Inventory tracking can be optimized by implementing automated inventory management systems alongside barcode and/or RFID labels. Utilizing labels tailored to specific items and/or storage environments, these automated systems provide a nearly fool-proof way of tracking and tracing inventory across production and distribution. Here are some practical tips to employ while using these automated systems to help design error-mitigating SOPs and ensure your items are not stolen or misplaced.
Standardize barcodes and naming conventions
When an automated tracking system is first implemented, it’s essential to immediately standardize which barcode will be used in addition to all naming conventions used when printing human-readable text on labels. This should also be implemented for any databases that track and store your inventory information.
- 1D barcodes: Read in a sequence from left to right. 1D barcodes can encode between 20-25 characters. Because of the shape of these barcodes, space can sometimes be an issue. Examples of 1D barcodes include UPC code, Code 128, PDF417, and the GS1 DataBar. Of these, PDF417 and GS1 Databar are capable of encoding the most information for a 1D barcode but often take up a lot of space.
- 2D barcodes: These barcodes are organized both horizontally and vertically, forming a readable square. They can encode up to 2000 characters while taking up much less space than 1D barcodes and can be scanned in any orientation. Moreover, these barcodes have more built-in redundancy, making them more resilient to damage than traditional 1D barcodes. Common examples of 2D barcodes include the QR code, Data Matrix, and Aztec code. QR codes are generally considered a versatile, all-purpose 2D barcode, useful for asset tracking and inventory management. Data Matrix, with their ability to be scaled down to tiny sizes, are extremely useful for labeling smaller items. Aztec codes are specialized in that they lack a quiet zone, taking up less space than other 2D barcodes. They can also be easily decoded if their resolution is poor.
When it comes to barcode standardization, it is essential to ensure that quality remains consistent. Barcode grading allows users to verify that all barcodes are generated error-free. Devices like the TruChek Omni™ scan for multiple barcode variables, like contrast and spatial parameters, and provide a grade to each barcode, ensuring each one is of high enough quality to be used accurately and consistently.
Capture appropriate metadata
In order for all users to fully understand the nature of the work being performed, it is essential to collect detailed data regarding the nature of each product. This helps others assess the context of your work and makes it possible to perform a meaningful analysis later. Collecting metadata will also make it possible for others in the warehouse or work site to glean inventories and determine the location, quantity, and status of products being stored
Some details that should be recorded include:
- Item description
- Serial number/product code
- Lot number
- Date received
- Date processed, if applicable
- Location in warehouse
- Unit of measure, if applicable
- Starting inventory count
Employ a backup
It’s likely that out of the thousands of items you may process daily, issues may occur with scanning a few. However, just a few misread barcodes can be the difference between success and failure, resulting in misplaced or lost items and an incomplete picture of your inventory. With that in mind, a backup method for tracking your stock is always recommended in case one protocol fails.
If barcodes are the primary tracking method, serialization and/or human-readable text represent an excellent secondary means of tracking the items. Barcodes can also be combined with RFID to provide a two-pronged tracking method. Recent technological advances have made this possible as nearly any label can now be outfitted with an RFID inlay, allowing RFID to be used wholesale throughout the warehouse, regardless of application. Barcodes can also be printed simultaneously on RFID labels, providing a secondary means of tracking samples should the RFID reader fail to detect a signal.