Look for the Codes

Two-dimensional matrix codes are being used for everything from marketing campaigns to positioning tool presetters to linking print magazines with bonus online content. Consider how you might use them.


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We’re all familiar with straight-line bar codes that retailers use to track inventory and price products. Scannable, two-dimensional matrix codes such as the one to the right function similarly, and their popularity is increasing because they have the ability to store much more information than their linear predecessors.

The pixelated two-dimensional codes are being used in a variety of ways. The tool presetter highlighted in this article is one interesting industrial example. A camera on the device’s freely moving measuring head accurately establishes the head’s position on a glass plate by reading tiny matrix codes embedded in the glass. The result is a design that has fewer moving components to help the presetter function more reliably in less than pristine shopfloor environments.

That application uses what are known as data matrix codes. Another style of two-dimensional codes, quick-response (QR) codes, is more prevalent due in part to the growing popularity of smart phones. Apps enable smartphones to scan a QR code and, depending on the code, immediately access a website, show a video, get a phone number, send an instant message to someone and more. It’s pretty slick.

QR codes have been used for a number of years in Japan. Although they were created to track parts during manufacturing, many companies here and abroad now weave QR codes into their marketing efforts. In fact, you’ll notice that some of our magazine’s advertisers include codes in their ads to enable readers to quickly get additional product information. Similarly, we’ll likely start using them in articles to provide easy access to bonus online content.

Consider, though, how QR codes might be valuable to your shop. Used in brochures, on business cards, at trade shows or even as part of RFQs sent to customers, the codes enable you to push to additional online information highlighting your shop’s capabilities. Perhaps the codes could take people to a video showing some of your advanced shopfloor equipment or to one showing a tricky part being machined. There are lots of options.

The codes might also be useful on the shop floor. They can provide employees with easy access to information that might not fit nicely on a sign or be easy to locate in a job packet or service manual. I bet you will start seeing them on machine tools and other equipment to enable users to access maintenance information, operating instructions or related resources, too.

The nice thing is that a variety of web companies including Google offer free QR code generators that are simple to use. If your shop uses QR codes, shoot me an email. I’d like to learn how valuable they’ve been to your business.