If it isn't broken, it doesn't need a fix - especially if it's tech that was designed to make things easier. Sure, there are better ways to do something, but like Occam's razor, the most straightforward answer is often the correct one.
Barcodes trace back to the mid-to-late-20th century. June 26th, 1974 was the first-ever scan if you're looking for specifics. It was supposed to be an elegant solution; it was—and still is. There are always new developments to boost their efficiency, and there's always someone working to make inventory management more effortless. However, there are still times where the juice isn't worth the squeeze.
So, if barcodes are so simple, straightforward, and widely used, why do you even need a strategy for them? When a business thinks about how often they want to scan, how complex the scanning process is, i.e., the physical range of the devices used, and how often the information represented by the barcode will change.
Today's technology has unlocked a bevy of information, forms, and ciphers available to be used that can enhance the information saturation of your barcoded devices. The end goal is one universal "scan" that can handle all types. EFN, EAN, UCC Codes, GS1s, 2-D barcode formats, the list goes on, but the central concept is these are all ways to encode data into the barcode, that are all focused on achieving one thing: a reliable read of information.
How To Optimize Your Barcode Strategy
Much like with anything else in manufacturing, distribution, and field service, you don't want to double or triple-handle anything that doesn't need it. This applies to barcoding as well. If your business is looking to optimize your barcode scanning process, the simplest way is to try to reduce the number of times something needs to be scanned in the first place. The most efficient way to do this is by leveraging License Plates.
License Plates are a collection of materials or items that live in a movable location together. The location can be represented in its entirety in what we call a Set. This eliminates dozens, possibly hundreds of scans throughout the supply chain if used to package a set and treat all the individual items as a whole. As a way for transacting mass inventory throughout the supply chain, it's hard to find something more straightforward to use than License plates. At the same time, they can be a problem as well.
Where License Plates Can Cause A Problem
Let's say you have a license plate that contains two different lot numbers. If you're planning on using the license plate to scan a product, you're going to have a hard time finding which lot number is being used on that license plate unless you force a scan of it as well. It's best practice from a barcode scanning protocol to require a second scan if you are apprehensive about potential confusion regarding the license plate.
Another Potential Hurdle
If your organization is planning to use non-sticky license plates applied to a pallet through shrink-wrap, they are easy to misplace or accidentally throw away after the pallet's tear-down. Imagine your highest-inventory day, with dozens of pallets and pounds of shrink-wrap across the floor—if your License Plates wind up on the floor, you'll be leading your staff on quite the chase to track down each of them and put them where they belong. Data entry is a cost no one appreciates, but sorting the barcodes for that data beforehand certainly is quite the productivity-killer.
Tips + Tricks for License Plates + Pallets
Barcodes: How Large Should They Be?
To most, this is an afterthought. To us, this is a key to improving efficiencies in your warehouse. The larger they are, the further away you can be when you can. If you have products that are stored on the L2 rack of your warehouse, and your crew doesn't want to get a ladder and spend more time, they can usually scan from right below. 8.5" x 11" paper works great for this. Using reflective materials is also a great way to increase the distance you can scan a barcode.
However, the other major factor in this is the technology you use to scan the License Plates. If you're curious about what scanning technology is available on the Inventory Platform, Get in touch with us.
Using license plates is not for everybody. There are many considerations that need to be taken into account. Sometimes, it's simply because your operation might not need them. Suppose you have inbound barcodes that already exist in the product and raw materials coming into your receiving dock. If this is the case, and it is relatively reliable, we recommend that you use the existing technology of your vendors and partners.
When you're dealing with lot, serial, and expiration products, lowering the number of errors is closely tied to reducing the number of scans your team takes. Using the Application Identifiers of the GS1 Barcode Standard lets you segment out pieces of data reliably, auto-feeding it into the data collection process. In pharmaceuticals and food products, the GS1 is very common and can easily be applied across the board in operations. For example, Lot Number is your Segment 10 in this system. With the data present from your vendor's barcodes, you can take that and post it into the lot number segment of your systems.
Barcoding tech can make it easier to have a traceable solution around barcode scanning—without barcode scanning. When dealing with products that don't require lot tracking or serial tracking, and you have an established system where you scan material into a location that's kept as the only item/product in that location for a set amount of time. By doing this and scanning by bins rather than by item, you save your team a lot of time on excessive scanning. As long as your system can check for contents and tracks them over time, you can design a system that works exceptionally well for lower-dollar value items.
Improving the barcode strategy is systematic and happens over time. One of the key things we tell our clients is that a rule-based system governing what can and cannot be mixed at specific locations is a great jumping-off point. This helps remove those additional scans that may not support the system, only slow it down when tracking amounts and locations of lots.
With smaller items and products, 2D barcodes are something your organization may want to consider. These barcodes can be very compact but still allow for enough characters present to identify the item. With a location filled with subdivisions of other locations made of small parts, barcode scanning is inherently more complex. We recommend keeping item barcodes off the racks and scanning bin locations to indicate a given item, given restrictions limiting one item per location.
A better barcoding system involves the usage of Bin Barcoding. If your warehouse includes multiple levels of racks, it can be difficult to scan the bin barcode if it is directly adjacent to the second, third, or fourth tier of your racks. One way around this is to color-code your barcodes or spatially orient them from the top-down at the lowest bin for easy scanning.
For the more permanent locations, like bins, it's never a bad idea to consider 3rd party printing. It's common sense, but masking tape on unlaminated paper is inevitably going to tarnish and fall. At the same time, a more permanent, embossed, and color-coded barcode built to stick to a metal rack in any season stands a considerably better chance at longevity. Even using placards with magnets associated with bins can be helpful if you are experiencing a lot of shifts across your warehouse floor regularly.
As with any physical media, having the ability to create it on the fly is critical. We recommend at least one thermal imaging printer alongside a LaserJet printer on hand that can make a variety of different sizes.
Improving the barcode strategy is based on reducing scans and increasing the accuracy of what you track simultaneously. Although some of the examples we give our clients, like size, material, and placement, all seem pretty common-sense, a lot goes into improving the strategy beyond the surface level. Whether it's with license plates, or simple size and shape strategy, there are various ways to help simplify barcoding. If you're looking to learn more and see what the inventory platform can do for you, get in touch.