Posts Tagged ‘bar code’

We’ll end 2017 with the conclusion of our two-part post about improving your warehouse through better data.  As we pointed out in our prior post, having a decent Warehouse Management System within your ERP system is not enough – it needs to run with accurate data.  The answer: barcoding.

In our prior post we reprised comments from Insight Works’ Brian Neufeld regarding how barcode scanning is the best choice for warehouse goods tracking.  As Brian notes:

  • Barcode scanning efficiency results in more frequent inventory and cycle counts, and faster cycle counts can improve data accuracy which also improves productivity and fill rates.
  • Order fulfillment is more accurate, ultimately improving shipping times and customer satisfaction.
  • Warehouse managers see a reduction in necessary labor time, so barcode systems can pay for themselves after the first annual count.

How?  Well, in a manual environment, ONLY with great effort.  Inventory counts performed outside regular hours and requiring overtime are often required to collect, record, check and input the data.  It can take days, as we’ve seen with some companies.  And the counts are still subject to many errors.

With barcoding, employees utilize handheld scanners to scan bin numbers, and 2D labels on products and bins make unit counts quick and easy.  Counts can be entered into the scanners when required, and each employee is a unique (and accountable) scanner/counter.  Scanning can cut inventory count times by up to 90%.

As always, it comes down to cost, but here, the news is mostly good.  Most barcode solutions, once successfully implemented (and yes, there is time and a learning curve and some integration to be considered) can yield a payback with a relatively quick ROI — especially when you’re saving up to 90% of the time-value of those costly and tedious inventory counts.

A consultant can help you determine answers to issues like selecting the right barcode method, the right devices (fixed or mobile), and the right formats, labels and media.  The cost recapture on the savings from reduced data entry errors, reduced picking errors, and especially from reduced inventory, can add up much faster than most people realize.  The combination of savings in a typical warehouse can run into the tens of thousands of dollars in savings in very short order.  We’ve seen it often.

In the end, it’s not a question of “if” you should do barcode, but “when.”  You have to crawl before you walk before you run, as we often like to say.  It’s not usually the first warehouse project we tackle, but when your WMS and ERP and inventory systems are ready, it can be one of the fastest and biggest payouts you’ll find inside your company.

Sounds like a great way to start the New Year, doesn’t it?

And on that note… Our best wishes to you and yours for a very Happy New Year as well!

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For the year’s final two posts we take a look at an issue that’s troubling to many of our clients and would-be clients: effective warehouse management.  Starting a new year seems to be the perfect time to address this nemesis of many a distribution and manufacturing operation.  Many companies use the pre-New Year’s week as a week to wind down and to attend to inventory and warehouse matters… so here goes.

Managing a warehouse accurately can be a multi-faceted and almost overwhelming responsibility, made worse by the fact that most warehouse operations are in a constant state of flux.  That’s true even in smaller warehouse operations.  So in this post and our next one we’ll take a look at some issues and advice on how warehouse managers can ‘get a grip’ on their operations, and how today’s tools can make the job more manageable.

The better ERP systems (though not nearly all) can act as a repository for warehouse data.  But just because you have an integrated ERP system that holds that warehouse data doesn’t mean you have complete control over the operation.  You simply have a tool – one that can highlight existing inefficiencies, inaccuracies, bad counts, inventory overstocks and shortages, and a host of other issues.

Warehouse managers face tough challenges that include having capital tied up in too much excess inventory, bad records that too often lead to costly ‘expedited’ purchases, lower than anticipated margins, late shipments and lower customer satisfaction and/or on-time deliveries.

The common problem in all cases is inaccurate data.  After all, if it weren’t, you’d have the right inventory, and you’d have what you thought you had (or the reports told you that you had) in your bins and shelves.  You’d deliver on-time more often, more accurately.

Often, even with a WMS (Warehouse Management System) in place, warehouses can become beholden to too many slips of paper – handwritten receipt notifications that never quite make it “into the system,” or hand-marked (and re-marked) physical inventory counts, picking tickets and special notes to pickers.

At some point, it all becomes too time-consuming, frustrating and error-prone.  And that all comes at a cost.  WMS is not enough – you also have to have accurate data to work from.

And that’s where barcode scanning comes into play.

As Brian Neufeld of Insight Works points out (in a post on MSDynamicsWorld):

“In terms of cost and universal acceptance, barcode scanning is the best choice for warehouse goods tracking. Put simply, these software systems allow transactions in a warehouse to be processed much faster and with considerably less errors, with such transactions encompassing everything from inventory counts to put-aways, receipts, picks, shipments, and more.”

We agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Neufeld, and so in our next and concluding post, we’ll take a look at how to put a solution into action.  Stay tuned…

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BARCODE_WOODLANDA recent article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek (Dec. 24, 2012) noted the passing of N. Joseph Woodland.  You don’t know him, but you know his invention: the bar code.  Woodland and fellow student Bernard Silver at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia dropped out of school to focus on their invention.  The idea came to Woodland in 1948 when he was sitting on a beach, drawing in the sand and he thought up the idea for a series of lines of different widths that functioned sort of like a Morse Code, in other words, a bar code.

Today, Woodland’s invention is found on nearly everything you buy.  But in fact, the bar code started as one technology among many, and the article goes on to point out that it takes three characteristics to turn a budding technology into a standard of worldwide dominance.  Even today, new tech ideas still seem to require the same three fundamental criteria in order to achieve global success, or dominance.  And these would be…

  1. “Simplicity and reliability that overcomes habit.”  Basically, it has to work.  Bar codes are very reliable and over time, a lot of work went into that.  It wasn’t until roughly the early 80s that bar codes caught on to the point where they became today’s ubiquitous identifier.
  2. “A governing body has to establish standards.”  A consortium of retailers and manufacturers came together to chose the UPC (Universal Product Code), developed by IBM, as the standard.  It helped that Woodland worked there and helped develop that standard.
  3. “An extravagant, surprising, and often expensive effort to seed the market.”  For UPCs, the seeding of the market was provided by the rise of Wal-Mart Stores, which used the codes in its now famous distribution system.  Credit cards have a similar history, owing to something called the Fresno Drop of 1958.  At that time, Bank of America realized the only way people would start to use cards more and cash less was if everybody they knew did it as well.  So, they sent 60,000 credit cards to every home in Fresno, CA.  It worked, and today, credit cards are as ubiquitous as, well… bar codes.

The BusinessWeek article closes by pointing out how the new technology called “Square” has thus far managed two criteria.  Its little square credit card device plugs into an iPhone or iPad to allow customers to swipe credit cards.  It’s simple and it works (point 1).  It made a big splash in the market when Starbucks began using it in 7,000 stores (point 3).  But it lacks a governing body or strong consortium – so far.  There are a variety of competing alliances, preventing Square from duplicating Woodland’s success.   For Square, it would appear world domination is just one giant step away.


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