The news has been full recently of the amazing successes of the Barcode label. It celebrated its sixtieth anniversary last year, its close cousin the Q code is becoming the way to buy online, and the death of its inventor in early December 2012 brought its genius to the forefront once again. Since its conception in the fifties it has become the sole solution for both stock monitoring and retail processing. But it hasn’t always been the only kid on the block.
Spots instead of lines
The Kimball tag was a cardboard tag used on retail products for stock taking and reached its peak in the early seventies (that is until the whirlwind of the barcode label took off). They were mostly used by the fashion industry and therefore found on clothing. Just like the barcode label they had their own special code.
Whereas the barcodes we know today use lines Kimball used a pattern of holes. At the end of the day these tags would be collected at the point-of-sale and then sent off in batches to be processed at the end of the business day.
Invented in 1952 by the A. Kimball Company, machines were rented out to retail companies to mark and punch the tags appropriately. Later on, the Potter Instrument company developed a photoelectric tag reader that could read 100 tags per minute.
So where did the Kimball tag lose out to the barcode label?
Apart from the fact that barcode labels offered much faster data capture it became obvious that the batch processing of tags made real-time business analysis difficult, and required specific handling and processing facilities to be maintained. The barcode has become very adaptable to most work environments but unfortunately the nature of the hanging cardboard tag made it unsuitable for using in damp environments and was almost impossible to use on sealed packages.
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