Realizing the Potential of a Warehouse Barcoding System

Guest blog by Andrea Kuenker, Marketing Manager at MHI Member Company, Artemis Vision

So you’ve invested in a barcode inventory system for your warehouse. How do you get the most out of it?

If you’ve already invested in a barcode inventory system, you’ve done the calculations to appreciate that the payoff is well worth the investment. Barcoding is a natural choice when inventory starts to grow for a business because with all-manual processes, order cycle time becomes much too long and it becomes much too easy to pick and ship the wrong product.

A barcoding system reduces the manual labor involved in much of the manual tracking and clerical management of inventory. It also can enable real-time tracking. A parcel or pallet with a barcode on it can be tracked in space and time wherever there is a scanning point. Real-time tracking enables greater inventory control and faster inventory turnover. And a well-ordered inventory system helps create greater customer satisfaction and further business growth. It’s no wonder warehouses have massively adopted barcodes.

Maximizing Barcoding Potential

So you’ve implemented a barcoding system and therefore have an interest in improving speed and accuracy in moving your goods. But why use barcodes and pay people to scan them if you don’t want to maximize their scanning potential? A barcoding system on its own does not ensure accuracy and speed if the scanning process is still all by hand.

Automated scanning systems range in factors such as complexity of the equipment and integration, locations where they can be installed, and requirements of the labels or tags they scan, but all are designed to address this issue. Accuracy and scan rates with automated systems can be as high as 100% if the labels are positioned properly. Even with barcoding systems, pallet mis-shipments are a recurring nightmare for many shippers. Preventing mis-shipment or loss of even a single pallet of high-value goods can sometimes justify the investment in a more accurate automated system.

Eliminating the need to hand-scan also greatly boosts overall speed. Faster scanning in a warehouse can translate to freeing up entire job functions to use valued labor elsewhere. Faster load and unload times for goods means freeing up more docks, shipping more product, and turning inventory at a faster pace.

An image-based scanning system – one in which a camera decodes barcode labels – has the additional benefit of included photographic documentation that assists in compliance and dispute. And because it does not rely on a laser beam, it can read either 1D or 2D code types.

Maximizing Automated Scanning Potential

So you are considering making the investment in an automated scanning system to maximize scanning potential. Now how do you maximize the efficiency and potential of the automated scanning system?

Ideally, an automated barcode scanning system will be hard-wearing for rugged environments as well as relatively simple to install, maintain, and troubleshoot. It should be flexible in reading different types of barcodes at varying distances and integrating with various Warehouse Management Systems. It should offer access to metrics and insights based on the scanned data. Additional benefits such as improved worker safety, in-motion scanning, and automatic image capture should also be considered. If you are considering the route of RFID instead of barcodes, additional associated complexities will come into play beyond initial infrastructure costs, such as potential interference with other radio signals, metals, and fluids, and recurring cost of tags and maintenance. Also consider what you will do with the data. While it may seem to be an added complexity to adopt a process for regular positioning of barcodes for line-of-sight reading, reading tags outside line-of-sight can become a complexity if you don’t know which tag is associated with which error.

Your own processes and operations should ideally not have to be overhauled. But reviewing the efficiency of your existing operations also will help make sure that wherever you are able to make enhancements, when you do make the investment in an automated system, you are making the most of it.

One of the things to consider with scanning goods in a warehouse – no matter how they are scanned – is that in order for a barcode to be decoded it must be visible to a scanning device. Adopting an orderly process of label placement is also an investment in accuracy and speed because time does not have to be wasted hunting around for a label or re-orienting product at a scanning checkpoint.

Another consideration is the format of any barcode labels that you have control over. How much real estate is taken up by a large 1D code (traditional, linear format) compared to a 2D code (e.g. datamatrix or QR code)? In terms of scanning, size of the overall label is less a concern than the overall size of the barcode. Is there white space on the label that can be more efficiently filled with a larger barcode and therefore more effectively scanned? Are you encoding in the barcode only the necessary information that needs to be recorded with each scan? Is the barcode a unique serial number that can aid in tracking?

How many different scan checkpoints do you have in your warehouse? Can any be consolidated? Do you need to add another at a key point where errors occur?

A process review including these questions and those about the function and utility of any existing step will help you get the most out of the technologies and processes of the future warehouse, which will inevitably include more automation.

Investment in barcoding systems has brought warehouses to a level of efficiency that has become crucial for attracting and retaining business. Investment in an automated scanning system is a logical next step for maintaining competitiveness in order fulfilment.