Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Barcode scanning in a warehouse - best practice and tips for performance.

Scanning barcodes in a warehouse is a lot more challenging than in many other areas of the business and here we look at some of the issues that affect, which barcode scanners to use and how to ensure that barcodes are read perfectly every time.

Barcodes come in a number of types, some are designed mostly for retail use, such as this EAN13 (GS1) barcode

Some are designed for Warehouse, Manufacturing and Logistics use, such as these GS1-128 codes used for pallet labels.
But in the warehouse, workers may have to scan a wide variety of barcodes, on products, on packaging, on racking and on pallets.  This can cause problems, because while most barcode scanners can scan most barcodes (with the exception of some 2D barcodes), the distance that the barcodes are being scanned from will affect the reading.

Barcode scanners are simple devices really and can't tell if its a small barcode close to or a big barcode further way. The way to think about barcode scanners is to pretend they are wearing glasses!
  • Most barcode scanners are wearing reading glasses, meaning they will be good at smallish barcodes, close to the worker, say about 6 inches to 18 inches, but can't read even big barcodes further away.
  • Some are wearing distance glasses, they will read big barcodes, far away, up to 20 feet or more depending on the size of the barcode, but wont read small barcodes close to.
  • Finally there are barcode scanners wearing varifocal glasses, which allow them to read small barcodes close to and still read big barcodes far away.
These last barcodes scanners, really called Near-Far scanners or Variable Distance scanners ( they don't really have glasses!) are often used in warehouses, especially if being used on fork trucks, where the driver can't get close to the rack or pallet, but needs to read small barcodes on paperwork or delivery notes.
Scanning Barcodes in a Freezer Cold Store

Some examples: 
Scanning Barcodes on small items or paperwork
Scanning Barcodes on packages or boxes

Scanning Barcodes on racking that might be 15 feet or more in the air

No matter how good the barcode scanner is, it wont read barcodes that are:
  • poorly printed
  • too small
  • behind shrink wrap
  • too far away
  • part covered up
  • defaced or damaged
 However a little care in the production of the permanent barcodes within the warehouse, for racking labels or floor markers, etc, can make life a lot easier. Remember, BIG is better when it comes to racking, hanging and floor barcodes.  And NO paper please, labels MUST be printed on plastic or similar resistant materials.  Paper labels adsorb water from the air and wrinkle.  Wrinkly barcode will not scan.
Large Plastic Barcode Racking Labels

Floor Location Barcodes

Hanging Barcode Aisle Markers

Barcode Scanners for the Warehouse

Warehouses are tough workplaces and the barcode scanners need to be tough too, most are but you need to be sure that your scanners are wearing the right glasses!!  Just like real glasses, better barcode scanners, particularly the Near/Far ( Varifocal) are always more expensive, so you need to look at the cost and understand that even though the barcode scanners look identical, the more expensive models will have better barcode scanning ability.

Spot the barcode!  Barcode covered by shrink wrap

Paper Label with poor quality barcode.

The barcode scanners may look exactly the same on the outside, but inside it has special optics that read barcode from near and far.  Plus many top end scanners have clever technology inside that tries to "reconstruct" damaged or obscured barcode, such as labels under shrink wrap.  They are not infallible, but your workers will be much happier and much more productive, if the barcodes scan first time every time.

Many a purchasing manager is fooled by identical barcode scanners, from the same manufacturer, having wildly different prices and slightly different part numbers.  Going for the cheapest or even the most expensive, can be disaster!

Warehouses need the right scanner(s) for the environment and the products being worked with.
Rugged Barcode scanners from Zebra - the range includes Standard, Long Range and Near/Far.  But they all look the same!

Best advice?  

  • Get an barcode expert to make sure your barcodes are OK and that the barcode scanners meet the operational needs of the business.
  • Test Test Test!  Check out possible barcode scanners and barcodes INSIDE your warehouse on the real locations to be used.
  • Think about how the worker will use the barcode scanner and what to do with damaged or unreadable barcodes.
  • Get samples of barcodes from suppliers, before accepting products, or you will need to re-label poor or too small barcodes.
For some professional advice, call the team at Barcode-IT.  We advise some of the biggest businesses in the UK on barcodes, scanners and every aspect of the warehouse IT infrastructure.

01200 441977 -