear and 2D barcodes

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