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Bar coding, a form of keyless data entry facilitating automatic identification and data collection (commonly referred to as Auto ID), is not just for grocery stores anymore. The familiar stripes are popping up in new and unusual places such as doctors’ offices, law firms, post offices, retail stores, security applications, and rental cars. Bar coding and related technologies have been used in manufacturing companies for shipping and receiving operations for more than 30 years. But even in these more traditional settings, bar code applications have spread throughout the enterprise to include warehousing, accounting and customer service functions, time and attendance, and package delivery, as well as the assembly line operation itself.
In all of these applications, the motivation to begin bar coding is the same: improve data management and accessibility and reduce costs. In the 1970s and 1980s, the increased use of computers in the commercial and industrial companies fueled the need for improved data capture. Companies hired armies of data entry professionals tasked with entering repetitive information into network terminals. In the 1990s, this need for immediate and accurate reporting was compounded with the introduction of just-in-time inventory tracking, build-to-order manufacturing and supply chain management practices. Today, many manual data entry tasks have been replaced by bar coding. The widespread acceptance of bar coding within industry over the past three decades has lead to the development of numerous industry standards by formidable industry groups, such as AIAG (Automotive), EIA (Electronics), HIBCC (Healthcare), and HAZMAT (Chemical) to name a few. Such standards ensure universal compliance and easy identification of product shipments among trading partners in the supply chain as well as ensure that product (such as hazardous chemicals) is handled properly to prevent injury or loss of life.