Scan for Success: How to Maximize Warehouse Efficiency Through Barcoding

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More and more businesses understand that barcoding is key to their continued growth. Recently, barcoding has gone from being a luxury only available to truly massive warehouse operations, to something of a novelty. As a result, not all businesses understand why they’re supposed to be using them or how. There is plenty of evidence to support barcode effectiveness in large scale warehouse operations (just look at the barcode label requirements for any major retailer), but it’s important for each unique company to understand how to properly leverage this feature.

The core value proposition of any barcode system should be speed and accuracy. Rather than having your employees continuously punch in the same part numbers and location numbers all day, they can simply scan the product and instantly move on to the next task. Barcoding can be viewed as a stepping stone, allowing smaller warehouse to join the ranks of larger, more efficient warehouses through the proper use and implementation of this feature.

As a result of barcoding’s increased popularity, there has been a flood of applications to market that claim to help businesses barcode their inventory. Some are standalone plugins that require the user to switch applications to scan items, others are built into SaaS products, but come with time-consuming manual print processes. This is how many smaller businesses are being introduced to barcoding, and it can do more harm than good when the app doesn’t provide the tools or training required to create an efficient process.

Barcoding can clearly be a beneficial feature for companies of all sizes, but before smaller warehouses begin to take advantage of these benefits, they must think strategically about the use and implementation of barcodes. Specifically, companies need to answer these questions before they pick up a scanner or print a label:

  1. What to barcode
  2. What barcode format to use
  3. How to read/scan barcodes
  4. When to generate barcode labels
Let’s start with what you should be barcoding.

LOCATE has several approaches, each specially designed to maximize efficiency for different types of businesses. You may need to barcode your locations, your products, or a combination of the two. There are several ways to label your products depending on how you run your warehouse.  You could choose to enforce strict part-to-location storage, where each part is always stored at a designated location, and a barcode is placed for the part at that location. Or, you could barcode the part as it arrives, which gives you flexibility in warehouse layout/organization.

If your business uses any type of inventory tracking (expiration dates, lot numbers, etc), tag-based labeling allows you to print a single label for a box containing identical expiration dates/lot numbers. This one barcode is capable of telling LOCATE all the data you need to know about the part (location, tracking etc.) in a single barcode. Tag-based labeling reduces the number of scans for common operations by 50% or more.

The next questions are what format to use and how to scan it.

These two questions are related, because the barcode format is contingent on the hardware you will use to read it. Luckily, most modern scanners can read multiple barcode formats, but the real separation today is in 1D (Linear) vs 2D barcodes.

1D barcodes hold a limited amount of data, but are usually more than sufficient for most businesses. The great news is that the scanners needed to read them are relatively inexpensive. 2D barcodes can store a significant amount of data, which can be beneficial to certain businesses, but the required hardware can be more expensive.

LOCATE’s mobile application is available for Android and iOS, so any scanner you can pair with your mobile device – or even the device’s built-in camera – will work with LOCATE. Based on our own research and testing, we are partial to a combination of an iPod Touch with an Infinite Peripherals scanning case. This duo provides powerful barcoding capabilities at a lower price point than comparable handheld scanners. In fact, we found this combination to be so successful that we are writing a native integration with Infinite Peripherals cases for our mobile application.

 

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The last and most important decision is how to get the barcode labels generated and printed.

Once again, LOCATE has you covered! LOCATE has several native part and location label reports to generate your labels, and if needed we can customize the reports to suit the label types and sizes you use or have access to.

 Location barcoding is a one-time process. LOCATE can print sheets or rolls of labels for this purpose. We even have a built-in location generator for Aisle/Shelf/Bay/Bin style labeling or sequential numbering of your warehouse locations.

For part-specific barcoding, it is most efficient to label parts during receiving, as it is the doorway for products entering your warehouse. LOCATE has solved the problem of manual printing through the use of cloud-based printing services, such as PrintNode, and automated print events. With just a few clicks, you can set LOCATE up to auto-print labels as your receiving staff completes lines or entire receipts. Within seconds of finishing the desired step, labels will begin appearing from your printers.

 LOCATE’s print event system also supports multi-warehouse setups so you can run different warehouses in different ways (some barcoding by line, others by receipt). We also have support for location specific printing so you can use multiple receiving locations in parallel and LOCATE will make sure the right employees get the right labels every time. No more mis-labeling accidents.

 These automated printing features extend throughout the application covering picking, packing and more, but that’s another story for another post!

 For now, we hope this article has helped you understand the benefit that barcoding can have on your inventory-based business… as long you have the right tools to do it! For more information on LOCATE’s barcoding processes, please contact us.