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To Scan or Not to Scan

I'm always amazed at how varied distributors opinions are towards utilizing bar code scanning in their warehouse operation. Many distributors swear by it, indicating that it's critical to their business. They cite acts that it allows them to onboard employees faster, improve efficiency in warehouse tasks, and reduce picking errors. All the while, other distributors still use manual processes in their warehouse, performing all warehouse functions using paper. It makes you wonder - should you scan or not scan?

Let's start by looking at the advantages of using barcoding and wireless warehouse technology.

Improved Inventory Accuracy
With wireless warehouse technology you are scanning every item, so it becomes much more difficult to make a mistake. Sure, you may have an item mislabeled from time to time, but since every pick, move, putaway and count requires a verified To Scan or Not to Scan - That is the Question scan, inventory accuracy typically improves immediately. An important factor in this accuracy is a commitment to not move an item without scanning it. While sometimes difficult o enforce, it is incredibly important. A single item taken by a sales rep as a sample can cause multiple mistakes downstream including: (1) promising an item you don't have available to a customer, (2) wasted time having warehouse staff go pick an item that isn't there, (3) inventory adjustment to adjust that item out, and (4) inventory adjustment to add it back when the rep returns it to the shelf.

A wireless warehouse system can help you improve picking, packing, put-away, and receiving processes through directed activities. When your pickers move through the warehouse to prepare orders for shipment o they know exactly where to go to choose products in a logical manner? Or do they move from aisle A to N, and then back to J for the next item on the list? A true wireless warehouse management solution makes our employees incredibly productive by allowing them to pick a single order, multiple orders for different customers, and transfer orders in a single pass through the warehouse.

So clearly there are advantages, but what the obstacles to overcome to implement a wireless warehouse system?

Lack of Bar Coding
Lack of bar coding on items still exists in certain markets but most vendors now print bar codes on their products. They don't just do that to benefit distributors; many vendors have implemented a wireless warehouse on their end and are looking for the same efficiencies. Additionally, for items without bar codes most wireless warehouse system will allow your receiving staff to print bar code labels as they receive the items.

Staff Training
In general, any change can be difficult for an organization. An interesting point here is that many wireless warehouse users find it much easier to train new employees. Warehouse staff can be up to speed in a few hours because they are directed to the right bin and the scanner verifies they have the correct item.

Purchasing and Implementation
We shouldn't overlook the obvious obstacle, the necessary investment to purchase and implement a wireless warehouse system. I purposely used investment instead of expense as there should be improvements and cost savings to offset the initial purchase and ongoing fees with the goal of a positive return on investment (ROI). The ROI will depend on many factors, and will vary from distributor to distributor but if there wasn't an ROI distributors would not be using wireless warehouse systems.

To scan or not to scan … That is the question.

Tony Corley is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Epicor. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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