Any modern supply chain business knows that traceability is essential — for ensuring visibility, meeting compliance, and, if necessary, performing an effective recall. While some companies still insist on using inefficient and inaccurate manual methods of collecting information, automatic data capture systems collect information quickly and accurately and store it automatically in a digital database for easy access.
The most common and affordable method of traceability is barcoding. And while a barcoding system makes inventory tracking and asset visibility much easier, implementing the system can be a tall task. Transitioning from manual methods to barcodes forces a business to overhaul its entire data collection process and requires experts to perform new technology integration. However, the benefits of a barcoding system far outweigh any headaches that may occur during research and installation.
Here are six guidelines to keep in mind if your business is new to barcoding:
Know your industry’s barcode standards.
Before you determine the size of your barcodes, or where you’ll put them on your products, make sure to familiarize yourself with the standards of your industry. There are often regulations in place that businesses must follow, and you need to make sure you’re in compliance with these regulations before you begin designing a label. GS1 is a good place to start. Your industry may also determine if 1D or 2D barcodes are best for your application.
Know the environment in which your barcodes will be scanned.
Depending on the application or industry, barcodes can be scanned in a variety of environments — from warehouses and distribution centers to retail stores and point-of-sale applications. Some sizes, types, and colors work better in certain environments. Knowing where your barcodes will be scanned allows you to design the best possible barcode.
Barcode placement really does matter.
A barcode should never be obscured or damaged — this defeats the entire purpose of the barcode system. Folds, flaps, and edges are natural enemies to the barcode. Speed is one of the main advantages of a barcode system, so you want to put the barcode labels in an obvious and unobstructed location. If employees need to search for a barcode or smooth a crease to get an accurate scan, the entire traceability system slows down, reducing efficiency.
Size and color affect readability.
The size and color of your barcodes is dictated by your industry’s regulations, but sometimes there is wiggle room for customization. Size is extremely important because barcodes need to be scanned easily. A barcode that is so small that it becomes hard to scan is going to be a be a massive time-waster. On the other hand, an unnecessarily large barcode is a waste of valuable space. It all depends on your industry, and where and how your barcodes will be scanned.
A black barcode printed on a white label is the default color combination for barcoding, mainly because it is easy for scanners to read. If your industry’s regulations allow it, there are some other potential color combinations that you can take advantage of. However, readability is the most important factor, so don’t compromise on readability just to have more unique or colorful labels.
Integrate the barcode system with any other technologies.
Most businesses use multiple types of software and technologies. When you’re implementing a barcoding system, you need to make sure it’s compatible with the business’s current structure and systems. Installing a barcode system will probably require you to tinker with existing software, so during implementation you need to anticipate and prevent any possible issues that may arise. An experienced barcode solution provider can integrate an automatic data capture system with minimal hitches to ensure a seamless installation.
Know which kind of barcode printer will provide the best ROI for your business application.
Thermal: There are two kinds of thermal printers — direct thermal and thermal transfer. Both use heat to transfer ink to paper. They’re known for producing high-quality images and being extremely durable. Direct thermal labels have a shorter shelf life than thermal transfer labels; this may influence which kind of thermal printer you choose.
Inkjet: These printers can produce readable barcodes at a very fast pace, and are perfect for high-speed production lines. Installation prices are generally quite high though, and inkjet printers need more upkeep than thermal printers.
Dot matrix: Dot matrix printers produce barcodes by printing hundreds and hundreds of tiny arranged dots. They’re usually inexpensive and can print barcodes on a variety of surfaces. However, dot matrix printers only print low- to medium-quality labels.
Make sure you research the total cost of ownership for each type of printer. Based on your industry standards, environment, and output, you may find that the printer you originally thought was a good fit for your needs will actually increase costs and/or downtime.
Even though every business is unique, it’s important to keep these six guidelines in mind when considering a barcoding system for your operations. The initial installation will require research, coordination, and work — but if you put time and energy into the initial planning, the transition from manual to automatic data collection will go much more smoothly and produce visible ROI.