These “off-line” bar code scanning devices go by a number of other names: batch scanner, portable, mobile scanner, or PDTs (portable data terminals). In simple terms, they are all an industrial-grade, hand-held computer that has a bar code reader attached to, or more commonly, built into them. As you can see from the pictures, they are available in a myriad of designs and form factors.
The primary advantage of a mobile scanning terminal is that it allows the operator to go to the bar codes, as opposed to tethered and fixed-in-place scanners that force the user to bring the bar codes to them! This means that these types of readers can be used at great distances from the host computer system to record, collect, and potentially even process data. On a regular basis (e.g. daily), the data collected in each device are intended to be uploaded to the host system for further processing (i.e. in batches) and typically for importation into a database. Relevant data can also potentially be downloaded from the host system to the mobile device, if the application requires it. This might comprise a lookup file of valid part numbers or a list of inspection tasks the system operator is to perform, for examples.
Some mobile batch scanner systems use character-based operating systems that are proprietary or based on DOS or Linux, although these are a rarity these days. The majority of the mobile terminals that Aurora works with employ Microsoft’s Windows CE and Windows Mobile operating systems and their derivatives. The GUI (graphical user interface) can potentially make the applications running on the hand-held computer simpler and easier to use.
Most batch scanning terminals employ a docking station or cradle as a physical intermediary when synchronizing remotely-recorded data with the host system. The interface is commonly USB, with some employing Ethernet. A WWAN (Wireless Wide Area Network) using digital cellphone technology is also a viable communications medium, where available and should the mobile terminal have such built-in capabilities.
What is common among all mobile scanning terminals is that they typically create and exchange standard text files with host computer systems. What is not common amongst them are their levels of programming complexity, durability, memory capacity, screen size and layout, and other factors that greatly affect their cost and usability in a given application and application environment.
Many people seem to think that you simply acquire one of these things and begin to collect data with it! There are two stipulations to consider before getting your hands on one of these and using it with any functionality:
- Do you have device-specific software to run in such a device, or the ability to develop it? Many of these devices require software programming languages and compilers to create the software that executes on them.
- Once you've collected the data and they’ve been uploaded to the main system, does the host-based software have the ability to import the data? Many software programs can import relatively simple data, such as a parts or customer listing, but not transactional data. Since mobile scanning terminals are typically used to record activities and transactions, the host system must be capable of handling such information.