This Visit Brought To You By
The following are my personal picks of the top ten new products shown at Scan-Tech 1995 in Chicago October 23-24, 1995. In ferreting out these products, I do not stop at every booth. I use my 13 years of experience in the automatic identification industry 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 Fall 1995.
Number One - Minuet & QuickCheck PC
Two products tied for the most significant product at the show - the Minuet DI-1000 scan engine and the QuickCheck PC windows-based verification software package. Both products are from PSC, Inc. (now owned by Datalogic).
The Minuet DI-1000 scan engine measures only 0.76" x 1.55" x 1.00", about the size of a matchbox, and is intended to be incorporated into other companies' products. It is the first scan engine that has the same reading performance as larger scanning products. It has no problem reading bar code symbols at more than 30 inches away. In every other handheld laser scanner, the laser diode is mounted in a fixed position and the light from the laser is bounced off of a moving mirror. In the Minuet, the laser diode is mounted on the moving mirror and the entire assembly is moved by-way-of resonant metal flexural elements. That eliminates motors. The power for the laser diode is conducted by the metal flexural elements. By moving the laser diode with the mirror, you eliminate the intervening optical elements. As a result, performance is increased. I expect the Minuet to be the dominant scan engine in a few years. It is outstanding!
Tied for number one is the QuickCheck PC windows-based verification software package. QuickCheck PC replaces traditional verifiers. The package includes a windows software program, and a Analog to Digital converter that plugs into the serial port, and a verifier scanning wand. What makes this product significant is its potential to overcome the price barrier that many bar code users have when it comes to verification. People are reluctant to buy additional dedicated verification equipment for a technology that promotes itself as always accurate.
Number Two - Multi-D Scanner
Number two goes to Metanetics multi-D CCD scanning module demonstrated at the Impact Technology and Systems booth. You know, Dr. Ynjiun Wang must feel like the most popular guy in the automatic identification industry right now. No less than three auto ID companies claim some form of financial connection to his company. There's Telxon, Inc. who owns a majority interest in the company. Metanetics is a subsidiary of Telxon. Then there's Impact Technology and Systems. They lay claim to marketing the company's products. And finally there's PSC. PSC has taken a minority interest in the company and will manufacture the Metanetics' products. Dr. Wang, by the way, was one of the developers of PDF417 when he worked for Symbol Technologies.
The prototype scanner demonstrated at the Impact booth has the best 2-D scanning performance I've seen. It is the first scanner I've seen that could autodiscriminate all 2-D symbologies, including PDF417, Data Matrix, Maxicode and SuperCode. The scanner can also decode all popular 1-D symbologies. All this is the result of the autodiscrimination algorithm developed by Metanetics. The scanner module uses a standard low power microprocessor, thus keeping cost, size and power consumption down. What makes this product significant is its autodiscrimination algorithm that quickly decodes just about any 2- and 1-D symbology.
Number Three - ColorCoder 901
Coming in at number three is the ColorCoder 901 color bar code printer from United Barcode Industries (UBI). One trend at Scan-Tech this year was the increase availability of bar code printers that print color too. This trend in the bar code industry mirrors and is about 18 months behind what's happening in the general computer industry. Color is the hottest area in general computer printing and it has breathed new life into ink jet technology. Laser printing was becoming the dominate printing technology until the advent of color ink jet printing. Truth is that ink jet hardware and printing media is the least expensive approach to printing in color. New technology has also reduced the ink-spread problem that had kept the technology out of medium to high density bar code printing applications. No more. The UBI ColorCoder 901 can print 4-color labels up to 4" x 8" at a resolution of 360 dpi. Printing speed is up to 6 ips. The printer has 4 separate ink cartridges. This little feature has a big advantage for bar code label printing - it is inherently a "ribbon saver". Let's say that 90 percent of your label is printed in black while the remainder is printed in four-color. You will use more black ink that any of the color ink. So when the black ink cartridge, you only have to replace the black ink!
This printer will have a significant impact on the sale of thermal transfer color printers. So why hasn't UBI brought out a black ink only version? Beats me.
Number Four - Zebra's CD-ROM
Number four goes to a product that isn't being sold, but is given away. More than 400 copies of the Zebra Technologies VTI CD-ROM were given away in the first few hours of Scan-Tech. Zebra Technologies VTI used to be Vertical Technologies until the company was purchase by bar code printer giant Zebra Technologies. With the purchase, Zebra got a line of software and scanning products which were designed for the mass computer market channel. This opens up a whole new world for Zebra, who has pretty much limited itself to direct thermal and thermal transfer printers and media. Zebra got something else when the purchased Vertical - a bunch of very creative and bright people.
Now other bar code companies have given away CD-ROMs with sales pitches and demos of products. What makes the Zebra Technologies VTI CD-ROM rank number 4 is that it contains a wealth of basic bar code information, product information, product demos and company information. It will work with Windows and the MacIntosh.
Zebra Technologies VTI has something in the works that they also plan to give away free that may change the world of bar code printing. They are working on Windows drivers for most all bar code printers that will make use of the special capabilities (in technical terms - it won't just handle bar codes as bit-mapped graphics). Representatives from Zebra Technologies VTI told me that they plan to place the drivers in the public domain, and it sound like they may have at least a few ready for release by Spring 1996. This will have a substantial impact on the price of label printing software.
Number Five - Thermacolor
The number five spot goes to Thermacolor from Standard Register. Thermacolor is the first heat-activated, color-coded thermal label stock that can image more than two colors. The color areas are printed in an invisible ink and are activated by the heat from a direct thermal printer. What makes this product significant is that the media can turn any standard direct thermal printer into a "color" printer for some applications. A typical application for Thermacolor, shown at the Standard Register booth, is for shipping labels where the level of service is color coded. The service colors can be printed in invisible ink in different areas of the label and selectively activated. The general technology has been used in medical records for years, but this is the first application of this technology for label printing.
Number Six - Expiring Bar Codes
Coming in at number six is The Self Expiring Bar Code from Temtec, Inc. After a bar code is printed on special label stock, a clear self-adhesive Timing Cover is placed over the bar code. As time passes, the cover progressively darkens, making the bar code unreadable. While self-expiring badges have been around for several years, this the first time the technology has been applied to bar code. It is innovative and should spawn new applications.
Number Seven - FilmBar
The seven position goes to FilmBars Graphics 3.0 from Cobra Systems. This package runs under Windows and can produce virtually every 1-D and 2-D bar code symbology. It is the first software package to be able to produce Datamatrix, PDF-417, Maxicode, and Code 49. The package is designed to provide measurement and readability control down to one micron. The bar codes can be exported as graphics files and used with other Windows programs like Aldus Pagemaker. What makes this product unique is the vast array of 2-D symbologies supported and the near film master control of the symbol.
Number Eight - HiTag
Number eight goes to HiTag from Mikron. HiTag is a passive read/write RF/ID tag which can be read and written to up to 1 meter away. The tag has a 2K bit memory and the data is encrypted in both directions so that information cannot be intercepted. In addition, the system can read and write several tags simultaneously. What makes this product unique is the ability to passively read and write up to 40-inches and the ability to read several tags at the same time.
Number Nine - Intermec Barcode Printer
Number nine goes to the models 3240 and 3440 400 dpi thermal transfer printers from Intermec. To be precise, the printers have a resolution of 406 dpi. The model 3240 prints 2.5 inch wide labels while the 3440 does 4.4 inch wide labels. Both printers can print bar codes with an "X" dimension as small as 2.5 mils. While another printer manufacturer introduced a 400 dpi printer about a year ago, the Model 3240 sells for 1/3rd the price! This printer sets a new standard for thermal transfer printers.
Number Ten - WinLiner
Number ten goes to the Winliner from Datasouth. Datasouth has popped up on my top ten in the past for its introduction of linerless label printers, and the Winliner is another linerless label printer. So what's so great about this one? To start with, it weighs less than 2 pounds. That makes the Winliner truly "wearable" - and should make unions happy. Next, it is the first direct thermal printer to emulate the Epson ESC/P2 printer command set - that should make programmers and system integrators happy. Finally, the printer uses linerless labels so there is no non-biodegradable silicone liner - that should make the environment happy.