An inventory system is a process for managing, accounting for, and locating objects or materials. Such systems are widely used in all types of industries. Items that can be tracked can include many types of goods, such as food, equipment, beverages, medicine and much more. Sometimes, the accounting of items as a whole is more beneficial when one can also dissect key data points for specific items. That’s where barcode technology in inventory systems can provide a great advantage.
So, what industries are likely to require inventory systems with barcode technology? It’s probably harder to come up with a list of industries that might not require it. It can be used pretty much by anyone who has a mission-critical need to know when, where and how much about any number of items. This includes warehouses, retail stores, logistics providers, hospitals, food and beverage providers, and on, and on.
The Importance of Inventory Systems
The ability for any business to accurately and efficiently keep track of items can be the difference between making it or breaking it. Businesses go under all the time because of overstocks or understocks resulting from improper inventory tracking. Effective inventory systems reduce overhead costs, such as those related to overstocking and understocking, so that you can stay competitive. They help keep store shelves properly stocked so customers keep coming in. They let you know when more of a certain item needs to be ordered so you don’t under or over order. They greatly reduce human errors that can result in significant losses. They let a business know which products are moving better than others. They even help with loss prevention. The benefits of inventory systems and barcode technology are many.
With so much riding on inventory systems, their parts are as mission-critical as their capabilities. The associated hardware and software must be high performance, scalable and durable. Generally, such a system is made up of the inventory software, label printers, and mobile computing devices and their software – such as barcode scanners and the image capture software.
If one part falls short, it’s like a broken link in a chain – the rest doesn’t hold up. In focusing on the software, the barcode reader software is essential. It’s at the heart of data capture for inventory systems. How and what data you capture is very important or you’re bound to get garbage in, garbage out results.
Critical Components of an Inventory System
So, these components are critical for many reasons that we’ve already touched upon. To provide more details on the major components, they include:
- Inventory software: this is the software that gathers, stores and reports on your inventory data
- Computers: this can include tablets, laptops and the scanners themselves. It’s likely your team will need scanners wherever they may be to read barcodes and other computers to access critical data, whether in the middle of a warehouse or on a store floor
- The network: wireless networks are crucial now to capture and gain access to real-time data
- Barcode printer and label: a good barcode printer is obviously necessary to label items so you can scan and track them
- Barcode reader: the convenience of the hardware is important and so is the capabilities of barcode reader software
Intricacies of the Barcode Reader
Focusing on the actual barcode, there’s a lot that goes into this supposedly simple black and white image. It requires the proper selection of the barcode type(s), a high-resolution image to reduce decoding problems, and much more. Once you select an appropriate barcode type, the barcode reader comes next.
The barcode reader also has many characteristics to consider. There’s the hardware scanner itself, from the physical size and weight to any ruggedness requirements. Then the software component that reads and captures data from a barcode is also critical.
The barcode reader software must be thoroughly considered. There are so many capabilities that must be verified to ensure it meets your needs. Does it decode only 1D barcodes or does it also support 2D barcode reading? How many different barcode symbols does it support? How good is it at handling non-conforming barcodes: those that are out of place, damaged, etc.? What about flexibilities such as letting you define how many barcodes will be on a box, for example, so you can speed up performance?
All along the way, you need to work closely with your chosen vendors so they fully understand your inventory needs. It’s not one size fits all – what a hospital may need is not necessarily a fit for a retail store. Also, you need to make sure the vendor can assist you with the full procedure. For example, can they help you choose the right barcode types? Also, will they help test selected barcode labels before integrating it into the whole barcode system? In addition, what are your support options on software, the barcode reader, the barcode printer and labels? Make sure these things can be fully managed by your vendor and also properly supported.
When you set out to implement an inventory system, its barcoding capabilities will likely be critical. You have to identify requirements before you start researching related software and hardware. This includes figuring out what data points you want from the items you will inventory. When it comes to the barcode, spend a good amount of time identifying the most suitable barcode symbol for your application. Does it address the data capture requirements you’ve identified while also ensuring it works where you will locate it on an item? Then, make sure the barcode reader and the software you select can leverage that barcode symbol to its full potential.
There are plenty of resources available to set you on a path but, remember it’s not just about implementing it. In the end, you need to adapt and support the inventory system throughout the lifecycle of its use. Make sure the technologies and vendors you adopt can help you meet all of these requirements.