Monday, 30 November 2015

I Just want to Scan Barcodes in the Warehouse - It's simple, isnt it?

"All I want to do is scan barcodes in the warehouse to speed up the operation and make it more accurate"

Its a statement that we hear all the time from companies enquiring about our services. More companies are looking to use barcode scanning in the warehouse to get a more accurate view of inventory and reduce picking and delivery errors.

There is frequently a great enthusiasm for the subject until the analysis and investigation is done and it all becomes "more expensive than we thought".

The use of barcodes to speed up transaction processing has been around for decades, over 40 years would you believe. When did you last buy something at a store that wasn't simply scanned at the checkout? Actually, barcode scanning is now used in pretty much all transactional processes from your football tickets to renting a car or buying your lottery ticket.

It seems so easy, quick and efficient - rather than typing the details into a computer, we just scan the barcode label and the transaction becomes automated, right! So why can't I just buy a simple scanner for the warehouse and away I go? They are only cheap and I just scan the barcodes, collect the data and everything is updated automatically without error. It seems logical doesn't it? Lets take a deeper look at the realities and why its not that simple.


The barcode is simply a means of data input, its a quick alternative  to keying in the data. Simply scanning a barcode achieves nothing without a software system to verify that the barcode you are scanning is correct and represents the item you are supposed to be scanning for the transaction you are performing, be it a product code or location code for example. In the warehouse these transactions are not performed at a PC in an office so you also need a mobile scanning device. You need real time feedback to the operator to confirm or otherwise that the transaction has been accepted and verified, so you need a wireless network to make the system "live".

Traditional ERP systems are designed to operate on large PC screens not smaller handheld devices and generally won't handle inputs from scanners. These ERP applications are written in a way to accept inputs in a way that builds from the previous entry by the operator requiring multiple keyboard actions like TAB, ENTER, etc. Simply scanning a barcode doesn't duplicate the human intervention required to process the transaction. This is why you need specific warehouse management software like Dexterity WMS that works with the scanning technology to interpret and process the transaction in real time.

ERP software is designed for keyed in human input whereas a smart warehouse system like Dexterity WMS is all about the automation of the warehouse processes using smart technology and software to streamline every aspect of warehouse operations from Goods In to Pick, Pack & Ship.

What if the barcode contains more than one item of information?
Not all barcodes are as simple as you may first imagine. You will have multiple suppliers and more than likely they will provide different barcodes on their products. Some may embed more than a single item of data in a single barcode. This can be quite common where lots, batches and serial numbers are involved. Scanning and processing of these "complex" barcodes requires software that can interpret the barcode data and then intelligently verify and update the correct fields in the system. What would happen if you scanned a barcode that contained the product number, the lot number and an expiration date into the Item Number field on an ERP data entry screen - it wouldn't work and in this example, the use of barcode scanning without a proper software solution is counter-productive.

"I can’t see the benefit of spending money on a system for the warehouse" 

Another well worn statement we hear all the time, but there are always different parts of your business competing for the limited budget available for investment. Unfortunately when people think of the warehouse they think of spending money there as a “cost”



Turn that thinking from a “cost” to an “investment” and look at the benefits that are created:
  • Barcode Scanning at the point of receiving increases inventory accuracy by 35%.
  • Barcode Scanning is 10 times faster than manual data entry.
  • Order Picking using bar code scanning and a smart WMS system virtually eliminates picking errors.
  • Introducing barcode scanning and location tracking into your warehouse can increase operational efficiency by up to 25 percent.
These are very real figures and significant returns on an “investment” in a WMS system using wireless barcode scanning in the warehouse. We have a wealth of experience in implementing Warehouse Management Systems to help clients realise the benefits of a smart WMS.

Written by Jim Southern, specialist in warehouse management at Barcode-IT.  To ask questions about this article or find out how barcodes with a Dexterity Smart Warehouse can transform your business, call 01200 441977 or email Jim @ Barcode-IT today.  Or do some research at www.warehouse-it.co.uk

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