Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Barcode scanning in a warehouse - best practice and tips for performance.

Scanning barcodes in a warehouse is a lot more challenging than in many other areas of the business and here we look at some of the issues that affect, which barcode scanners to use and how to ensure that barcodes are read perfectly every time.

Barcodes come in a number of types, some are designed mostly for retail use, such as this EAN13 (GS1) barcode





Some are designed for Warehouse, Manufacturing and Logistics use, such as these GS1-128 codes used for pallet labels.
But in the warehouse, workers may have to scan a wide variety of barcodes, on products, on packaging, on racking and on pallets.  This can cause problems, because while most barcode scanners can scan most barcodes (with the exception of some 2D barcodes), the distance that the barcodes are being scanned from will affect the reading.

Barcode scanners are simple devices really and can't tell if its a small barcode close to or a big barcode further way. The way to think about barcode scanners is to pretend they are wearing glasses!
  • Most barcode scanners are wearing reading glasses, meaning they will be good at smallish barcodes, close to the worker, say about 6 inches to 18 inches, but can't read even big barcodes further away.
  • Some are wearing distance glasses, they will read big barcodes, far away, up to 20 feet or more depending on the size of the barcode, but wont read small barcodes close to.
  • Finally there are barcode scanners wearing varifocal glasses, which allow them to read small barcodes close to and still read big barcodes far away.
These last barcodes scanners, really called Near-Far scanners or Variable Distance scanners ( they don't really have glasses!) are often used in warehouses, especially if being used on fork trucks, where the driver can't get close to the rack or pallet, but needs to read small barcodes on paperwork or delivery notes.
Scanning Barcodes in a Freezer Cold Store


Some examples: 
Scanning Barcodes on small items or paperwork
Scanning Barcodes on packages or boxes

Scanning Barcodes on racking that might be 15 feet or more in the air

No matter how good the barcode scanner is, it wont read barcodes that are:
  • poorly printed
  • too small
  • behind shrink wrap
  • too far away
  • part covered up
  • defaced or damaged
 However a little care in the production of the permanent barcodes within the warehouse, for racking labels or floor markers, etc, can make life a lot easier. Remember, BIG is better when it comes to racking, hanging and floor barcodes.  And NO paper please, labels MUST be printed on plastic or similar resistant materials.  Paper labels adsorb water from the air and wrinkle.  Wrinkly barcode will not scan.
Large Plastic Barcode Racking Labels

Floor Location Barcodes

Hanging Barcode Aisle Markers

Barcode Scanners for the Warehouse


Warehouses are tough workplaces and the barcode scanners need to be tough too, most are but you need to be sure that your scanners are wearing the right glasses!!  Just like real glasses, better barcode scanners, particularly the Near/Far ( Varifocal) are always more expensive, so you need to look at the cost and understand that even though the barcode scanners look identical, the more expensive models will have better barcode scanning ability.

Spot the barcode!  Barcode covered by shrink wrap

Paper Label with poor quality barcode.

The barcode scanners may look exactly the same on the outside, but inside it has special optics that read barcode from near and far.  Plus many top end scanners have clever technology inside that tries to "reconstruct" damaged or obscured barcode, such as labels under shrink wrap.  They are not infallible, but your workers will be much happier and much more productive, if the barcodes scan first time every time.

Many a purchasing manager is fooled by identical barcode scanners, from the same manufacturer, having wildly different prices and slightly different part numbers.  Going for the cheapest or even the most expensive, can be disaster!

Warehouses need the right scanner(s) for the environment and the products being worked with.
Rugged Barcode scanners from Zebra - the range includes Standard, Long Range and Near/Far.  But they all look the same!


Best advice?  

  • Get an barcode expert to make sure your barcodes are OK and that the barcode scanners meet the operational needs of the business.
  • Test Test Test!  Check out possible barcode scanners and barcodes INSIDE your warehouse on the real locations to be used.
  • Think about how the worker will use the barcode scanner and what to do with damaged or unreadable barcodes.
  • Get samples of barcodes from suppliers, before accepting products, or you will need to re-label poor or too small barcodes.
For some professional advice, call the team at Barcode-IT.  We advise some of the biggest businesses in the UK on barcodes, scanners and every aspect of the warehouse IT infrastructure.

01200 441977 - www.barcode-it.co.uk


Monday, 7 August 2017

Web Label Printing Portal - Now Open!

We have now opened a Web Printing Portal that allows NiceLabel customers to experience the power of Web Label Printing.  Here you will see a real "live" web form, that acts as the the entry point to a number of live label printing applications, hosted on our NiceLabel LMS server.



This portal is exactly what your remote users or remote suppliers would see and use to print labels. Everything is held on your own secure server with label designs, templates and the databases all stored on your secure central server.  A full range of administration tools allows the manager to create remote users, allocate Forms and labels to the user and control every aspect of the label printing.  All makes or models of label printer are supported, so suppliers with totally different makes, such as Zebra, Sato,Honeywell, Intermec, Citizen, TEC, etc, will all produce the exact same label.

But!  All label printing is local to the user, using his or her local label printer to produce labels. While the printed data is tightly controlled and stored on the central server, with a full audit trail is created

Do you want to try it?  Log in below:

User = dash
Password = barcode

Follow the on screen instructions and once connected, you will see a variety of label printing links each leading through to a different label printing application.  Everything you see is included and was created with PowerForms and Designer Pro.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

SAP Mobile Apps - a better way to get mobile with SAP

SAP has had a number of methods to allow workers to connect and use the ERP while working in a mobile environment.

SAP provide mobile tools such as ITS Mobile (Internet Transaction Server), SMP (SAP Mobile Platform) and FIORI.  But many workers find the SAP interfaces cluttered or too dificult to interact with.

Mobile users and workers often have very limited exposure to the normal SAP interface and want simplified access to the transactions they they need every day. Often only a few transactions are used and the fast pace of work-flow means that workers have only seconds between tasks.

Now a suite of SAP applications have been developed with Apps for SAP WM, EWM, PP, SD, QM, MM/IM and ENG. STORES, that focus on the user and the task.  These Apps have been designed to minimise what the user sees and where possible scan barcodes or use drop downs for fast accurate data entry.


SAP Mobile Applications
here we show the standard SAP form and the compact Mobile screen that the mobile worker sees. To SAP the input is the same, so there is no lack of function, just very fast efficient Mobile work-flow.
Mobile workers report that the simplified interface is less prone to mistakes, as the data required is minimised.  Worker frustration levels are also solved as they can concentrate on the task rather than on meeting the input requirements of a complex ERP data system.

A huge range of mobile devices are supported, so the right mobile computer or terminal can be chosen to suit the business need.  From ultra rugged for the warehouse or manufacturing area, to sales and distribution workers, there is a mobile device for all areas of the business. All with a direct connection to your SAP system.  Zebra/Motorola - Datalogic - Honeywell are all supported with a choice of Windows Android or Apple IOS.

These Apps will work within the four walls using Wifi or anywhere that your mobile workers need to go, all with fast and efficient access to the SAP application they need.

Your workers are used to Smart Phones in everyday life and these new SAP Apps allows them to work with SAP in a very familiar way, using barcodes or 2D barcodes to increase performance and accuracy. This enhances their User eXperience (UX) with SAP and speeds work flow.

For more details on how you can revolutionise your SAP driven business, talk to an expert in mobile computer solutions at Barcode-IT.  Contact the team on 01200 441977 - sales@barcode-it.co.uk


Thursday, 2 June 2016

Barcode Label Printing from SAP with NiceLabel Enterprise

Printing barcode labels from within SAP is not new, its been going on since I started in this business, which is a very long time ago.

But what has changed is the programming effort that is needed on the SAP side to generate quality barcode labels automatically fro SAP.

I the good (or bad) old days, some poor devil read the coding manual for the label printer of choice, Zebra, Printronix, Intermec, etc and wrote a custom SAP ABAP application to pull the data from the SAP database and then merge it with the hand crafted label design, hard coded from the printer language manual.  It took weeks!  In fact just getting the label design to work perfectly made many a good programmer a little greyer.

But finally SAP pumped out a finely made label and all was well, printers could be installed and labels easily produced.  Until...   Some idiot user or customer or marketing person wanted a change to the label design.  It could have been very minor or it could be a total label rewrite.  Whatever, its a very BIG deal, more or less a full rewrite as it was often easier to start again than try and alter (someone else's) code.

Today life is much easier and SAP Certified Business Connectors are available to allow printers like Zebra and Printronix to accept label information directly from SAP.

But, and its a big but, how easy is it to adapt a pre-defined SAP label ( one designed to support a standard SAP transaction, like a picking label or a warehouse put away label ), to meet the needs of a customer product label or a particular type of EAN 128 pallet label.

Enter NiceLabel and their SAP certified label print process.

Using the NiceLabel enterprise labelling platform, labels are designed using a easy to use Windows application ( NiceLabel Designer Pro ). This is made easy because text, barcode and other label elements can be simply placed on the label, moved around and connected to SAP standard variables, imported by NiceLabel into the designer.  So for example, a part number from SAP can be created as any type of barcode and placed on the label at any location, in any orientation.  Plus for complex barcodes, like those found in EAN 128 pallet labels, where the barcode is made up of an number of data items concatenated together.
NiceLabel does all the hard work of building the complex barcode using the standard data from within SAP.  And for a future proof operation, NiceLabel will build and print 2D barcodes like QR or DataMatrix, soon to be widely used by the Pharma industry ( see this Article )

If you would like to know more about SAP barcode labelling using NiceLabel we are happy to offer demonstrations.

Call 01200 441977 and ask for Jonathan Pressley who will discuss your requirement and offer you a demonstration.  Sales @ Barcode-it.co.uk


Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Error! - Print Head too cold

If you have ever see this error message on your barcode label printer "Error! - Print Head too cold", I'm guessing that your business involves working in a cool environment.  I say cool because you can see this label printer error even in a heated warehouse, if your printer is close to the receiving or loading dock main door or gate and the printer is in a cold draft.

Frankly it should not happen to a modern label printer but many of our customer report the error, especially on Zebra printers and of course they thinks its a fault that we can fix!  Well we cant fix it, its just down to poor printer head and electronics design or old fashioned thinking.  The printer detects that it cant heat the head to a high enough temperature to print the labels and so simply refuses to work, no option, no adjustment, tough luck.

So because Zebra printers have been around forever and are normally seen as industrial work horse printers, customers are amazed that merely having the printer in a cool spot close to an door that opens and closes all the time, the printer does not work!

 Flowers begin packed at JZ Flowers at 3 degrees C
I had this in mind recently when a new customer, JZ Flowers, who source and pack bouquet of flowers for all the major supermarkets, needed to print labels at 0-3 degrees C, as the flowers are stored and packed at this temperature to preserve freshness.

Thank goodness that some printer manufacturers are a little more forward thinking and design their printers to work in more challenging environments and my current favourite printer mid range label printer the Sato 4-NX has a working range of 0 degrees c to +40 C.

Still concerned I called the technical guys ( you can never truly trust the sales blurb ) and was assured that yes the Sato NX will indeed operate at 0 degree C.  But the tech guy was really surprised that other manufacturers could have a "Cold Head" error, saying that you just need the electronics to "zap" the head with power any time the head is below optimum temperature, using exactly the normal method used to heat the head for printing labels.

Needless to say JZ Flowers are having the Sato 4NX for their cold environment and we'll definitely be recommending the NX Range for customers who have or might encounter the dreaded "Print Head too cold" error.
sato-nx-series

Do your printers fail when the frost is on the ground?  Maybe its time for an upgrade to the Sato NX, available in 4 and 6 inch widths, 200, 300 and 600 dpi.

Call 01200 441977 and ask for Nigel Holloway who will discuss your requirement and offer you a demonstration.  Sales @ Barcode-it.co.uk

Barcode Label Printing - Guide to Best Practises

Barcode label printing
It needs doing but its not that important, is it?


Well yes, its actually very important and can halt your production, shipping or customer acceptance if it fails.  Just as importantly managing how barcode labels are produced can dramatically affect your business efficiency and/or your relationship with your customers.

Traditionally barcode labelling was something that had to be produced for the end product or carton and so was left to the warehouse or production staff. They would use a bit of software and a thermal label printer to knock out the labels and if some were wrong, had incorrect information, bad barcodes or rude messages, well it was a nuisance but not a big deal.

Today it is very different!  Barcodes are a key part of most production systems and warehouses, with the barcode used to identify product for picking and despatch and for customer goods receipt.  So any issue with the barcode, from poor quality to wrong product information can and will result in serious damage to the business.  Read the eBook below to get some perspective about how to bring your label printing in line with current industry best practise and make sure you avoid future problems.

Barcode Labelling - Best Practise Guide
Download your Best Practise Guide here
Our friends at NiceLabel have provided this free Best Practise Guide for Label Printing, that helps you choose the right Label Printing & Management Solution that will modernise and streamline barcode label printing throughout the business.

Oh and By the Way - the Sato NX range is still by far the best performing mid range industrial printer on the market for the money - Look Here

Call 01200 441977 and ask for Jonathan Pressley who will discuss your requirement and offer you a demonstration.  Sales @ Barcode-it.co.uk

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Sato NX - The future of barcode label printers.

Sato NX The future of Barcode Label PrintersBarcode label printers have been around for years now and we all pretty much take them for granted. To be fair within any price band, there is not much to choose between them, whichever manufacturer has their name on it.

Enter the Sato NX range.

But occasionally a new model will stand out from the crowd and offer a performance or specification leap that make it head and shoulders above the rest.

For less than the price of a midrange Zebra ZT or similar printer, the NX offers an amazing mix of advanced features and clever thinking that sets the standard. Its fast, but so are all printers today, it has excellent print quality, and it takes standard labels and ribbons from any of the current makes and models of label printer. That means you can swap this printer in without any change in media.

But it's the attention to detail in the operation of the NX that makes the difference. As well as its own excellent Sato printer language, the NX offers label printer language emulation for all of the major manufacturers. Running costs are reduced by having truly operator replaceable print head and platten and everything is designed to make working with this printer easy. The wide and deep label loading mechanism, the easy change waste ribbon spool, the multiple interfaces, LAN, USB, Blue-tooth and if you have legacy systems, serial and parallel (just in case).

Sato NX Range  showing colour screen
All this packaged in a really intelligent well made industrial package that unlike some major manufacturers, is over-engineered using that latest ​​cast metal chassis and metal outer case to provide real world ruggedness.


And if you are worried that your workers might have trouble using this cutting edge printer, panic not. The Sato NX range features a full colour display that is easy to follow and navigate. Plus it can display a number of on board self help videos that show the operator how to do most tasks, from loading the ribbon to changing the print head (easy by the way).

The whole printer is designed to make life easier.  
  • Easy for the Purchasing Manager, its the right price
  • Easy for the Operations Manager - its Plug and Perform
  • Easy for the Factory Manager - Its really tough!
  • Easy for the User - its super friendly and simple to use
  • Easy for IT - same interface and same software.

All this make the the Sato NX 4 or 6 inch printers a much better replacement for the now obsolete Zebra Z4M and ZM 400, than the ZT range with is much less rugged than its predecessors. It will plug in with the same interface and use the same software and even use the same ribbons.

See the Video Here - Sato NX range

Call 01200 441977 and ask for Nigel Holloway who will discuss your requirement and offer you a demonstration.  Sales @ Barcode-it.co.uk

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Pharma Businesses - 2018 EU Falsified Medicines Directive - Are you ready?

Is your warehouse prepared for the
2018 EU Falsified Medicines Directive?


To combat the global threat of counterfeit medicines, authorities around the world are tightening the supply chain to stamp out illicit goods, by using 2D barcodes and clever software to keep track of what is manufactured, shipped and delivered throughout the pharmaceutical industry.

In simple terms it means that every pack of medicine or pharmaceutical product will have to have a unique identifier applied at the point of manufacture and be tracked through the whole supply chain. The unique identifier will need to contain the product code, batch number and expiry date as well as its serial number to uniquely identify the pack. This data will also need to be contained in a barcode (a 2D Datamatrix) which can be scanned and tracked throughout the supply chain.

So if you are a pharmaceutical manufacturer, distributor or pharmacy there will be a requirement to record, capture and share this information. To satisfy the regulatory authorities for the new directives will take a lot of effort, and if you don't have a system in the warehouse, a lot of paperwork.
A "smart" Warehouse System will certainly be a must have to record and validate this level of information and will at the same time deliver the operational efficiencies through the use of 2D barcode scanning, WiFi technologies and configurable software to automate all the warehouse and inventory processes.

Dexterity WMS already supports this functionality, including being able to configure the 2D barcodes to suit your business, smart scanning and validation on goods receiving through order pick & pack to despatch with a full traceability record for every single transaction, so that a complete audit trail is available for immediate inspection .

Dexterity WMS will also enable you to validate expiry dates, track and locate product recalls down to individual batch numbers and achieve all this with no more staff than you have now. 2018 seems like a lifetime away but the industry reports that most companies are already behind with their preparations to implement the EU directives.  If you need to get ready, consider Dexterity WMS as part of your supply chain solution for the warehouse.

For businesses who already have the scanning and data capture capability in place, but may require the ability to print or re-print label to this specification, NiceLabel Control Centre Enterprise is the prefect product to enhance existing label printing systems.


NiceLabel Control Centre Enterprise ensures a centralised traceability and management layer for labelling, required in medical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, manufacturing and in several other industries. It ensures compliance with regulatory requirements or your company internal security and quality standards.  For more information on Dexterity WMS or NiceLabel Control Centre Enterprise call the sales team at Barcode-IT for a full explanation of how you business can achieve full regulatory compliance without having to change the WMS or ERP system.


Written by Jim Southern, specialist in warehouse management at Barcode-IT.  To ask questions about this article or find out how barcodes with a Dexterity Smart Warehouse can transform your business, call 01200 441977 or email Jim @ Barcode-IT today.  Or do some research at www.warehouse-it.co.uk

Monday, 30 November 2015

Warehouse Location and Rack Labelling - Tips and Best Practise

When companies undertake a WMS project, the initial focus is always on the software, its functionality and whether it's a good fit and delivers the benefits for the business, which is of course the right place to start. Second comes the selection of the equipment including label printers and hand-held scanning terminals. Often forgotten or definitely an afterthought is the labelling of the locations in the warehouse: Racks, Overheads, Floor, etc. In fact this should be given as much consideration as the selection of the equipment as the type of barcode scanner in the terminal will need to be capable of scanning the barcodes on the locations. Lets take a look at some of the important considerations:
 
Location Label Types

For Warehouse Racking you will need to consider "Shelf Edge" labels that contain a barcode and human readable that identify the location it is assigned to in the WMS system. Depending on the type of equipment you are using in the warehouse will determine whether you will need to label the high bay levels.
Shelf Edge Labelling on racking

For example, if you are using man-up trucks you will need ID labels on every level as they will need to be scanned by the worker at eye level. If you are using reach trucks then you will need a scan chart or index at the lower levels as the worker will not be at the same level as the goods or pallet. Note the use of arrows to indicate the level the ID refers to. The use of colour codes also helps identify the higher level bays (these will have a corresponding colour label attached).


Index and Shelf Edge Labelling on racking
Of course not all stock will be stored in nice neat racking, there could well be floor stacked areas which can be would need either overhead suspended location ID's or Floor Mounted plates.

Overhead Suspended
Rugged Barcode Floor Plates
The overhead plates can be suspended from wires or attached to overhead beams or trunking. These are very large barcodes so they can be seen and scanned from ground level and often need high performance barcode scanners such as the Datalogic PowerScan or Falcon x3+ with long range scanner. Floor Plates are sometimes popular, but can be expensive due the the need for very rugged construction and installation to cope with fork truck traffic.



Barcode Type, Size and Readability

Before you crack on and order all the locations ID's and get them fitted, take some time to test and verify that they can be read by the equipment you will be using in the warehouse. For example, don't expect to be able to read small barcodes from a distance just because you will use long range scanning devices. The scanning device and the barcode type and size need to be matched up for perfect scanning. Frustration soon sets in when operators have difficulties reading the barcodes.
Use the right scanner for the task.

As a general rule, the larger and the bigger the barcode the easier it is to scan. Also consider the distances you will need to scan from, e.g. from sitting in the fork truck, on foot, etc. The material used can also have a bearing on readability. Reflective material will provide better "scanability" and distance for example and is often used for Overhead Suspended barcodes.

Take all these points into account and you won't go far wrong, or simply ask us to advise.

We have a wealth of experience in implementing our specialist Dexterity WMS Systems to help clients realise the benefits of a smart Warehouse Management System. Get in touch for a no obligation and no pressure discussion on how Dexterity WMS could help your business.

Written by Jim Southern, specialist in warehouse management at Barcode-IT.  To ask questions about this article or find out how barcodes with a Dexterity Smart Warehouse can transform your business, call 01200 441977 or email Jim @ Barcode-IT today.  Or do some research at www.warehouse-it.co.uk



I Just want to Scan Barcodes in the Warehouse - It's simple, isnt it?

"All I want to do is scan barcodes in the warehouse to speed up the operation and make it more accurate"

Its a statement that we hear all the time from companies enquiring about our services. More companies are looking to use barcode scanning in the warehouse to get a more accurate view of inventory and reduce picking and delivery errors.

There is frequently a great enthusiasm for the subject until the analysis and investigation is done and it all becomes "more expensive than we thought".

The use of barcodes to speed up transaction processing has been around for decades, over 40 years would you believe. When did you last buy something at a store that wasn't simply scanned at the checkout? Actually, barcode scanning is now used in pretty much all transactional processes from your football tickets to renting a car or buying your lottery ticket.

It seems so easy, quick and efficient - rather than typing the details into a computer, we just scan the barcode label and the transaction becomes automated, right! So why can't I just buy a simple scanner for the warehouse and away I go? They are only cheap and I just scan the barcodes, collect the data and everything is updated automatically without error. It seems logical doesn't it? Lets take a deeper look at the realities and why its not that simple.


The barcode is simply a means of data input, its a quick alternative  to keying in the data. Simply scanning a barcode achieves nothing without a software system to verify that the barcode you are scanning is correct and represents the item you are supposed to be scanning for the transaction you are performing, be it a product code or location code for example. In the warehouse these transactions are not performed at a PC in an office so you also need a mobile scanning device. You need real time feedback to the operator to confirm or otherwise that the transaction has been accepted and verified, so you need a wireless network to make the system "live".

Traditional ERP systems are designed to operate on large PC screens not smaller handheld devices and generally won't handle inputs from scanners. These ERP applications are written in a way to accept inputs in a way that builds from the previous entry by the operator requiring multiple keyboard actions like TAB, ENTER, etc. Simply scanning a barcode doesn't duplicate the human intervention required to process the transaction. This is why you need specific warehouse management software like Dexterity WMS that works with the scanning technology to interpret and process the transaction in real time.

ERP software is designed for keyed in human input whereas a smart warehouse system like Dexterity WMS is all about the automation of the warehouse processes using smart technology and software to streamline every aspect of warehouse operations from Goods In to Pick, Pack & Ship.

What if the barcode contains more than one item of information?
Not all barcodes are as simple as you may first imagine. You will have multiple suppliers and more than likely they will provide different barcodes on their products. Some may embed more than a single item of data in a single barcode. This can be quite common where lots, batches and serial numbers are involved. Scanning and processing of these "complex" barcodes requires software that can interpret the barcode data and then intelligently verify and update the correct fields in the system. What would happen if you scanned a barcode that contained the product number, the lot number and an expiration date into the Item Number field on an ERP data entry screen - it wouldn't work and in this example, the use of barcode scanning without a proper software solution is counter-productive.

"I can’t see the benefit of spending money on a system for the warehouse" 

Another well worn statement we hear all the time, but there are always different parts of your business competing for the limited budget available for investment. Unfortunately when people think of the warehouse they think of spending money there as a “cost”



Turn that thinking from a “cost” to an “investment” and look at the benefits that are created:
  • Barcode Scanning at the point of receiving increases inventory accuracy by 35%.
  • Barcode Scanning is 10 times faster than manual data entry.
  • Order Picking using bar code scanning and a smart WMS system virtually eliminates picking errors.
  • Introducing barcode scanning and location tracking into your warehouse can increase operational efficiency by up to 25 percent.
These are very real figures and significant returns on an “investment” in a WMS system using wireless barcode scanning in the warehouse. We have a wealth of experience in implementing Warehouse Management Systems to help clients realise the benefits of a smart WMS.

Written by Jim Southern, specialist in warehouse management at Barcode-IT.  To ask questions about this article or find out how barcodes with a Dexterity Smart Warehouse can transform your business, call 01200 441977 or email Jim @ Barcode-IT today.  Or do some research at www.warehouse-it.co.uk