Barcode Scanner - How it works and its applications

In 1974, the first barcode found its way into the world. Since then, vertical lines have revolutionized the way companies work. They have made the process of data collection and management efficient and (almost) error-free. Today, therefore, barcodes and barcode scanners are found mainly in industry, logistics and warehouse management.

In this blog post, we explain how barcode scanners work, what types of barcodes and barcode scanners there are and in which practical use cases they are used. And: We show you what alternatives companies have when it comes to digital data capture.

barcode scanner functionality

Barcode Scanner Functionality

A barcode scanner is an optical reader that scans barcodes on products or labels and decodes the information they contain.

Think of a barcode scanner as a translator: It uses light and sensors to translate the 'secret language' of barcodes into machine-readable information.

And this is how it looks in practice: When scanning a barcode, the scanner emits a beam of light that hits the barcode. The dark and light lines of the barcode reflect the light differently, creating a pattern that the scanner captures. It translates the pattern into digital information that it sends to the computer or device using the scanner. So the barcode is just a referencing variable that the scanner links to data in the background, such as data from SAP or warehouse systems.

Types of barcode scanners

There are different types that companies can use depending on their requirement and application. These are the four main types of barcode scanners:

Stand-alone scanner

A stand-alone scanner is a handheld scanner that operates independently of a computer or other device. It is easy to use and can read barcodes quickly and efficiently. Some stand-alone scanners also have the ability to store data offline and transfer it later.

Permanently installed barcode scanner

Permanently installed barcode scanners or wired barcode scanners are installed in cash registers - for example in supermarkets - or in other work areas. The barcode scanner software automatically scans the barcodes as they pass by.

Camera scanner

A camera scanner works via a barcode scanner app installed on a smartphone or tablet. The software uses the device's camera to read barcodes. This type of scanner is particularly handy due to the proliferation of smartphones. Usually, devices today come with barcode scanner software out of the box, so users don't even need to download an app.

Online scanner

An online scanner is a scanner that works over the Internet. It can be integrated on a website or in a barcode scanner app. It allows users to scan barcodes from any location. Online scanners are especially useful for companies that need to scan a large number of barcodes.

Types of barcodes

Barcodes are categorized into four different types. Each type has its own specific properties and is therefore suitable for different applications:

Linear barcode

The linear barcode, also known as a 1D barcode, encodes information using various wide lines and spacing. The European standards 797, 798, 799, 800 and 801 define most linear barcodes. They are read by a 1D barcode scanner.

2D barcode

The 2D barcode, also known as a matrix barcode, is a two-dimensional code that encodes information in horizontal and vertical directions. The three most common types of 2D barcodes are QR barcode, Data Matrix and PDF 417. The following table shows the most common 2D barcodes and their applications:

Product nameUse/Characteristics
QR BarcodeScanning with smartphone cameras, is particularly widespread in mobile marketing, good for the
Customer approach
Data MatrixReading only with special barcode scanner software, compact size, widespread especially in logistics
PDF 417Scanning with stand-alone scanner, flexible in size, used primarily in logistics, warehousing, distribution, and ID card applications

3D barcode

The 3D barcode is a three-dimensional barcode that encodes information in X, Y and Z axes. It is mainly used in the manufacturing industry to identify complex components.

4D barcode

The 4D barcode is a four-dimensional barcode that encodes information in X, Y, Z and time axes. It is mainly used in the aerospace industry to identify and track parts.

barcode scanner application fields

Application fields of barcode scanners

The special scanners have become indispensable in many industries and business sectors. Companies can use them to process information efficiently and with little risk of error. In practice, these fields of application are particularly evident: 

Barcode scanners in inventory

Companies use barcode scanners in inventory to control the stock of goods and materials. This enables them to process large volumes of data efficiently. In the process, the barcode scanners quickly and accurately record inventories in warehouse management, for example. This speeds up inventory processes and minimizes the error rate.

Barcode scanners in logistics

Companies use barcode scanners in logistics to track and monitor the transportation of goods and materials. The scanners can read the barcode labels on the packages and freight containers quickly and accurately. In addition, barcode scanner software can help shorten delivery times and improve the accuracy of shipments.

Barcode scanners in industry

Companies use barcode readers in industry to ensure the traceability of products and components. The technology is primarily used in the electronics industry. It increases the efficiency of production and minimizes the error rate.

Barcode scanners in accounting

Companies use barcode scanners in accounting to record invoices and receipts more easily. The barcode scanner software increases the efficiency of accounting processes and significantly reduces the error rate.

In document management, barcodes can be replaced by the latest technologies.

On the one hand, an AI can separate documents from each other, what was previously signaled by a barcode on the first page of documents. On the other hand, an AI can now assign documents to the right contact person, e. g. such as a complaint or order form. Previously, companies also used barcodes for this purpose.

barcode scanner alternatives

Alternatives for barcode technology

Barcode scanners are a proven technology for capturing data and so optimizing business processes. However, there are alternatives that are more suitable for certain constellations of data acquisition. These include above all:

  • RFID - Radio Frequency Identification: RFID is a technology that allows companies to transmit digital information wirelessly over short distances. RFID tags are attached to objects to uniquely identify them. RFID scanners can remotely read these tags and collect data about the objects. RFID is particularly useful in environments where barcodes are difficult to scan or where wireless data transmission is required.
  • OCR - Optical Character Recognition: OCR is a technology that enables companies to recognize printed text and convert it into digital data. For example, OCR scanners can extract text from invoices, PDF files and other documents.
  • ICR - Intelligent Character Recognition: ICR is a technology that enables handwritten text to be recognized and converted into digital information. ICR scanners can read handwritten text from forms and recipes, for example, and convert it digitally into a Database file.
  • IDP - Intelligent Document Processing: With IDP, companies can identify common patterns in large volumes of data and classify and verify them by type of content. IDP scanners can capture documents such as invoices, delivery bills and purchase orders and automatically convert them into digital data.
  • OMR - Optical Mark Recognition: OMR is a technology that makes it possible to recognize and digitize marked fields on paper documents. It is mainly used for completed forms and questionnaires.

Barcode Scanner AI Model on Konfuzio Marketplace

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Conclusion on the barcode scanner - digital data capture for more efficient business processes

Barcode scanners have simplified the processing of data. Companies can use them to efficiently capture large amounts of data. Companies that want to extract data not only from barcodes but also from documents in all business areas should take a look at Konfuzio.

With Konfuzio companies can automatically identify relevant data, capture it, store it in a database in an organized manner, and analyze it. This enables them to gain important insights from the information - and thus make well-founded business decisions.


What is a barcode scanner?

This is an electronic device that captures bar codes on products and converts them into readable information. It is used to quickly and accurately read information such as price, product name and inventory. The scanner reads the barcode with a laser or camera and transmits the data to a computer system for further processing.

How does a barcode scanner work?

When reading a barcode, the scanner emits a beam of light that hits the barcode. The dark and light lines of the barcode reflect the light differently, creating a pattern that the scanner captures. It converts the pattern into digital information that it passes on to a computer or cash register, for example.

How to scan QR code?

To scan a QR code, users have four options: They can use the camera app of a smartphone to read the code with the camera scanner. Alternatively, you can use a stand-alone scanner or a permanently installed one designed specifically for QR codes. Finally, there are online scanners where users read the QR code via software on the Internet.

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