Barcoding benefits

At the risk of sounding like a 1990 article spruiking the benefits of barcoding beyond the retail checkout, general industry has not exploited bar codes and the advantages of automatic data capture to its full extent.

Often barcodes are implemented either where the retail industry has lead the way or due the compliance requirements of others in the supply chain. As well, barcodes themselves continue to evolve as does the technology to print, scan and utilise the data gained from them.

When you take a closer look at some key benefits of barcoding, you can uncover further opportunities to improve and enhance your business processes to help you to become more competitive.

Improved Accuracy

Quality and accuracy are always highly ranked in any survey of what a customer values. As customers ourselves, we appreciate that when we buy and receive something we want it to be correct, and the same goes for internal customers within an organisation, i.e. the next team in a process. When they come to do their job they don't want to experience any errors, they don't want to have to spend time chasing up on mistakes, or become involved in trying to track down who to talk to about how to rectify the mistake.

In the retail environment, while the automatic capture of data by scanning a barcode at the checkout has had the greatest impact to reduce errors in transacting the sale, there are other factors/processes that also contribute to improved accuracy. Many retail point-of-sale systems also include a visual display of the items that have been purchased as they are scanned. This visual feedback provides a customer a last chance to catch if there is an item they may have grabbed by mistake or one which may be priced differently to what they thought.

In a non-retail environment, a barcode with an appropriate scanner mounted in the right location, communicating back to your software system, will also help reduce many potential errors, particularly around wrong products, parts, raw materials, out of date materials or products as well as lack of inventory and mistakes in ordering.

If you look at the processes within your business and think about the critical points where frustrating and costly errors can occur, you may find that a simple barcoding system will help you achieve this improved accuracy and promote to a happier, smoother work environment for your people and customers.

Speed and Availability of Data

Team members within organisations have to make many decisions every day. Unfortunately, many decisions often are based on assumptions and guesses when live data is not readily available, and are determined on information that is a day, week or even a month old. Judgements made when there is a long lag in information will invariably be inaccurate and can lead to over or under estimations. The use of barcoding systems throughout a company's process and supply chain, and one which is linked to the right software, will provide team members with live, accurate data with which to make decisions. This timeliness and accuracy of data ultimately leads to more accurate decision making, thus avoiding the under or over 'guesstimates' that result in errors and defects and impact customers.

Consider the critical points within your total supply chain, from suppliers, through your company's processes and then the supply chain out to customers and even within the customer's organisation, and look for key information would help with decision making. Choose the most significant points and implement a traceability system at this point and gradually improve from there. Your team's decision-making will improve and with it errors and defects reduce, providing greater satisfaction for both internal and external customers.

Productivity and Efficiency

Productivity and efficiency is important, and even more so in today's competitive global market. Even just a second saved in repetitive processes can accumulate dramatically when considered over a day, week or year. Improvements and systems that help your people save time will ultimately enable the team to do more with their time into the future, allowing your business to grow and be more productive with the people and machines you currently have.

The humble barcode can help automate many time-consuming data-entry information tasks team members have traditionally completed as well as automate the flow of products and materials. Think of the retail store checkout example again, once upon a time, checkout operators manually keyed the item number or price for every item purchased. For many years now it has just been a simple swipe to scan a barcode and into the future as technology progresses this may become simpler still. This same process improvement example for creating efficiency resides in most companies either by automatically logging data or triggering a physical event by just scanning a barcode.

With the automation of products and materials through a warehouse or production facility the barcode plays a key part of providing the automated identification number for a scanner to pick up, feed into a control or software system to then alter conveyor flows and automated systems to have the product or raw material head off to the correct location. You do not need to be a large multinational company to achieve returns through automation as many of the smaller manufacturers and warehouse operations in Australia are finding.