POS Frequently Asked Questions

What is a POS & Bar Coding?

Bar Coding is a fast growing,  industry that is revolutionizing Point of Sale (POS) and the way people collect, store and retrieve data. Whether at the supermarket, a hospital lab or the loading docks, bar codes are an integral part of the data collection process. We supply solution providers with products, systems and services that make it easy for them to provide solutions to their customers.

The POS products we supply include personal computer-based terminals, receipt printers, cash drawers, magnetic stripe readers, keyboards and related peripherals. Bar Coding products distributed by ScanSource include bar code scanners and printers, portable data collection terminals, wireless networks and other related equipment.

BAR CODING

How does a bar code work?

Actually, a bar code works in much the same way as an ordinary flashlight -by reading the reflected light from a surface. The process begins when a device directs a light beam through a bar code. The device contains a small sensory reading element. This sensor detects the light being reflected back from the bar code, and converts light energy into electrical energy. The result is an electrical signal that can be converted into data.

Bar codes are measured by the width of the narrow bar and are recorded in mils, or 1/1000 inch. A 15 Mill bar code, for instance, has a narrow bar that is 15/1000 inches wide. Further, "quiet zones," or blank spaces to the left and right of bar code symbols, are included to insure the bar code can be read.

How do you read a bar code?
It's a three-step process. First, an input device must convert light energy into electrical energy. There are a variety of input devices, each with its own unique characteristics.

Input Devices

The "wand" is the simplest and least expensive input device available. It is durable and contains no moving parts. It must, however, come into contact with the bar code, which can present a challenge. If a bar code must be read more than once, it may become smeared or damaged and, in essence, unreadable. Also, a wand is "human powered," which means it must be held at the proper angle and moved at the proper speed. For these reasons, a wand is the best choice when cost is the largest determining factor.

The CCD, or "Charge Couple Device," is another common input device. A CCD is a very "aggressive" instrument, with a high ability to read bar codes quickly and easily. But it has two primary limitations. First, it has a short "read" range, and must be held no more than 1 to 3 inches from the bar code. Further, the CCD has a limited width, and will not read bar codes that are wider than the face of the input device. It is largely popular for use in point of sale applications.

The laser scanner is perhaps the most popular bar code input device. A laser scanner need not be close to the bar code to do its job. A standard range laser scanner can read a bar code from about 6 to 24 inches away, and a long range scanner can read one from perhaps 2 to 8 feet away. An extra long-range device can even read a bar code 30 feet from the device. Laser scanners vary in price from $200 to $2,000 and come in a variety of models.

Step two involves converting the electronic signal into data, which is accomplished with a decoder. The decoder is an electronic device serving three functions:

A decoder may be located inside or outside the input device. An internal decoder takes up less space and is less expensive, but it is also less functional. An external decoder is a bit more expensive, but is also more functional, with the capabilities to manipulate data and accommodate multiple input devices on a single port.

Host Connection
Finally, bar codes are used to input data into a host computer system, and can dramatically improve both the accuracy of the data and the speed with which it is entered. The keyboard "wedge" is the most common method of host connectivity for bar code equipment. In this configuration, the decoder is "wedged" between the PC or terminal and its keyboard, allowing users to input bar code data without changing existing applications. The serial "wedge," which utilizes the connection of a dumb terminal with an RS-232 interface, is another connectivity method, and it is also possible to use a direct connection to a serial port.

Reading a bar code is as easy as 1-2-3
Step One: Carefully choose an input device
Step Two: Decide whether you need an internal or external decoder
Step Three: Attach equipment to the host computer

How do you print Bar Code Labels?

Bar codes can be printed with existing dot matrix or laser printers, but with varying results. Thermal label printers, on the other hand, were designed specifically for the job and are built to produce high-quality text and graphics. They print at fast speeds and can be used to print one label at a time or an entire roll.

There are two basic thermal printing methods.

Thermal transfer printing
In this method, the print head transfers ink from a ribbon onto standard paper. The thermal transfer printer brings greater consumable costs because it utilizes a ribbon, but there is less wear and tear on the print head.

Thermal direct printing
In this method, the print head is in direct contact with treated paper, and no ribbon is used. As a result, consumable costs are smaller, but the print head undergoes substantially more wear and tear. A ribbon produces less friction than paper, so a print head lasts approximately four times longer when printing in thermal transfer mode than in thermal direct mode. Print heads are considered consumable items and must be included in the overall cost of operation.

Further, the width of the print head determines the maximum width of printed labels. Print heads are generally 2,4,6 or 8 inches wide.

Every thermal label printer is driven by a proprietary programming language, which can make the bar code printing process challenging. However, bar code label software can make it easier by allowing you to create labels on the screen and print labels with data from various sources. Label software can be generic to all printers or specific to one manufacturer.

What's A Portable Data Terminal?

Sometimes you must bring the computer to the bar code, particularly to handle jobs such as warehouse inventory control or freezer applications. A portable data terminal (PDT), a fully programmable hand-held computer, is necessary in such instances. Choosing the correct PDT is very important, and consists of a four-step process.

1. Scanner Option First, you must choose a scanner option. The bar code input device can be integrated into the unit or attached externally by a cable. The most common implementation is an integrated laser scanner.

2. Display Unit You should also choose a display unit. Character-based terminals use text to prompt the operator for data input, which can come from the bar code scanner or the keyboard. Some applications may require a graphical user interface, and a stylus (or pen) is used to operate the application software. These pen-based solutions are useful for filling in forms or applications that require signature capture.

3. Communications Collected data must be transferred back to the host computer from the PDT, which can be accomplished in one of two ways. A wireless communications link provides online real-time data communications, immediate updates to databases and feedback to the operator. However, this solution could require a complex connection to the host, and you may need a less difficult or expensive method. Mobile data collection is a simpler and easier process. In this method, data is collected in small batches and transferred from the portable into the host computer by a cable connection.

4. Operating System The operating system of the portable data computer determines the method of programming. Proprietary operating systems usually require knowledge of a proprietary programming language. Other units may use a common operating system such as DOS or Microsoft Windows, allowing for programming with a more common language such as BASIC or "C." Most applications will be unique to the user and are likely to require customer programming. Programs may be written in a common language, or a program generator may be used to cut development time.

Selling solutions
To successfully sell portable data collection solutions, you should get to know your customer's business and look for applications that require mobile data collection. Remember these tips:

Point Of Sale Technology

The POS products we supply include personal computer-based terminals, receipt printers, cash drawers, magnetic stripe readers, keyboards and related peripherals. Bar Coding products distributed by ScanSource include bar code scanners and printers, portable data collection terminals, wireless networks and other related equipment.

What is a PC cash drawer?
A PC cash drawer is a point-of-sale system designed around a standard personal computer. Customers can add various peripherals to the system to meet their own particular needs. Below, we will detail each peripheral device, how it is used, how it is connected and its key features and options.

Receipt printer

Every point-of-sale system should have a receipt printer. Each receipt printer comes with one or two cash drawer ports for direct attachment. This allows two devices - printer and cash drawer - to share a single port on the PC, which is beneficial because there are generally more peripheral devices than available ports on a PC. Several options are available for most receipt printers, including journal take-ups, cutter mechanisms, slip validation and MICR units.

Cash drawer

The cash drawer is another necessary component in any point-of-sale system. Most cash drawers are printer-driven. Each receipt printer manufacturer has a unique cash drawer interface, making each cash drawer printer-specific. Cash drawers may also be attached independently via serial or parallel port.

Magnetic stripe reader

Magnetic stripe readers are convenient for retailers who want to accept credit or debit cards. They're usually attached as a keyboard wedge (see "host connection" for more information on wedges) or directly to a serial port, and are most often configured to read tracks one and two or track two only. Proper software and a modem are needed to fill out the solution.

Check reader

Using a technology called magnetic ink character recognition (MICR), check readers are capable of reading special characters printed on the bottom of a personal check. These characters are printed using magnetic ink to prevent check fraud. The check reader uses the same connectivity as a magnetic stripe reader, and also requires software and a modem.

Keyboard

Keyboards have various configurations for the point-of-sale environment. Some are standard 101-key keyboards, with integrated magnetic stripe readers, bar code scanners, decoders and programmable keys. Other POS keyboards are specifically designed for the environment, with fewer keys and a smaller footprint. A flat panel membrane keyboard is a popular type that resists spills and is easily reprogrammed.

Scale

Scales are necessary for retailers who sell a product by weight. The scale must be certified by the state Board of Weights and Measures and must be NTEP-certified by the manufacturer. Scales are usually attached to a serial port.

Monitor

In most cases, a standard 14-inch monitor is too large for a point-of-sale application, and a smaller, nine or ten-inch monitor often works better. In many hospitality environments such as restaurants, touch screen technology has become very popular, allowing for easy operator training and requiring no keyboard.

Scanner

Bar code scanning provides for speed and accuracy at the checkout counter. Common scanners include CCDs, hand-held laser scanners, and omni-directional scanners (see "How do you read a bar code" for more information on scanners). Scanners are usually connected via keyboard wedges or directly to a serial port.

Customer display

Also known as a pole display, this device displays item and price information, as well as product advertising. It contains either a fluorescent or LCD display and attaches either to the serial or parallel port.

Applications software
The applications software is the most important part of any point-of-sale solution. The software is always chosen first and determines the hardware selection. Remember the following tips: Refer to your software manual before choosing any point of sale hardware ScanSource can help you configure your PC cash drawer system for a successful implementation.

Wireless Technology

Basic Wireless Principles
The following information is designed to provide you with a basic overview of Wireless technology, including the components that make up a Wireless system and the information you need to properly configure a Wireless system. This information is solely focused on the 2.4GHz 802.11 Wireless Ethernet offerings.

The basic principles of Wireless are the same regardless of the vendor you choose. Wireless terminals (hand-held, truck mount, stationary, pen based, laptops) send out data through the radio. Some type of identification accompanies the data so the receiving computer knows which terminal sent the data. Remember a wireless system is simply an extension to your wired system. Placing an access point on your wired system allows wireless Ethernet connection to places where wired devices may not be able to access. In simple terms an access point receives wireless Ethernet data form wireless devices and places that information on a wired Ethernet cable.

Transport of data is accomplished in the same method as any other device attached to an Ethernet LAN using TCPIP addressing. Since industry standards of Ethernet and TCPIP are used, connectivity is simple when you follow standard networking principles.

Host System and Software
There are many different types of host computers in the industry. The most commonly used in "Wireless Ethernet" systems are:

Unix Host
There are many different types of UNIX systems running various versions of UNIX. It is important to determine whether the Unix host has Ethernet TCPIP support and can accept a telnet session. This will usually be the case with Unix systems, but there are exceptions. Most of the time the remote Wireless device will run a VT emulation program, which allows the Wireless device to appear as a wired terminal on the wired Ethernet LAN. Therefore, the remote Wireless device can access existing programs on the Unix host. This is accomplished through a telnet session from the Wireless device and the Unix host. Sometimes the remote Wireless device will have a smaller display area than the host program was written for. You will need to reduce the software application screens to adapt to the smaller display of the Wireless device. The most common method for accomplishing this involves reformatting the host application to the screen size of the Wireless device.

AS400
You can connect to an AS400 by loading 5250 emulation software in the Wireless device. The AS400 must have Ethernet and TCP/IP support along with TN5250 support. Most AS400 with version V3.51 or better have this support, but it may need to be activated. The 5250 emulation software makes the Wireless device appear as a wired terminal on the wired Ethernet LAN. This is accomplished through a telnet session from the Wireless device and the AS400. Note that the remote Wireless device will probably have a smaller display area than the host program was written for. The software application screens will need to be reduced to adapt to the smaller display of the Wireless device. The most common method of accomplishing this involves reformatting the host application to the screen size of the Wireless device.

IBM Host
You can connect to an IBM host by loading 3270 emulation software in the Wireless device. The IBM host must have Ethernet and TCP/IP support along with TN3270 support. The 3270 emulation software makes the Wireless device appear as a wired terminal on the wired Ethernet LAN. This is accomplished through a telnet session from the Wireless device and the IBM host. Note that the remote Wireless device will probably have a smaller display area than the host program was written for. The software application screens will need to be reduced to adapt to the smaller display of the Wireless device. The most common method of accomplishing this involves reformatting the host application to the screen size of the Wireless device.

Windows based PCs
As the popularity and power of the PC market grows, more PC's are being used as host computers. Connectivity issues are the same as connecting to either a Unix or AS400 host, but the software issues can be more challenging. Client Server: In a client server software option, software will need to be written or provided for both the host computer and Wireless device. This can result in increased development time and resources. This usually requires an experienced programmer to develop the desired applications. Software Development Tools: Software tools are designed to allow users with little or no programming experience to generate software applications for their Wireless projects. Most generators are based on a GUI interface, which will be familiar to Windows users. Most generators are limited to the complexity of applications that can be generated. This should not be a problem since most Wireless applications are simple and are used to track product movements. Telnet Servers: Unlike the Unix, AS400, and IBM host, there is no PC emulation. There is a way that a Wireless device could simulate a VT terminal to allow users to access existing applications on the PC. Loading a "Telnet Server" on a Windows NT PC will allow a Wireless device, running a VT Emulation Client, to Telnet into the PC much like connecting to a Unix host. After satisfying the Login and Password fields from the Telnet Server, you can execute your software application. You'll need to purchase Telnet Servers from a third party. This is valid only with Windows NT.

Wireless Checklist
The Wireless Checklist will help you gather the information you need to build your Wireless system using ScanSource's "Wireless On-Line Configurator." " Wireless On-Line Configurator " is an online configuration tool that builds valid systems - complete with pricing - in minutes. You will need a log-in and password to access " Wireless On-Line Configurator." This can be provided to you through your ScanSource Sales representative. By gathering the information on this form should help to complete a configuration using " Wireless On-Line Configurator."

802.11
The IEEE 802.11 represents the first standard for WLAN products from an internationally recognized, independent organization. With this standard wireless communication can be interoperable between vendors. This means an Intermec, Symbol, PSC, HHT, and Cisco wireless device can communicate to any other vendor products that are 802.11 compliant.

There are several offerings from the 802.11 umbrella. The following are the current offerings.

Wireless Security
There is currently a lot of concerns over security as it relates to wireless networks. It is important to note that not all wireless systems are insecure. There are two concerns related to wireless networks. The first is access to the wired infrastructure through the wireless network and the second is the interception of data as it is transmitted. There are several options, under the 802.11 specification and outside the specification, that address security issues, including WEP, access control list, and ESSID. It is important to note that a large number of wireless systems are implemented without minimum-security features.