How can effective barcode labels improve supply chain efficiency?
The reality is that as supply chains have gotten more sophisticated and Ecommerce continues on its decades-long growth trend, “labels” have not only NOT gone away, they are more prolific and ubiquitous than ever – and more important than ever.
The pandemic of 2020 strained and sometimes broke supply chains in some industries that are still trying to recover today. One thing (among many) that saw a lot of renewed – and first time – interest was in labelling, including RFID tags. With the chaos that defined so many businesses’ distribution processes in 2020, and the need to make EVERY unit and part count under high demand, accuracy issues, clarity, speed and more all called for improved labelling practices. According to a recent survey conducted by Loftware, 40% of the respondents in their annual “Top 5 Trends” survey said their appreciation for labelling increased during the pandemic, with a whopping 70% indicating it was important to provide access to labelling to suppliers – a key transition where mistakes can disconnect lead to bigger issues downstream.
Barcode labels are the fastest, most efficient and accurate way to store and log data within warehouses. Whether it is recording and monitoring stock quantities or updating the warehouse management system (WMS) with stock movements, it is essential that the data is up to date and correct.
Being able to record data by scanning barcode labels means updates can be instantly sent to the WMS without personnel leaving the current area. Furthermore, there is no need to manually record or write down data which means there is no room for errors. This ensures that stock is recorded both quickly and accurately.
The backbone of any barcode inventory system is the barcode label and barcode labeling inside the warehouse. In a warehouse, labels are used to identify Locations, Pallets, Individual Items, and Shipments.
Successful labeling of the warehouse or distribution center is key for an effective Warehouse Management System (WMS) implementation. An understanding of labels, automatic data collection devices, facility layout, and operations before taking on the task of labeling will ease the pain of setting up the warehouse with barcodes.
Growth in retail e-commerce sales has led to a boom in new warehouse construction, with demand for space at an all-time high. These projects are enormously large in scope, to say the least, and represent multimillion of pounds’ investments.
Planning for barcode labeling and facility signage isn’t always high on the priority list, but making it part of your upfront project scope will save time and money and help make your project a success.
Whether you’re planning a new warehouse/DC or simply expanding your current facility, it’s important to consider the entire scope of your requirements – especially since most warehouse professionals are not regularly involved in large labeling installation projects.
Assign a cross-functional installation planning team of management, operations, IT, engineering and WMS vendor representation, with clearly defined project milestones and assigned areas of responsibility. If outsourcing label production and installation, be sure to include that vendor on your planning team.
Key steps to consider to ensure a successful installation project:
Not all barcode labels are created equal. There is a wide range of variances in the type of barcode used, label adhesive, label durability and scan distance of the label or sign. Knowing the type of barcode that will be used is important. Barcodes have differing alphanumeric requirements, elements, and character and space lengths. Make sure the label selected will accommodate these requirements.
The environment in which the barcode labels will be used is a key factor when selecting the correct labels. Freezer and cold temperature environments require specialised labels with adhesive formulated to tolerate sub-zero temperature. Another solution may be magnetic labels in challenging environments.
Label durability deserves some thought. Do you need plastic labels, non-tear labels, or labels that are cost efficient and easily replaced? Is the label going to be on the floor where forklifts drive over it? If so, the label may need to be secured with a frame to the floor – and require drilling to attach the hardware to the floor.
Barcode labels scanning needs to take into consideration the depth of field, capabilities of the mobile device, label size and warehouse lighting. Warehouses with low lighting or hanging signs that require long distance scans may need retro-reflective labels. An alternative to hanging signs that require longer scanning distance is stacking labels at a lower level.
Checking with an experienced label provider will ensure that these requirements are satisfied.
Automatic Data Collection
The warehouse management system relies on the mobile computing device and the barcode label performing first-time scans. First-time scan performance eliminates frustrations and creates smooth operations.
Selecting mobile scanning and mobile computing devices can be a daunting job. There are hundreds of vendors and thousands of product choices. Our recent article on ‘Which Barcode Reader Is Best For Your Warehouse Inventory Management’ might be of interest to you.
Questions to consider when evaluating mobile computing devices: How durable does the device need to be? What is the scanning process? Does the device need to be mounted to material handling equipment like a forklift? Which is better for the job – a handheld device or a wearable device? What type of scanning will be done – long range scanning or short range scanning? What type or temperature is the environment where the device be used? Dusty environments and cold environments require special equipment and labels. Dusty environments required rugged, sealed mobile computing devices and cold temperature environments require devices with heaters and condensation protection.
Working with a WMS specialist and a reliable vendor will help narrow the daunting process.
In addition to considering the impact of material handling equipment on the labeling solutions, the physical design of the existing warehouse is critical to developing a successful barcode labeling solution. The physical design of the rack load bearing beams, facility lighting, floor space, type of equipment used and aisle widths are all critical elements to consider when designing a solution.
Thinking through location logic with the WMS logic and rules produces aisle and zone names that work successfully. The more details and thought given before the actual labeling, the less likely plans will need to be changed and the more likely a successful project will result.
Labeling the warehouse with barcode labels requires an understanding of every warehouse operation from receiving to putaway to picking to shipping and everything in between. Talk to the people who are going to be using the WMS and having to scan the labels. Workers need to understand the scanning distance and when to scan the barcode for the WMS.
In addition to physically labeling the warehouse locations, inventory needs to be labeled. Inventory labels are pre-printed labels or labels printed in-house. Scanning the inventory label receives the inventory into the warehouse management system, and tracking begins.
Warehouse Management System implementations require a team effort. Labeling the warehouse is one of the most critical components to the team effort, but with forethought and planning, it can be a smooth process.
Installation – Plan your labour and equipment
Finally, for the installation itself, there are several key factors to consider.
- What type and size of equipment can the floor layout accommodate? Scissor lifts? Booms? Single- or double-wide?
- How many supervisors and workers will be required for the installation?
- Is there available access to active electrical receptacles or will you have to rent generators?
Also, make sure you have the proper materials to accommodate installation of your hanging signs. This can include conduit pipe, couplers, chains, cables, clamps, S hooks and the proper tools to work with each.
You might presume that it’s cheaper to complete the warehouse label and sign installation with your in-house crew. The opposite is typically true. When labour, production, lack of experience, the likelihood of errors and the other complexities associated with completing new warehouse construction are factored in, organisations often end up spending 35-50% more on label and sign installations done in-house – and risk missing their facility’s go-live date.
Take time to train your staff. A 10- to 15-minute presentation on highlighting the depth of field that each bar code can be expected to read from will prevent frustration in the start-up phase.
Many facilities have also opted to implement mobile printers to reduce travel time and distance throughout the facility, saving time and money. Making this operation more efficient frees up valuable time that can be used for other business critical functions.
Regardless of whether you outsource label installation or not, there’s no overstating how critical advance planning with your WMS provider, staff and preparation are to assuring successful project completion. Do not treat warehouse and inventory barcode labels as an afterthought as it often has more impact on your business than you may realise.
Speak to one of our team to understand how Clarus’ WMS system can cost effectively support best practice warehouse management processes, better customer service and highly efficient working for a range of warehouse operations with pay per month options and no IT infrastructure needed.
Our platform can scale from a one user, small depot system to a 100’s of user distribution centre operation. The ClarusWMS platform will cost effectively scale with your business based on demand.
ClarusWMS is a UK based supplier of warehouse management solutions with a wealth of industry experience in third party logistics, wholesale / retail distribution, online fulfillment and manufacturing warehousing.