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ID Expo 1996

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Top Ten New Barcode Products - ID Expo 1996

If it was May and Rosemont, Illinois, it must be ID Expo. So here I was for the eleventh time hunting for those new gems of automatic ID technology that would qualify for The Adams Top Ten.

In ferreting out the Top Ten New Products for ID Expo 1996, I do not stop at every booth. I use the eye of a Technical Editor to restrict my stops to those companies that, in my opinion, were showing innovative products. My choice is, in the end, subjective, however I do use some criteria. Products that show breakthrough technologies get the highest marks. Next, I look for products which establish a trend in the market. Finally, I look for products that offer a great price for their performance. I do include prototype products in the list if a working model is shown, and a projected production date is given. With this in mind, here is the Adams' Top Ten New Products for ID Expo 1996.

Number One - IS 5700 and IS 5800

IS 5700 and IS 5800 from MetrologicThe most significant product at the show was Metrologic's (now owned by Honeywell) new family of holographic scanners, the IS 5700 and IS 5800. What qualifies these products for first place is their price and performance. The scanners are omni-directional with a depth-of-field of up to 42 inches and a scan width of up to 22 inches. Now, there are other industrial omni-directional scanners with similar performance, but at the price of the IS 5000 family. The IS 5700 lists for $3950 while the IS 5800 lists for $6950. Similar scanners from other companies cost between $12,000 and $20,000.

The secret to the outstanding price and performance of the Metrologic's scanner is a holographic disk. Most people have seen 3D holographic pictures. When you look at these pictures, you'd swear you were looking at the real object. The holographic disk using in the Metrologic scanner has "pictures" of a scanning prism. As the disk spins, the scanning prism is "played back". There is a set of holograms that direct the outbound laser light and produce the complex omni-directional scanning pattern. There are several other sets of holograms that focus the returned light on to a photo detector for decoding.

The basic holographic scanning disk was originally developed by IBM nearly 10 years ago and the development was taken over by a company called HoloScan. Metrologic acquired HoloScan last year.

Because of its outstanding price, the IS 5000 family of scanners from Metrologic will open up new industrial applications for omni-directional scanning.

Number Two - Label Matrix 4.0

Label Matrix 4.0 for Windows from StrandWare Number two goes to Label Matrix 4.0 for Windows from StrandWare (now owned by Teklynx), a bar code label printing software package. The Company promoted the product at the show with the theme "Experience the Magic". In fact, the Magic of Label Matrix comes from its Wizards! The Wizards ask questions that lead a beginner through the steps of designing a label. The program can print all the popular 1D bar codes and can produce PDF417, Data Matrix, Maxicode, Code 49 and Code 16K 2D bar codes. The program is ODBC capable so the data for various label fields can be drawn from most popular databases without conversion. A very nice feature is the self-diagnostic error and warning tools that tell you if you have designed an unprintable label. Virtually every major thermal and thermal printer and all windows printers are supported. Change the printer, and the label is automatically adjusted to make sure it will print correctly.

The simplicity of Label Matrix 4.0 for Windows and its friendly graphical user interface sets a new standard for label printing software and that's why I chose it as number two.

Number Three - Spreadsheet Simplicity

Spreadsheet Simplicity from Hand Held ProductsSpeaking of Simplicity, that's the number three product...Spreadsheet Simplicity from Hand Held Products (now owned by Honeywell). This software product allows any PC operator to program a portable bar code scanner directly from a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The column headings selectively become the prompts for the bar code scanner. As the scanner collects data, the data is placed into the correct cells. The program will handle up to 15 RF bar code readers to collect data, and the program allows an unlimited number of scanners to do batch downloads to a single or linked spreadsheet.

Because of the large number of users that understand Excel spreadsheet programming, Spreadsheet Simplicity will allow users to develop applications that precisely fit their business. The product supplies the missing link between data collection and standard PC-based data handling and analysis software. Why someone didn't think of this product sooner is a puzzle, and that's why it's number three.

Number Four - Fastrak RF/ID

Samsys Fastrak RF/ID SystemNumber four goes to the Samsys Fastrak RF/ID System. This is the first showing of a commercial version of the controversial Supertag radio frequency ID technology developed in South Africa. There has been some wild claims made for Supertag. The two most unbelievable were that the tag could be made for pennies and that the system could simultaneously read the IDs from the jumble of boxed and bags in a supermarket shopping cart. Well, Samsys didn't make those claims and their Fastrak demonstration didn't meet those claims either. What Samsys did introduce was a tag that is expected to cost between $2 to $3 and can read up to 50 tags in a single uninterrupted scan up to 15 feet away. That's revolutionary enough. The system can read multiple tags by putting tags to "sleep" after a successful read. The sleep time can be varied too.

Number Five - ScanCode 3D

ScanCode 3D from ScanCode, IncNumber five goes to ScanCode 3D from ScanCode, Inc. a system for marking metal with a bar code and reading the bar code. The system uses a metal die that is a cut-out version of the bar code. The die is made from a thin metal and is placed on a label substrate. Die label is stuck onto the metal surface to be marked and pressure is applied using a hydraulic press. The die cuts a depression into the metal which can be read by a special contact wand made by ScanCode.

What sets this product apart is the unique way of producing the bar code and the use of a contact scanner that is less expensive than competing 3D bar code systems.

Number Six - PDF417 Bar Code Module

BCM3417 PDF417 Bar Code Module from Cobra SystemsNumber six goes to the BCM3417 PDF417 Bar Code Module from Cobra Systems. This small unit is plugged between any HP LaserJet II compatible laser printer and the computer and gives the printer the ability of printing PDF417 symbols. The unit comes with both parallel and serial interfaces. Using a single command followed by the data to be encoded, the BCM3417 produces a complete PDF417 symbol.

Number Seven - Sabre 1550/51

Sabre 1550/51 from IntermecNumber seven goes to the Sabre 1550/51 industrial-quality hand held laser scanners from Intermec. These scanners were designed with a focus on ergonomics using extensive customer comments and market research. What sets this scanner apart is the integrated rubber boot, hilt, and end cap that protects the scanner from damage if dropped. Much ergonomic work went into the scanner too. It's light, well balanced and fits a wide variety of hand sizes.

Intermec wouldn't tell me what scan engine was used, but a glance through the front protective window left no doubt. It uses the PSC DI-1000 scan engine. Intermec "tweaked" the decoding to make sure the Sabre had Intermec's hallmark "snappy" decoding found in their previous scanners.

This scanner should have superior survivability when dropped, and that's why it's number seven.

Number Eight - Phonetic Engine 1000

Phonetic Engine 1000 from Speech SystemsNumber eight goes to Phonetic Engine 1000 from Speech Systems. This is a Type II Extended PC-Card (PCMCIA) that allows potable computers to run speech-driven applications using continuous speech, speaker-independent speech recognition. Continuous speech means that you can speak at normal speed, and speaker-independence means you don't have to train the system to an individual operator. The product is targeted to OEMs for embedding in portable computers. The company also offers a System Development Kit (SDK) and SpeechWizard, a user-friendly tool to attach speech-input features to existing Windows-based applications.

What makes this product qualify for number eight is putting a continuous speech, speaker-independent speech recognition system in a tiny PC-Card.

Number Nine - Gemini

Gemini thermal/thermal transfer printer from Tharo SystemsNumber nine goes to the Gemini thermal/thermal transfer printer from Tharo Systems. All of the control of the printer is handled by the Windows printer drive that is supplied with the printer. The printer also comes with a wide variety of bar code fonts. That makes it the first Windows-only bar code thermal transfer printer. The windows printer driver and bar code fonts greatly simplify printing from most any Windows application like MS Word and Access. The printer has a high speed parallel bi-directional interface which provides exceptional speed to first label. Resolution is 203 dpi with a print speed of 2 inches per second. The printer will handle media up to 4.5 inches wide. The price is exceptional too. Just $1395. This printer was previewed at Scan-Tech 95, but there was no firm price and the font and driver software was not ready. The under $1400 price and the font and driver software makes the Gemini win the number nine spot.

Number Ten - Companion Plus

Companion Plus from EltronNumber ten goes to the Companion Plus from Eltron. The Companion Plus is a small direct thermal printer with a big repertoire of bar code symbologies. Built into this 5"x6"x4" 4.2 pound printer is the ability to print UPC-A, UPC-E, EAN-13, EAN-8, Interleaved 2 of 5, Code 128, Code 39, PostNet, MaxiCode, and PDF417. Media width is a little over 3 inches, and the printers may be daisy-chained with other Companions or digital scales. The printer can even handle linerless labels.

What wins this small wonder of a printer the 10th spot is it's ability to print two popular 2D codes, its ability to be daisy-chained, and its price...just $295.

Some Other Winners

Omniplanar (now owned by Honeywell) did not exhibit at the show, but they were showing a very interesting new product, SwiftDecoder. If they had been exhibiting, they would have placed in the top ten. The product is a software package for decoding 1D and 2D symbologies from captured images. The principals of the company invented MaxiCode. I watched while SwiftDecoder was able to simultaneously decode a screen full of different PDF417 and MaxiCode symbols mixed together. The software was able to decode some of the poorest quality 1D and 2D bar codes you could possible imagine. All the multiple simultaneous decodes were done instantly using a P75 class laptop. The program is being sold to manufacturers as a decoding software module to be used in there image scanners.

Symbol (now owned by Motorola) announced the introduction of its SE 1200 Series of Scan Engines. These engines offer the same performance of Symbols hand held scanners for OEM customers. Their previous OEM engines did not. Company representatives also indicated that Symbol will be incorporating the SE 1200 across their hand held product line. A very good move.

Metanetics showed a production version of their IR-2000 Handheld Image Reader for reading 1D and 2D symbologies. The prototype made the Adams Top Ten for ScanTech 95.

A new version of LabelView from GrafTek (now owned by Teklynx)was released at the show. This product almost made it into the Top Ten too. It provides DDE connectivity to other Windows applications so that the label program can give other applications commands. The program also supports ODBC and has a slick feature called DataWatch. This feature can be activated so that LabelView will watch a database for changes and automatically print a new label based on the changes.

Finally, a company called InfoImaging Technologies showed a series of software products based on a proprietary high density code. SmartCode can store over 16K bytes of multimedia information on one side of a credit card. Their FaxFile product can shrink a 30 report down to a single page by encoding the information into their proprietary 2D-like code. This would be great for overseas faxing!

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