Bar code scanners find widespread use
Bar codes and the electronic ''scanners'' that read them are popping up in many places besides the local supermarket. Electronics companies use them to track parts. They can tell, for example, where a particular circuit board is on the assembly line at, say, 10:30 a.m. Auto manufacturers use them in a similar manner. And Federal Express Corporation codes and scans all packages it handles to track them through the skyways.
''Scanning technology has extraordinary implications for our whole manufacturing environment,'' says Edward Shadd, president of Symscan, a Fairport , N.Y., consulting firm.
This was already evident last summer when the Department of Defense started requiring suppliers to put bar codes on most goods it purchases. A similar order was passed down by the General Services Administration.
Automobile companies now want the system to monitor more than the flow of goods internally in plants. The industry is working on a standard bar code that will cover automobile parts and equipment. This would be similiar to the food industry's Universal Product Code. Airlines also are looking hard at scanners and bar coding. They have to keep detailed records of parts and equipment. Eventually, cheaper hand-held scanners may bring the equipment to bookstores, record shops, and other smaller retail businesses.
Scanning systems are deceptively simple in operation. The bar code is a ''tag'' which carries product data. Usually a code bears only the product name and that of the manufacturer. The scanner shoots out a beam of light (most supermarket scanners use laser beams) which ''reads'' the bar-code label, feeding the data to a computer.
For supermarkets, scanners are becoming as much a marketing tool as a way to whisk customers through checkout lines. They help managers quickly determine how well a sale item is doing at a particular price.
No one knows how many businesses use scanners, but the industry remains small. Sales of bar-code labels, label printers, and scanning equipment are believed to be less than $150 million a year. One reason, at least in these recessionary times, is cost. To equip a typical supermarket with scanners, cash registers, and a computer costs upward of $150,000.
Scanners and bar codes have been in use since the 1960s. The big boom in the industry was supposed to come with their introduction in supermarkets in the early 1970s. Technical problems and organized consumer resistance held them back.
Today, about 7,000 supermarkets in the US and Canada have scanners, according to the Food Marketing Institute. About another 100 stores are installing them each month. It is the growth in this highly visible market that industry officials expect to boost use of bar codes and scanners in other areas. ''Scanning was a deep, dark secret for 10 years,'' says George Goldberg, editor of ''Scan,'' an industry newsletter. ''It is finally emerging.'' Buried buildings save energy
At the University of Minnesota architects have dug deep to save energy and open space.
Later this month the university will open a building on its Minneapolis campus that extends 110 feet (about seven stories) below ground. It is one of the deepest underground buildings yet constructed. The buried complex houses classrooms, offices, and laboratories. Its designers expected it to use only half the energy for heating and air conditioning consumed by a similar-sized above-ground structure.
Built at a cost of $17 million, it will feature several unusual lighting technologies. A ''periscope'' will pipe street scenes to the lowest level through a system of mirrors and lenses. Another set of lenses will track the sun from a cupola above ground to deliver light to the sixth floor. Skylights will be used in the building as well.
Dr. Raymond Sterling, director of the university's Underground Space Center, says the building demonstrates there are alternatives for city growth other than high-rise or sprawl. ''This does represent an expansion of space for the inner city area,'' he says. Cinnamon flavoring halts boll weevils
Several chemicals have been isolated from tropical trees in Peru that may eventually help combat boll weevils. One of them, cinnamaldehyde is used by the food industry as cinnamon flavoring. Chemists at Mississippi State University report that the chemicals, when given to boll weevils in the laboratory, caused the pests to stop feeding. Depending on the results of field tests, the researchers say the chemicals could be developed into a crop spray. Boll weevils destroy more than $300 million worth of cotton a year.