Bar code tracking

The Need for Bar Coding

A large number of inventory transactions may be associated with a single inventory item, such as a receipt, transfer to a storage location, pick from stock, and so on. The recordation of each of these transactions involves the entry of an identification number, location number, and quantity - at least. Each recordation event presents the opportunity for an error to be recorded. When aggregated across the entire inventory, the result can be quite a large number of errors in the inventory records.

Overview of Bar Coding

An excellent solution to the inventory error problem is to record inventory transactions with bar codes. The essential process flow when using bar codes is to create an identifying bar code when an inventory item is received or produced, and attach the label to the item. There are also location bar codes affixed to each storage location. When a warehouse person moves an inventory item, the part number and location are scanned, and the quantity being moved is entered. Ideally, this data entry is conducted using a portable data entry terminal that can be carried through the warehouse, and which automatically uploads the transaction information to the central computer system for immediate record updating.

Issues with Bar Coding

Bar coding is highly recommended. However, there are some issues to be aware of, which are:

  • Wrong bar code. The information used to create a bar code may be incorrect, in which case all subsequent scans of that bar code will result in the recordation of incorrect information. This issue can be mitigated by also printing the information in plain text just below the bar code, which can then be examined for mistakes.
  • Equipment breakage. Portable data terminals are expensive, and can break. If so, the replacement cost could be several thousand dollars.
  • Missed or incorrect scans. The warehouse staff may not use the equipment correctly (or at all), resulting in inventory record accuracy issues. This problem can be mitigated with the use of ongoing training and periodic audits of the inventory records.