From the moment that a pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum became the first product to have its barcode scanned and sold in 1974 at an Ohio supermarket, barcodes — and the scanners that read them — have permeated almost every area of our lives and changed the way every industry around the world does business.
When it comes to reading the myriad information embedded in barcodes, speed and accuracy are two critical attributes of any barcode scanner. Important as well is the ability to store thousands of barcodes and then transmit and organize the data efficiently. Bluetooth technology, the ability to connect wirelessly to a host device, has also added a new dimension to the barcode scanning market.
KoamTac Inc., based at Forrestal Village, has emerged as a leader in the international arena as the manufacturer of the KDC, a premier line of programmable Bluetooth barcode scanners and card readers. “We have the most compact scanners, loaded with features and a quality that sets us apart from the rest,” says Hanjin Lee, CEO and president of KoamTac, who founded the company in 2002.
“I designed my products to work seamlessly with virtually every operating platform on the market today, especially the mobile technology that is changing the way we work and play,” says Lee, who holds seven barcode scanning technology patents, with several more pending. “Companies can buy our scanners and have the confidence that they will be up-to-date with today’s leading-edge scanning technology and stay there,” Lee says.
Lee’s vision is to create a new market in the barcode world with a product that has a level of quality and versatility that sets it apart from the competition. KoamTac’s KDCs are compatible with all technology platforms including PCs, Android, and Blackberry.
But years ago, Lee saw the sweet spot in the market that opened up with the explosion of smartphone and tablet usage. This foresight enabled him to make the first MFi-certified Bluetooth barcode scanners, positioning KoamTac as the frontrunner in the manufacture of scanners compatible with Apple’s iPhone, iPod, and iPad.
The increasing BYOD (bring your own device) trend — companies that have their employees use their own smart phones and tablets for use in work — is opening up even more potential for KoamTac’s growth, with companies pairing KoamTac’s KDCs with employees’ smartphones to save costs.
Lee says KoamTac’s Bluetooth scanning technology is smart because he designed it to adapt to smartphones and tablets as they evolve and newer versions are introduced. For example, when Apple launched the iPhone5, Lee anticipated the rush for new cases to pair the latest iPhone with his KDC scanners and revved up his manufacturing so that clients could order the new iPhone5 case right away. When Apple launched the iPad mini, Lee had the case ready to ship along with his scanners.
Each scanner can be paired quickly and efficiently with a host device — similar to the idea of pairing a wireless mouse to virtually any computer — so that information can be collected and organized into any application such as an Excel spreadsheet, Apple’s Notes, or Android’s “S” notes.
“What differentiates us is that we can provide custom options that other manufacturers cannot,” says Lee. “The KDC, by definition, is a green product because it consumes less energy than other scanners. In order to make a small mobile device, you have to figure out how to optimize power consumption so you can use a smaller battery and it can run for a longer time.”
Lee is an engineer and inventor who thrives on those kinds of challenges. A Princeton area resident with his wife and family, he started his life in South Korea, where he was born, the youngest of four children. His father was a high-ranking officer in the Republic of Korea Marine Corps, and his mother was an entrepreneur who owned a successful family business.
Lee earned a B.S. in computer science from Sogang University in Seoul, and then came to the United States as a graduate student, earning a Ph.D. in computer science from the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken in 1990. Over the next nine years, he worked in the New Jersey office of Daewoo Telecom. But the same entrepreneurial bug that had made his mother such a skilled businesswoman had also bitten him, and he was eager to start his own company.
In 2002 he launched KoamTac, with its international headquarters based in Princeton, and its sister company, the manufacturing arm, based in Seoul. He continued to design and innovate to create a new kind of barcode scanner that would be a lightweight, compact, versatile device that would work in concert with Bluetooth, the wireless technology that was revolutionizing the field of Auto-ID.
Lee shipped his very first product, a software decoder in 2004. The latest in the lineup is the KDC350, brand new this year with a high rating for dust and water protection and options for “near field communication,” or NFC, and long-range scanning, up to a dozen feet across a room, and an anti-microbial case, which is important in the healthcare and hospital arena.
Over the years, KoamTac has built a portfolio of thousands of scanners in virtually every industry. One of KoamTac’s key clients is TRC, Technology Resource Corporation, based at 29 Emmons Drive, a leader in trade shows and event technology.
TRC co-president Steve Cooper credits KoamTac’s customized lead retrieval solutions for helping to position his company at the front of the pack. “For real-time data I can scan your information via my cell partnered with the KDC, and while I’m still having a discussion with you on the trade floor, I can send it to my marketing department and they would have your information just like that,” he says.
The United Kingdom’s largest chain of convenience stores, the Londis group, utilizes KoamTac scanners to deliver faster checkout lines, instant access to accurate product information, and quicker processing of orders.
Healthcare workers at Japan’s Kyoto University Hospital utilize KDC scanners to track the administration of medication, record visits by medical personnel and monitor medical equipment. VIA Rail Canada, the government-operated national passenger rail service, utilizes KDCs for ticket collection and passenger tracking as does Ouigo, a subsidiary of the French national rail company. In Korea, KoamTac helps the country’s major carriers deliver packages on time.
One arena Lee does not intend to enter is developing consumer-grade scanning apps such as QuickScan or ShopSavvy for mobile devices. They are often used by customers for comparison-shopping or to obtain detailed product information. Nor does Lee fear any kind of competition from those kinds of scanning apps because, as he points out, “those apps are consumer grade scanners and not designed for industrial use,” he says. “We make the Harley Davidson of barcode scanners — rugged, powerful, and dependable. Our scanners are complex and full-featured — yet easy to use and customizable.”
Today the striped lines of the 1D barcode and the distinctive patterns of the 2D barcode reflect a technology that evolves quickly to adapt to changing needs. Lee, the engineer and inventor at heart, is at the top of his game. “Our future is as limitless as the uses for barcodes,” he says.
KoamTac Inc., 116 Village Boulevard, Princeton 08540. 609-734-4335. www.koamtac.com.