Inventory control systems allow fleets to manage their inventory and assets together through the use of hardware- and software-based tools that automate the process. One such system is based on barcode technology. It works in real-time using wireless technology to transmit information to a central computer system.
Barcoding solutions operate by using an optical reader (barcode scanner) to read (scan) the information or data encoded in readable format on a barcode – an array of parallel lines alternating between white and black lines. The data is then transferred to a software application where it can be analyzed and used for a variety of inventory control functions, including increased visibility and inventory optimization.
The most important purchasing consideration for a barcoding solution is that it has to fit an operation’s individual needs, says Kevin Bradshaw, sales and business development manager – Americas for DENSO ADC, a company that is among the world’s largest manufacturers of mobile data capture systems (www.denso-adc). “If you’re in an environment where you want to scan from close up or from far away, you need a scanner that will handle that requirement. You also need to think about how the barcodes might be affected by environmental conditions, such as cold, heat, dirt, etc.”
Another central factor is the durability of scanners. Bradshaw advises considering such things as the scanner’s IP (ingress protection) rating - the degree of protection the device has against solid objects and how well it is sealed against entry of moisture or liquid - and drop-test specifications.
Ascertain how well the scanner can deal with dirty, damaged, badly printed or otherwise hard-to-read barcodes, he adds. Scanners with CCD (charged couple device) technology are now available that have a wider scanning band which lets them read problematical codes. This can increase inventory control productivity since it eliminates the need to have to stop to key information in by hand on barcodes that can’t be read.
With barcoding solutions, a barcode can be scanned much faster than someone can key in the same data manually. There is also increased accuracy that comes from a reduction of data entry errors. Additionally, automated data collection provides real-time monitoring.
On the software side, keep in mind that the barcoding solutions you choose has to fill the diverse needs of your whole organization, notes Bradshaw. Ideally, the software will be designed from the bottom up and should include elements an organization might require, such as:
- Do inventory levels need to be tracked?
- Do purchase orders and reorders need to be created?
- Are there minimums and maximums?
- Does the usage of tools or other assets need to be followed?
- Does the cost of items need to be tracked?
- Are costs assigned to different billing codes?
- Is invoicing done by the repair, by the job, etc.?
“Whatever your requirements are, the software needs to meet them,” he says.
Not to be overlooked is barcode size. If there is a lot of data, a bigger barcode will be needed.
Barcodes come in two types: 1D - low information density and low information capacity, and 2D - high information density and big. Barcode scanners are available that can read either 1D or 2D barcodes, or both.