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Even the smallest of retail companies will need to rely on technology of some kind to streamline their warehouse processes. The larger you grow — and the faster the rate — the more vital your technology stack becomes.
Depending on your individual needs, you’ll likely want to invest in some level of heavy-duty equipment and machinery to better enable your warehouse team to physically move, store, and deliver products.
As your inventory grows — and your warehouse processes grow more complex — you’ll also want to invest in technology that allows you to easily track your products from receipt to delivery.
The most common tools used, in this regard, include:
Let’s take a look at each.
A barcode system is a collection of tools that allow for the electronic transfer of data related to your inventory’s various products. Tools involved in a typical barcode system include:
Hundreds of models exist, each designed with a different set of features to suit various specifications or business needs. Whether you need a system for POS purchases, inventory management, field service operations, or any other purpose, choosing the right barcode scanner is an important decision.
Laser barcode scanners are the most well-known type of barcode scanner by today’s standards. This type relies on red diode to read the black and white markings on a label in either a linear or omnidirectional pattern; those that support omnidirectional scanning have a wider reading area, and are therefore easier to use than their linear counterpart.
Linear imaging barcode scanners only read 1D barcodes. Instead of using a laser, image barcode scanners use image capture technology to scan barcodes and digital image processing functionality to decode them.
2D barcode scanners work like linear imagers except that they can read stacked and 2D barcodes. They also scan barcodes in any direction.
Do you need a scanner for indoor, outdoor, or both?
Companies with outdoor applications should look for barcode scanners with rugged durability. An IP rating (used by the military to define the durability of devices) of IP54 or IP65 indicates that a barcode scanner is capable of withstanding exposure to dust, water spray, and other environmental hazards.
What symbologies do you need to scan?
Asset tags and labels are printed with one of several types of symbologies, from 1D and 2D to PDF417, Postal, OCR, DPM, and others. While some barcode scanners have a wide range of decoding capabilities, others only work with standard 1D and 2D symbologies.
How often will it be put to use (frequency and volume)?
Do you need to scan hundreds of assets at a time in rapid succession, or is your scanning activity more limited? Some barcode scanners are capable of rapid, continuous scanning — up to 60 to 120 images per second — while others require a few seconds to process each scan.
What is your work environment like?
Even indoor applications can expose devices like barcode scanners to potentially damaging materials like heavy dust, debris, chemicals, or moisture. If you have an indoor scanning application with potentially hazardous conditions, opt for a more durable model with an IP rating of IP54 or IP65.
What is your typical scanning distance?
Do you need to scan signs hung from the ceiling in your facility or do you scan assets within a few feet or inches of the user? Some barcode scanners are able to read certain symbologies at a greater distance than others.
For instance, a barcode scanner may be able to decode 1D barcodes from several feet but require a proximity of a few inches to decode 2D barcodes. Some long-range barcode scanners are suitable for warehouse use and similar applications, enabling staff to scan barcodes from floor-to-ceiling distances.
How mobile are your workers and how dispersed are your assets?
If your staff will need to navigate throughout your building or facility and scan assets throughout the workday, a wireless barcode scanner is the better choice. For retail or similar applications on the other hand, a tethered barcode scanner may be sufficient.
Once you’ve defined your business requirements, you can evaluate specific barcode scanners in more detail, considering factors such as:
Using RFID scanning, microchips are placed on or within inventory. These microchips, or tags, include any and all necessary data about the product in question (in a similar fashion to traditional barcodes). That information is then transmitted via radio frequency to an RFID scanning device, allowing your warehouse team to easily keep track of your individual products.
RFID scanners can scan multiple items simultaneously — or, at least, in a relatively short period of time. As long as the device is within the vicinity of tagged items, it will be able to pick up the data. In contrast, barcode-tagged items need to be manually scanned one at a time.
There are, of course, a few downsides to using RFID:
Bluetooth or USB connected barcode scanner scan codes that appear as a string of UTF8 characters on a computer or phone’s notepad.
Because most teams use smartphone or web apps to conduct stock takes as well as manage receiving, picking and packing, and shipping, it’s better to push for bluetooth as they can connect as an “input device” to the phone.