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How To Use Barcodes to Simplify Supply Chain Management

A laser reading a bar code

Managing your small business’ supply chain, the network of companies, individuals and processes needed to turn raw materials from a supplier into a finished product, is becoming more complex than ever. Some supply chains span the globe, meaning there are now more chances for issues to halt the production of inventory, and thus the creation of income. That’s why more businesses are turning to barcode tracking technology to keep the supply chain simplified and efficient.

For decades, barcodes were scarcely used outside of retail point of sale systems. Now, the technology is nearly ubiquitous across a myriad of industries and points along supply chains. The information stored on both 1D (linear) and 2D (such as QR codes) barcodes helps businesses identify inventory in a timely and efficient manner, with markedly fewer errors (just one error in every 3 million characters) than seen in manual systems. As long as the businesses along the supply chain all have access to barcode creating and scanning technology, information about a product can be seamlessly integrated and tracked throughout its journey into the hands of a paying customer.

Though every company has a different supply chain, there are some general stops that are common to most businesses: suppliers, in-house purchasing, production and distribution, and the customer’s doorstep. Barcodes can be present every step of the way, passing data seamlessly into your cloud-based database, thanks to these unique benefits:

Barcodes can be created and printed almost any time

If a product or the raw materials to create a product arrive at your facilities without a barcode, one can quickly be created, printed, peeled and applied to begin tracking its movements. From there, any time a new barcode is needed, it can be printed, even on the go. Smart small businesses invest in different types of barcode printers, including:

  • Industrial barcode printer– Ideal for high volume warehousing applications, these printers can create high-detail or graphic barcodes en masse.
  • Desktop barcode printer– Perfect for printing two-inch- and four-inch-width labels right from your desk using both thermal and thermal transfer technology.
  • Mobile barcode printer– Best used outside the four walls of your business.  For example, this kind of printer can be used if a driver needs to print a receipt with an accompanying barcode to provide proof of delivery or to notify your company that a product has reached its final destination upon scanning.

A variety of scanning options

Whether a product is first arriving at your warehouse for storage or is coming off the truck for delivery to the customer, there are a number of ways the barcode can be read, translated and sent back to your database. There are different models of dedicated barcode scanners and models of rugged mobile computers that can sync to your database as well. Additionally, some industrial-strength barcode scanners have the ability to read ripped, torn or otherwise damaged barcodes. Options include:

  • Handheld barcode scanners– Both corded and cordless, handheld barcode scanners have laser, linear imager or 2D area imager scan engines. Wireless scanners often connect to your system via Bluetooth.
  • Fixed-mount scanners– Read barcodes using sensors when items are passed in front of it using a laser scan engine, typically used in a conveyor line or kiosk at a warehouse.
  • Pocket sized or mini scanners– Provide on-the-go convenience, transmitting data to a nearby smartphone or tablet, perhaps during deliveries or in offices.
  • Mobile computers– A combination of computer and scanner, these powerful devices run traditional operating systems, house internal memory to store data, enable real-time information transmission and allow for mobility, as everyone from warehouse employees to field workers can utilize them.

Scalable technology

Barcode technology continues to improve, and now that 2D barcodes are becoming more common, businesses need readers that can recognize and scan both generations of barcodes:

  • 1D barcodes– Also known as linear barcodes, these are the lines and spaces you’re most likely familiar with. These barcodes are easy to print and use, but hold a limited amount of space (just 23 characters) compared to their newer iteration.
  • 2D barcodes– These store information vertically and horizontally, which means they can hold upwards of 4,000 characters; however, it takes slightly more time to read a 2D barcode than a 1D barcode.

Businesses that want to future proof their supply chain management tactics should invest in a 2D barcode scanner, which reads both types of barcodes.

Rather than trying to manually combine different labels, reports and records across numerous businesses in your supply chain (who will likely have different systems for keeping track of inventory), integrate a barcode system can be tracked across the warehouse or country. By utilizing a technology that can be printed, scanned and scaled on demand, small businesses create a system that can be updated in real-time, via mobile and wired-in devices, from any point along the supply chain while allowing for complete transparency for the company, its suppliers and its customers, a major selling point for companies that can promote the respectable provenance of their products, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Across the board, barcode tracking creates a simplified supply chain management system that will only improve as more businesses integrate this burgeoning technology.

This article was written by Paul Trujillo from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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