Proving once again why it pays to keep it simple

The best solution to any problem is almost always the simplest.

Scanning a barcode

When Aston Barclay, one of the country’s largest car auction houses, asked us to update the technology that underpinned its systems, it set us an interesting side task. It needed a reliable means of tracking every vehicle from the point it rolled off a low loader until its new owner drove it home.
We settled on one of the most simple technologies out there: barcodes.

Aston Barclay’s four sites each have blanket Wi-Fi, covering their buildings and the marshalling yards where they store the lots for each auction. Mindful of using this to our advantage, we set up a network of inexpensive scanners. Effectively low-end smartphones in waterproof cases, we used them to capture linear barcodes stuck to each vehicle’s windscreen.

Linear barcodes, like the ones you find on supermarket foods, are less intelligent than their square QR cousins. While sticking to alpha-numerics lets you store up to 4000 characters in a QR block, linear codes are nothing but serial numbers, which in this instance was all that Aston Barclay needed. Every time a member of staff scanned the code on a vehicle’s windscreen, it retrieved the matching data out of Aston Barclay’s transactional database to reveal who was selling, who was buying, its spec and its status.

Not only simple, but practical, too

Yet the relatively simple implementation wasn’t the only reason we opted for a linear system rather than QR codes. There is also the question of practicality.

When you try and pack too much information into a barcode, you’re cutting down your hardware options. Resolution doesn’t really matter, but reading a QR code with any degree of accuracy does demand a better lens and the ability to focus from less than a metre away. That puts some older devices, such as early iPads, and many low-end smartphones out of the equation. It’s also possible to read linear barcodes with a laser scanner, linked to a smartphone by Bluetooth, for maximum reliability in poor lighting.

Further, as they are more than just a serial number, you can’t buy in QR codes the way you can with a roll of linear barcodes, which means Aston Barclay would have needed to invest in software to generate its own, and label printers to produce them.

So, while it may have been hooking into a far larger, more complex system, this relatively simple integration enormously extended Aston Barclay’s stock control, proving conclusively that the most technically-advanced solution isn’t always the most appropriate, and that what would once have cost several thousand pounds to implement can now be achieved for just a few hundred.

To find out how Humboldt Solution can help you simplify your workflow and manage your inventory more effectively, call us on 01276 415787 or email

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