Relatively speaking, a barcode scanner’s job is simple: In the case of 1D barcodes, detect the characteristics of the white space between the dark bars by way of shining a red laser light onto a barcode, and then detect the light that’s reflected back. While there are a multitude of barcode reader technologies boasting varying levels of resolution and sensitivities at various distances, most of these devices share a common similarity – that the majority of them are not cameras, but instead products that use a lens and a light sensor (though some actually act as cameras).

But regardless of the uber-technical aspects of the subject, we’ve always considered barcode scanners the workhorses of the warehouse environment that keep an operation moving…and that’s the important thing to know. Through the magic of barcode technology, the tedious task of manual entry becomes a thing of the past, replaced by faster and more accurate results. What’s more, there are scanners for any environment and any process.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at “long-range” and “short-range” barcode scanners, showcasing the pros and cons of each type while covering the most noteworthy aspects of them – including some real-world examples to give you an idea of how they work in actual use.

The Difference Between Long-Range and Short-Range Barcode Scanners

Modern long-range scanners often use a single red laser at a light source which is expanded into a line pattern using an oscillating mirror; through this method, an entire barcode can be covered. The light source for this type of scanner can also be in the form of high-intensity LEDs, which is important to know because typical LED or low-powered laser scanners can read barcodes at approximately 18-inches distant. If the power of the laser is increased, the reader may be sensitive at distances in the 20-foot range.

Some long-range scanners – referred to as “full imagers” in the barcode world – use high-intensity LED lights with camera-like light sensors that can render a “snapshot” of the barcode. Why is this significant? Because these variants can interpret more complex two-dimensional barcodes in addition to one-dimensional types.

Conversely, modern short-range barcode readers usually come in the guise of handheld devices that can read barcodes within a few inches from the scanner. These may be powered by rows of low-illuminating LEDs coupled with CCD light sensors, but irrespective of drive protocol, the scanner heads in short-range scanners move across the code and return a dark on/off pattern signal that is software-translated into the alphanumeric reading.

The Pros and Cons of Each

The five major benefits of using long-range barcode scanning tech in the warehouse include:

  • Speed – This technology enables warehouse personnel to quickly scan products, speeding up the data acquisition process and thus increasing productivity and overall efficiency.
  • Continuous Performance – Even in dimly-lit working conditions, long-range scanners boast accuracy and precision that aren’t reduced in the slightest, and irrespective of the operating environment, they will continually perform.
  • Resilience – No matter what the conditions, barcode scanners in general will to continue to operate…but because they take into account the possibility of being physically mishandled, they boast an extreme level of shock tolerance and will function normally after repeated drops.
  • Error Reduction and Intuitive Operation – Long-range scanners generally utilize omnidirectional scanning technology, which means lining up the scanner and barcode is no longer necessary; this reduces the time taken to acquire information. What’s more, combining the omnidirectional support with their long-range capability means the operator no longer has to pace up and down the warehouse floor to continuously scan goods.
  • Short-Range and Long-Range Capabilities – A common misconception is that long-range scanning tech is only applicable at range; but in reality, long-range scanners offer excellent capability at short-range tasks, as well.

The following are some cons related to using long-range barcode scanners:

  • The more moving parts there are, the more likely a device will fail or break (though laser-based scanners have been used in industrial/warehousing applications for decades with years of improvements behind them).
  • Short-range barcode scanners are usually an economical option and can be substantially cheaper than long-range readers.

The major pros of turning to short-range barcode scanners:

  • These typically small, handheld devices are ideal in a small retail or office environment.
  • Inexpensive, easy to use and reliable for weekly inventories.
  • New generations have advanced from the early wand/pen models.
  • CCD scanners can reach a range of one to two inches from a barcode and scan 100 barcodes per second; newer models boast a range of up to four inches and can read up to 200 barcodes per second.
  • Short-range scanners connect to a computer via a USB port for assessable data storage.

The major disadvantage of using short-range barcode scanners resides in their scan distance limitations.

When Each Should be Considered: Some Real-World Examples

Long-range scanners boast the laser strength to meet the larger demands of time and space, using light speed to scan and bring back data in what seems like an instant. As such, they garner a lot of attention because many businesses have a great deal of floor space or are saddled with a lot of inventory stacked up high on shelves – indeed, with a long-range barcode scanner, it’s simple to scan and go without having to climb up on a ladder or walk the 100 feet to each label, increasing productivity.

If you happen to be in a situation wherein your inventory for scanning comes to you, a short-range barcode scanner could the answer. For example: Many grocery stores use short-range scanners in the checkout lanes, and these include the stationary in-counter types for scanning groceries at checkout; you may have even seen handheld short-range scanners for public use in the “self-checkout” aisles of your local market.

Your necessities and scanning needs are why we are committed to providing you the educational information you deserve when it comes to your barcoding questions.