Barcode Scanners and Cable Testing
We're all looking for ideas to increase productivity and reduce errors in our manufacturing processes. At Cirris we've incorporated the use of bar codes, and bar code scanners to eliminate mistakes and to help us be more productive.
How can barcodes help you improve throughput and increase quality in cable and harness assembly?
- Faster than typing
- Eliminates keyboard entry errors
- Ergonomics. Barcode gun takes less workspace than keyboard and mouse
- Quickly entering serial numbers
- Identifying wires
In most production applications, we use a hands-free stand for the barcode scanner.
Hands-free scanner stand for quick scanning.
Selecting a Barcode Scanner
At Cirris we use hand held scanners|
An example of a CCD style reader is the Honeywell (formerly- Hand Held Devices) 3800G
An example of a laser scanner is the Opticon OPR-3001. When trying to scan very small barcodes, printed on wires for example, we find that laser scanners work better than CCD scanners, but only if you can hold the wire straight. For our Pin-Sight guided pinning tool we created a special holder for the OPR-3001 scanner to read barcodes on wires.
Both are available for under $250 with a USB connection to the computer. In less demanding applications we have used CCD scanners costing less than $100 found on Amazon.com.
Configuring a Scanner for your specific application
Standard Code 39 is usually the default capability from the factory. However, many scanners will allow you to customize your scanner operation. This is usually accomplished by scanning customized set-up barcodes that are located in the scanners' instruction manual or on the company web site. At Cirris we often use custom settings to get the most out of our bar code scanners. Some of the changes to the default settings we use are:
- Automatic (presentation mode) Triggering: rather than manual triggering, allows us to use the scanner in a hands-free stand.
- Adding a Carriage Return: (CR) Suffix takes the place of hitting the "enter" key after a scan
- Using extended Code 39: Standard code 39 has only 43 characters available: numbers 0 through 9, 26 capital letters, a "space" and these six characters $ % / + . -
Extended (also called Full ASCII) Code 39: uses these four characters / $ + % preceding a character to change it to another character, thus providing the full ASCII 128-character set. If you want a barcode that can be read in either Standard or Extended mode use only numbers, capital letters, a "space", a dot "." or a dash "-". Also, to keep your barcodes as short as possible in Extended Code 39, don't use lower case letters as they require a "special character" added to each letter, effectively doubling the length of the barcode.
- Loudness of the beep on a successful read: To adjust for the ambient noise in your work environment there is usually a way to adjust the loudness of the "beep-tone" that sounds on a successful barcode read.
- Why do we use Code 39?: While there are other popular codes that are shorter, Code 39 has the advantage of having built-in error checking. It checks the format of the characters in the barcode (rather than needing special embedded check-characters). If you have software to print the barcodes and calculate these check-codes they are no problem. But, if you use a simple word-processor like we do with just a font change, Code 39 provides the highest level of simplicity.
- Two links to learn more about Code 39:
- Printing Barcodes for the factory floor: Serial number labels are readily available for purchase or you can print your own labels with a variety of label printers and software from companies such as Zebra, Brady, Panduit, and HellermanTyton.
Tips on creating barcodes
You can easily create barcodes for your documents, travelers, and user interface aids using Microsoft Word or other word processors. Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
- If you use WordPad (included with Microsoft Windows) or OpenOffice word processors you shouldn't run into any difficulties making barcodes. If you use Microsoft Word there are some issues with text formatting that you need to be aware of:
- Turn off the Asterisk Bolding feature of WORD: Each Code 39 barcode must begin and end with an asterisk *. Unfortunately, one of the long forgotten shortcuts in MS WORD to activate bolding is to begin and end a word with asterisks. If the barcode font is bolded, it becomes unreadable. To avoid this conflict, turn off this obscure "feature". While not every version of Word is the same, look for it under Tools then select Autocorrect, then Auto Formatting As You Type then uncheck the box that says "*Bold* and _italic_ with real formatting"
- Turn on the Paragraph Marks feature of WORD: By turning ON, (show) the paragraph marks feature it makes them obvious so that when you select the text you want to convert into a barcode you can avoid selecting the paragraph marks. (see example below). To do this on the Tools menu, click Options, then click the View tab. Under Formatting marks, check the check box next to Paragraph marks.
- Get and Install a TrueType font for MS Word: You can download a free Code 39 font and the Extended (Full ASCII) Code 39 font here.
Details on how to install the font are found on the Microsoft support page If you use Cirris' easy-wire or Pin-Sight products, we automatically install a barcode font during the installation of our software.
- Remember to begin and end with an asterisk (*): When you create a code 39 Barcode, be sure to begin and end with an asterisk *. This is the standard start and stop character of a code 39 barcode and is always required. Example: *JOHN*
- Type your text, then change the font to barcode: Now you're ready to create a barcode. Just type the text you want (including the asterisks) then highlight it (including the asterisks but NOT any other formatting codes) then change the font. Once you are done creating barcodes you'll want to turn the paragraph marks off again. (If you are using a different word processor to create the barcodes and they don't seem to work make sure you are just selecting the text and not unseen formatting codes).
- The free TrueType font has further limitations: The free fonts come in one height. Purchased fonts usually come in several heights. You can make them taller by choosing a larger front size but this makes them proportionately longer as well.
What Cirris products can I use barcode scanners with?
Signature 1100 and T1 testers
When used with our optional Scripting language, you can use barcodes on the Signature 1100 and Touch 1 to do things such as enter serial numbers of tested assemblies and enter user passwords by scanning operator's name badges. Custom scripts can be written to allow further control of these testers with barcodes.
(Requires 1100's with USB ports installed.)
easy-wire CR and CH Testers
All of the operations that can be performed from the user interface by "pushing buttons" can also be performed by barcode scan. Things like loading test programs, starting and aborting a test, retest, etc. can be accomplished with a barcode scan. Since easy-wire software comes with a barcode font pre-loaded you can also easily add barcodes to the reports and labels that you print from easy-wire.
How To Create Commands and load test programs in Cirris easy-wire software
As a general rule, we use a dot-dash-dot (.-.) to proceed a button name to let easy-wire know this is a "button push" from the barcode scanner. (check your manual for specifics) This would be the same as clicking on the button with the same name. To select a test program using a barcode scanner simply create a barcode of the test program name ("MILITARY DEMO") in the example below.
In addition to all of the user interface operations being triggered by scanning a barcode, on the Pin-Sight "guided pinning" system, it has another unique application for barcodes. Pin-Sight is used for guiding the insertion of labeled wires into the correct cavity in connectors. If the wire ID is printed as a barcode (in addition to regular markings) it can dramatically increase throughput and eliminate errors made by operators incorrectly entering the wire ID.
Barcodes can be applied to individual wires by:
- ink jet marking in a contrasting color in the wire
- wrap around or heat shrink sleeve applied label for any color wire (Brady and Tyton)
- UV laser marking of PTFE (Teflon), ETFE , XLETFE and FEP insulated wires that have titanium dioxide as used in the Aerospace industry. (Tri-Star, Spectrum, Laselec, and Schimmelman)
Pin-Sight machine with optional bar code reader and stand attached.
Code 39 barcode info printed on white wire on
Tri-Star M100-LFG laser marker.
Scanning wires with optional laser scanner attachment for the PinSight machine. Using the hands-free option increases the speed and accuracy of Pin-Sights' results.