How to Implement an Efficient Barcoding System on the First Try
How do you implement barcoding the right way? In more than 15 years doing manufacturing consulting, this is one of the most frequent questions I’ve heard.
That manufacturers are interested in—and concerned about—barcoding makes a lot of sense. They certainly understand the advantages, which include increasing efficiency and reducing data entry error.
Based on long experience, however, manufacturers typically expect new technologies to come with trade-offs. For instance, labor tracking is great for driving data-based decisions, but it increases overhead to ask employees to perform the additional actions. (I’ll share ways to reduce that overhead in a future post.)
Fortunately, barcoding generally proves the exception to the rule. The costs of implementation are extremely low and are greatly outweighed by the benefits—assuming you build an efficient system. The good news, that isn’t hard to do. Here’s how to get started.
To have a barcoding system, you’ll need barcode labels to attach to materials and finished goods throughout the manufacturing process. So first, you’ll need to determine what information to include in the barcode and select a symbology to meet your needs.
Barcode design isn’t complicated, but there are two common pitfalls to avoid. One frequent mistake among first-timers is barcoding location on inventory labels. The downsides to this will quickly become apparent, as you have to replace the label every time you perform a location transfer, adding an unnecessary labeling step. The better way is to track inventory location digitally in an ERP application like Epicor and affix location barcodes to the racking itself. Problem solved.
The second issue involves quantity. It can be helpful to list on a barcode the quantity of raw materials or finished goods in a group, but what if you have to split the set? If this is likely to happen, design your barcode label with space to write in an updated quantity. It’s a manual step but it avoids the cumbersome workaround of issuing the full quantity in a mobile ERP app or other system, doing a return, and then generating a new label with the remaining quantity. (Ask me how I know!)
Set an Intermediate Goal
With label formats in hand, you’re ready to roll out barcoding. But how?
Most manufacturers will eventually want to barcode their entire production process, from materials inputs through the picking and packing of finished goods. Tackling it all at once, however, can be difficult, so it’s often best to start small. Here are some options for implementing in stages.
One way to proceed is to barcode materials first. To do it, you’ll need to design a raw material inventory label and add label printers in the receiving dock. It is also essential to establish a process for printing labels automatically whenever raw materials are received and enter the warehouse.
The goal should be to have suppliers also use a barcode you can scan when receiving. Once you have an approved label design, get it to your suppliers right away and insist that they use your format. This is standard operating procedure for most suppliers these days, and even smaller outfits that initially put up resistance can usually be brought around. After all, the customer is always right!
But know up front that getting suppliers on board does involve some back and forth, obtaining barcode samples from them and testing them on your scanners to verify that they read cleanly. Plan for this, and begin the process early.
Even when suppliers are using your approved barcode format, it’s nonetheless a best practice to replace those labels when the material is received. Establishing this process facilitates barcoding of any materials that don’t come pre-labeled (it happens) and enables you to add other data specific to your operations.
FINISHED GOODS FIRST
If you don’t want to start with materials, consider launching barcodes on finished goods. Perhaps the best part of beginning here is that you won’t have to reach out to all of your suppliers to implement the approved barcoding format, although depending on your product’s destination, your customers may ask for this courtesy.
Barcoding finished goods isn’t much different than barcoding materials. Start with label design and printer installation, this time at all final production stations. Once again, a process must be in place to automatically print and affix labels prior to storing products in the warehouse.
To close the circle, then add barcode scanning to your shipping processes to verify the goods being shipped and enable automation.
A hybrid approach would be to work from either “end” of production and proceed inwards, as follows:
Label incoming material, confirming data from purchase order receipts
Then shift to finished goods, barcoding for the shipping process.
Finally, address material movements inside your own four walls.
The advantage to this approach is enjoying many of the benefits barcoding while you deal with material movements. Architecting this part of operations can be a bigger lift, as at some points new barcodes for existing inventory must be generated, but you want to ensure efficiency.
The best approach is usually cycle-counting, which kills two birds with one stone: ensuring inventory accuracy and generating labels for materials.
If you use this method, be sure to pick a manufacturing-friendly application with barcode-optimized input, as well as text input and search features to support inventory for which barcodes have not yet been generated. (And yep, Bezlio has it all and works seamlessly with most manufacturing ERPs!)
Automatically Print Labels
Although I mentioned this point earlier, it is worth underscoring. Labels used for materials and final goods should print automatically. Having employees go to a terminal and use label-printing software is a huge time waste and will kill your efficiency.
The better alternative is to tap the data already entered to generate the required labels in the correct formats, and there are plenty of software packages capable of performing this function. We designed our Bezlio app with manufacturing in mind, and it incorporates several options to suit different needs.
Hopefully, this information, based on dozens of successful barcoding implementations, has been useful in getting you started. Still, setting up an efficient barcoding system does require forethought and attention to small details. If you need help from someone who’s “been there, done that,” please reach out!