The Printronix Connection

Norman Joseph Woodland - Co-Inventor of Bar Code Has Died

Posted by Gary Stockton on Mon, Dec 17, 2012 @ 13:12 PM

Six decades ago on a Florida beach a young man, a former boy scout, knelt down and slid his fingers through the sand to draw out a design idea for the very first bar code. That young man was Norman Joseph Woodland. Norman put his fingers in the sand and impulsively drew them back to make four lines. According to an interview he did with Smithsonian Magazine in 1999 he thought to himself "Golly! Now I have four lines and they could be wide lines or narrow lines instead of dots and dashes." The lines in the sand were just the beginning; seconds later he drew a completely circular shape similar to a bull's-eye. The idea would later evolve into the modern bar code which adorns almost every product of contemporary life including groceries, industrial products, cars and electrical components. That bull's-eye symbol in the sand gave birth to millions of bar coding applications world over and remains one of the biggest industrial advances of modern time.

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Topics: barcode, barcodes, bar code

Printronix Wishes the Barcode a Happy 60th Birthday

Posted by Gary Stockton on Mon, Oct 08, 2012 @ 16:10 PM

Printronix owes a lot to Barcodes. In fact, our Chairman, Bob Kleist was an early pioneer in the technology, helping to develop and test many early barcode systems in the burgeoning period prior to founding Printronix in the 70's. The first line matrix barcode application was in paper mills, where Printronix printers could operate in a hostile environment and print large barcode labels, large enough for a fork lift operator to read from a distance.  This was quickly followed by barcode applications in other manufacturing environments, particularly automotive and retail distribution.  Many of Printronix customers power their businesses with barcodes. Our Online Data Validation (ODV) option for our flagship T5000r thermal barcode printer, for example, helps businesses eliminate the costs associated with bad bar codes by scanning a barcode as it is printed, striking through bad labels and automatically printing new ones.  

Our recently introduced OpenPrint cartridge line matrix printer family enables businesses to print complex documents via the more reliable and lower-cost line matrix printer from Oracle, SAP and other ERP systems. Because these applications rely heavily on barcodes, our OpenPrint SureScan technology identifies and enhances the barcode in the print job, enabling barcode information to be more accurately scanned. This unlocks efficienciesand accuracy in the supply chain in terms of lower print cost and improved reliability.  Indeed the technology of barcoding has come a long way. 

So with much excitement on Sunday we wished the Barcode (U.S. Patent 2,612,994) a very Happy 60th Birthday

As you may know, barcodes have been used in retail for decades, in June Printronix celebrated the 40th birthday of the UPC code, which was the first consumer application of barcodes in June of 1974. But did you know the industrial roots of barcode technology dates back to the late 40's and early 50s?


 Bernard Silver


The story goes, in 1948 Bernard Silver, a grad student at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, overheard the president of the local food chain, Food Fair, asking one of the deans to research a system which would automatically read product information during checkout. Silver told his friend Norman Woodland about the idea and they started working on a variety of systems.

Convinced that the system was workable with further development, Woodland left Drexel, moved into his father's apartment in Florida, and continued working on the system. Inspired by Morse code, he formed his first barcode with sand from a nearby beach. "I just extended the dots and dashes downwards and made narrow lines and wide lines out of them." To read them, he adapted technology from optical soundtracks in movies, using a light bulb shining through the paper onto an RCA photomultiplier tube (from a movie projector) on the far side. He later decided that the system would work better if it were printed as a circle instead of a line, allowing it to be scanned in any direction.

In October 1949 Woodland and Silver filed a patent application for "Classifying Apparatus and Method", in which they described both the linear and bullseye printing patterns, as well as the mechanical and electronic systems needed to read the code. The patent was issued on 7 October 1952 as US Patent 2,612,994. In 1951, Woodland went to work for IBM and continually tried to interest IBM in developing the system - but they concluded that the system would require reader technology that would only be available in the distant future.

David Collins

Enter David Collins, who, as an undergraduate at MIT worked at Pennsylvania Railroad and became aware of the need to automatically identify railroad cars. Upon graduating from MIT in 1959, Collins started working for GTE Sylvania and began addressing the problem. His solution was a system called KarTrak, designed to identify railway cars by blue and yellow reflective stripes which were attached to the side of the car. The Boston and Maine railroad tested the system between 1961 and 1967, however, the roll out was slow.

In 1967, with the railway system maturing, Collins went to management looking for funding for a project to develop a black-and-white version of the code for other industries. They declined, saying that the railway project was large enough and they saw no need to branch out so quickly. So Collins quit Sylvania and formed Computer Identics Corporation and started working on a system using helium-neon lasers in place of light bulbs, scanning barcodes with a mirror which could locate the barcode anywhere up to several feet in front of the scanner.

They installed their first system in the spring of 1969 at a General Motors (Buick) factory in Flint, Michigan. It was designed to identify different kinds of transmissions moving along an overhead conveyor on the assembly line.

In mid 1970 the National Association of Food Chains established the U.S. Supermarket Ad Hoc Committee on a Uniform Grocery Product Code, which set guidelines for barcode development. Working in cooperation with consulting firm McKinsey and Co, they came up with an 11-digit code to identify a product. At a trade event in 1971, IBM took note of the large crowd marveling at RCA's bullseye concentric circular barcode reader and decided to build their own. Woodland was still working for IBM at the time and was selected to lead development.

In July 1972 RCA began an eighteen-month test in a Kroger store in Cincinnati. Barcodes were printed on small pieces of adhesive paper, and attached by hand by store employees when they were adding price tags. The code proved to have a serious problem. During printing, presses sometimes smeared ink in the direction the paper was running, rendering the code unreadable in most orientations. A linear code, like the one being developed by Woodland at IBM was printed in the direction of the stripes, so extra ink simply makes the code "taller" while remaining readable, so on April 3, 1973 the IBM UPC code was selected by NAFC as their standard.

Today, 60 years after the barcode was first patented, there are more than 5 million individual barcodes in use around the world, according to regulator GS1 UK. Printronix is proud to be a part of that legacy as a leading manufacturer of industrial printing technologies which both encode and print barcodes.

You can read more about Printronix RFID barcode printers and our OpenPrint line matrix printers on our web site www.printronix.com.

Gary Stockton is a Sr. Online Marketing Specialist for Printronix. 

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Topics: barcode, RFID, barcodes

Happy Birthday to the Bar Code

Posted by Gary Stockton on Tue, Jun 26, 2012 @ 13:06 PM

It's hard to believe it has been 38 years since the Bar Code was first born.

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Topics: barcode, barcodes, bar codes, bar code

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