Badge Options For a Time Keeping System

There are a lot of different types of badge cards out there, and there are several variables within each type.  So here’s some information to help you decide.  By far, the most popular badge choice is bar-code, but many companies do use magnetic stripe badges.  There is a third type, proximity, but it is much more expensive on a per-card basis and requires extra hardware.

The time clock can usually read several different bar-code fonts, but the most common is called Code 3 of 9.  This is probably the best choice

for most, since you won’t have to worry about whether the clock is properly configured for Industrial 2 of 5, for example.  You also have a choice of bar-code density; go for

a medium-to-high density bar-code.  Swipe performance for low-density bar-codes is erratic at best.  The standard bar-code reader has no moving parts, so it will only require some light cleaning of the slot reader to give you consistent scanning performance.  Also, with an IR or visible light reader, there is no contact between the badge and the reader head.  Bar-code badges are pretty durable; with mediocre care, employees should be able to use one badge for a long time.  The ink in the bar-code can flake off sometimes, and this can cause some scanning problems, depending on where the damage occurs.  The biggest downside to bar-code badges is that they can be photo-copied, then used in buddy-punching.

Some badge vendors offer what’s called a “bar-guard” badge, which has a brown stripe overlaying the bar-code (it looks like a magnetic-stripe, actually), but these can be very difficult to work with.  Bar-guard badges are very particular about what kind of reader they’ll work with, and some clock platforms do not really support them.  In my opinion, I’d avoid them.  The ones that I’ve worked with have generally had very inconsistent swipe performance.

As for magnetic stripes, many manufacturers offer specific readers for track 1 or track 2, some even offer a combination reader that will read both tracks 1 and 2.  Track 2 magnetic stripes are much more popular than track 1.  Magnetic stripe badges cannot be photocopied, so they are a good option if buddy-punching is a problem.  Magnetic stripe cards and readers, though, are not as durable, especially in industrial environments.  There is direct contact between the card and the reader head, so all of the abrasive material that collects in the slot, on the cards, etc. will cause premature wear on the magnetic head and the card.  This combined with the natural tendency for magnetic stripes and heads to weaken over time, means that a clock with a magnetic reader will require more service over its lifetime, and employees will need more replacement cards. Magnetic stripe cards can also become demagnetized suddenly without definable reason.  Because of these issues, I think that magnetic stripe badges are best used when buddy-punching is a real concern, but that bar-codes are otherwise more cost effective.

Lastly, there is the proximity card.There is a lot to like in the proximity card, but there are a number of issues as well. There are a number of vendors offering different card formats; there are no standard types, yet. That said, HID-compatible is, by far, the most popular. Many time clocks have built-in support for HID-compatible cards (as well as Indala and Casi-Rusco, which are not nearly as popular), but the external version of a proximity reader will often require an external power source. Though the up-front per-card cost for proximity is higher than either bar-code or magnetic stripe, the cards themselves are quite durable. With a minimal care, an employee should be able to use the same card for quite some time. Proximity badges are also available in non-card form factors. The key-fob type is quite popular. If your facility already has a proximity-based access control system, it’s a no-brainer to explore using your existing proximity badges with the clocks.
Well, I hope that helps you cut through all the badge type clutter. There are a lot of options out there, but my experiences have led me to these observations.

Jon Finkel- Data Terminal Technician

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