Most distributors did not need to be told the May 2017 rate of unemployment was the lowest in 16 years; 4.3%.
Turnover in warehouses and difficulty in finding replacement warehouse workers have resulted in levels of warehouse mistakes that conveyed that message months ago — even where barcodes are scanned at most steps in an effort to avoid the mistakes. But even when warehouses were fully staffed, barcode scanning rarely resulted in 99.9% warehouse accuracy, the level needed to compete with alternate channels of distribution. Here are a few recommendations that have helped barcode users increase warehouse accuracy to a very high level.
The barcodes on labels containing a shelf- or slot-location ID seldom fade from exposure to light, especially where occupancy sensors are used to turn aisle-area lights on and off. But people and product can rub against these labels and over time damage the codes; codes that identify products (in a fixed storage-location warehouse) also can be damaged. People doing put away, replenishment and/or picking should be instructed to be on the alert for codes that are starting to be frayed and to report the locations so codes are replaced before scanning is ineffective (at the worst possible time).
With the economy booming in many parts of the country (which is the reason unemployment is so low), more distributors are stocking more new products than even five years ago. To accommodate new products without adding shelving, two or three different products are sometimes stocked on a shelf that was used to store only one (four products could be stored together). In that arrangement, a separate storage-location barcoded label for each product should be affixed on the crossbeam below the corresponding product.
Each location ID should be stored in the ERP system. Each label is called a “slot location” label. Without them, it’s easy for someone to scan a correct ID and perhaps product label (or code on a carton), but physically put away or pick a different product — especially if the products are similar in size, capacity, etc.
When new products are received for the first time, receiving personnel sometimes discover that the barcode printed on cartons, labels on shrink wrap, pieces, etc., either is unreadable, does not correspond to the data stored in the ERP system or the needed data is not stored in the system. To avoid the delay caused by these conditions, purchasing personnel should be instructed to include entering data for new products as one of the steps for purchasing products never stocked before. Plus, a barcode label printer should be located near the receiving area and receiving personnel should be trained in using the ERP system to print product ID labels.
During this process personnel sometimes scan the code on a carton or piece before actually placing it on a shelf or rack, and then scan the correct location ID code but place the carton or unit in a wrong location. Such mistakes can be minimized by establishing a policy to never scan a product label until the carton or piece is placed on a shelf, rack or floor storage location.
When pickers are in a hurry they sometimes accept the displayed quantity to pick without counting the quantity actually picked, which turns out to be less – or more – than what the customer ordered. To avoid this situation, pickers should be instructed to always count and key in the counted quantity.
As picked products pile up for verification and/or packing, in order to load trucks by the cutoff time(s), pickers sometimes are used to verify orders (via scanning labels on cartons and units/pieces). Using pickers can result in not detecting mistakes made during picking. Instead, enlist the help of supervisors until the workload can be handled by people dedicated to verifying (who can perform other tasks, but not picking).
Scanning bar codes has been shown to dramatically increase warehouse accuracy, but no one should assume this technology always results in 100% accuracy. Steps should be taken to ensure that accuracy is at least 99.9%.
This article was originally titled “The benefits of barcode scanning” in the September 2017 print edition of Supply House Times.