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Focus: RFID and Automated Identification and Data Collection (AIDC)

Feature Article from Our RFID and AIDC Subject Area - See All

From SCDigest's OnTarget e-Magazine

June 2, 2011

RFID and Auto ID News: Use of QR Code is Exploding, but the Fast and Easy Approach May Lead to Problems

 

Time for More Discipline in Code Creation; Can QR Code Linking to Web Pages Provide Benefits in Supply Chain Apps as Well?

SCDigest Editorial Staff

QR code, a two-dimensional bar code symbology, is exploding in usage, driven by social media and smart phones.

The QR code symbology is ideally suited to encoded web URLs, triggering a wide variety of applications, from magazine ads containing the symbol for readers to link to more information or coupons, to in-store QR symbols that can allow cell phone users with scanners to access the same types of information, compare prices, and more.

SCDigest Says:

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Marketers may "test" the symbol for readability by using a few cell phones in the office before sending the symbol image on to others for reproduction in store or elsewhere. Readability may not prove so easy in the real world applications.

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While some commercial/industrial applications for QR code already exist, SCDigest believes there is a lot of additional opportunity for QR code adoption to trigger URL access on the shop or DC floor. For example, a QR code could be used on a work order "traveler" that could be scanned on a manufacturing line to bring up assembly instructions or a repair history. QR symbols on the DC floor could be used to trigger near real-time reports on facility or individual worker productivity.

But according to long-time auto ID pundit Bert Moore, who manages communications for AIMGlobal, the auto ID trade association, among other duties, the rapid ascent of QR code has led to a number of dubious practices, many of which are tied to either free web-based encoders or the desire of marketers to put the company logo in the QR symbol by changing the colors of the right pixels among all the black dots.

In a recent column in an AIMGlobal newsletter, Moore notes the incredible penetration of QR code in just few years.

"Without question, QR Code is the 2D symbology of choice for business-to-consumer and social media. QR Code symbols are appearing in magazines, newspapers, on print ads, brochures, flyers and even billboards and television," Moore notes. "They're also showing up on business cards for business-to-business applications."

The problem? Poor quality, Moore says.

Many unusable QR symbols are being produced, he says, resulting from a number of causes, including variations in encoders, poorly-produced "branded" symbols, bad printing/lack of verification, enigmatic symbols, and variations in the quality of decoders/cameras.

Moore conducting an interesting experiment. He tried to encode the AIMGlobal URL (http://www.aimglobal.org) in both lower case and upper case modes, using four different free web encoders.

The results are shown below. Notice the dot pattern differences in the symbols across the printed symbols.

Source: Bert Moore/AIMGlobal

Why the differences? They are largely the result of different levels of error correction, which determines how much of a symbol can be damaged or otherwise unreadable and still have the full encoding be readable by scanners.

(RFID and AIDC Story Continued Below)


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While all the symbols seemed to be highly readable, that was in a "pristine" state, before some level of damaged that would likely be experienced in a field application. The ANSI grades for the symbols even in this state ranged from mostly Cs and Bs to one A grade.

Moore further noted that "None of the tested online symbol generators allowed selectable error correction (EC) levels so the default value was applied. Allowable EC levels are L (low), M (medium), Q (quality) and H (highest).

"Symbol size selection for three of the encoders was limited to "small", "medium" and "large". One encoder, however, allowed the number of x and y pixels to be selected independently. The option to select independent x and y values is particularly worrisome since the symbology specification calls for the nominal x and y values to be the same. As a test, a 100x400pixel symbol was created. As was expected, the symbol was not recognized by a reader as a QR Code symbol."

Moore adds that "For some applications, such as social networking, free online encoders are fine since the worst that will happen is that symbols will sometimes be unreadable. But for professional and commercial applications where an investment is being made in the use of QR Code symbols, commercial encoders or commercially-produced symbols will offer higher quality and greater reliability."

We agree that Moore is on the right track, but would not dismiss the impact of poor symbols even for social media/marketing applications, in which unreadable symbols could obviously lead to consumer frustration.

Moore is also critical of the trend for marketers to change the color of some of the dots in the QR symbol to make the logo of the company visible.

Moore says that "This is deliberately damaging the symbol for the sake of the embedded logo. If only a few modules in the QR code symbol are altered in this manner, the symbology's error correction capabilities can still render the symbol readable."

He adds that marketers may "test" the symbol for readability by using a few cell phones in the office before sending the symbol image on to others for reproduction in store or elsewhere. Readability may not prove so easy in the real world applications.

"The erroneous belief is that if the designer can read the symbol, everyone will be able to read the symbol. This is scarily reminiscent of the so-called (and misnamed) "readability verification" for linear bar codes in the mid-to-late-1980s," Moore says.

The SCDigest Bottom Line: IT or auto ID professionals in companies should provide badly needed expertise and process discipline to marketing personnel rapidly expanding the use of QR symbols in various media, including promotion of the use of more commercial (not free) but flexible and robust encoders. At the same time, supply chain organizations should take a look at how QR symbols tied to information on web page might enhance certain processes on the factory or DC floor.


Do marketers need to get a bit more discipline when producing QR codes? Can you see opportunities to link to web pages using a QR symbol in supply chain applications? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below,

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