MEMS Technology for Barcode Scanning

Traditional laser barcode scanners definitely get the job done, but they’re known for sources of failure that MEMS scanners can eliminate.  So what is MEMS?  Micro-electrical mechanical systems (MEMS), is actually a type of nanotechnology.  Pictured below on the left is a close up of a MEMS optical encoder gear and on the right is a picture of a spider mite approaching some MEMS gears.  This is definitely one of those pictures that makes me itch all over, but it’s a great way to show you how small MEMS really is.  Both photos are courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories, SUMMiT Technologies, All MEMS components are assembled on a silicone substrate, so it is sometimes referred to as a “system on a chip.”  The miniaturization of mechanical devices and the solid state properties of MEMS technology provide greater durability than traditional laser scanners.  MEMS motors can be smaller in diameter than a human hair and the scan engine is also very compact- about the size of a sugar cube.

The smaller components of MEMS technology have less mass than the components of a traditional laser scanner, reducing damage from drops.  Pictured at left is the Intermec SR61 MEMS barcode scanner, as you can see it is very compact.  MEMS scanners are also more resistant to wear and tear.  Symbols are decoded in the traditional way, but MEMS uses a lens to collect the reflected light instead of the mirror.  In laser scanners the mirror does double duty, reflecting and collecting the light.  Over time, motorized mirrors can wear down components because of friction and when mirrors get out of alignment it can degrade scan performance.  With separate lens and mirror components, MEMS can eliminate these break downs.  The separate components and small assembly also optimize scan performance, making MEMS faster than traditional laser barcode scanners.  Some other benefits provided by MEMS technology include:

  • Size- the lightweight design is suitable for all-day use, or it is ideal for integration into handheld and wearable computers.
  • Power efficiency- without a mirror motor, MEMS uses less power.
  • Range- MEMS barcode scanners have a comparable reading range to laser barcode scanners, but this is expected to improve significantly as the technology matures.

While MEMS isn’t a new technology, MEMS barcode scanning is a fairly new application.  If your environment calls for an extremely reliable and responsive barcode scanner, you may want to check out the MEMS option.  If you’d like more information about MEMS you can read the Intermec white paper, MEMS: The New Class of Barcode Scanner.  Also, feel free to contact me for additional information about MEMS barcode scanners like the SR61 pictured above, or if you just have any questions at