Friday, June 26, 2009

Happy Birthday To The Bar Code

In one of my first posts on this blog, I mentioned the Law of the Unattainable Triad, which says that you can only have 2 of the following 3 qualities: Good, Fast, and Cheap.

But, like every law, there are counterexamples, I discovered one in an article in yesterday's New York Times. The article was about the 35th birthday of the bar code. June 26, 1974 marked the first time the barcode was used, when the 67-cent price of a 10-pack of Juicy Fruit gum was correctly scanned.

The barcode works every time, is cheap to use and operate, and helps both the consumer (speeding through the checkout line) and retailer (efficient inventory management).

Bar coding has been replaced by newer and more sophisticated technology, RFID (Radio frequency identification) chips, in some applications. But this technology is more expensive. When Wal-Mart tried to force all their suppliers to adopt the use of RFID technology, the suppliers successfully pushed back. I definitely like that pushback against the neighborhood bully. According to the Law of the Unattainable Triad, it only makes sense.

As an aside, companies like mine, which supply the automotive industry, have received many expensive mandates (such as the creation of quality certification bureaucracies) from the automobile manufacturers. Most of them were neither good nor fast nor cheap. We should have pushed back against them. If we had, maybe we wouldn't now be wallowing with them in the current economic morass.

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