The Current State of Barcode and RFID Technology

Posted by on Sep 26, 2016 4:01:39 PM


The application of bar code and RFID technology has dramatically changed the way business is done. Gone are the days of hand tagging groceries and re-tagging them when the price changes.   While bar code usage is wide spread, there are still thousands of application possibilities. Wherever someone is hand writing information or hand keying that information into a computer, there is room for automation. Here is the current state of barcode and RFID across various industries:

Receiving - the process of receiving raw materials in a manufacturing facility or receiving finished goods at a distribution center or store.   

This can be a challenging application for bar code. There are three “if” conditions that must be met before this can work. IF the suppliers put bar code labels on the items they ship to you and IF that bar code label has information your system can use (as opposed to it being THEIR shipping label) and IF there is a way to compare those items against orders, then it may be possible to receive items into inventory automatically using bar code.  

If items are not bar coded when they come off the truck, it may be feasible to label them before putting them into raw goods inventory though this adds an additional step in the work process. It can also be a problem if the facility uses the same dock doors for receiving and shipping; can your programs differentiate between shipping and receiving?   Receiving applications typically include a wireless network, hand held terminals, bar code printers, and an integrated software application.

Manufacturing - the process of combining raw materials and/or components into a finished product and WIP (Work in Process) 

The process of tracking an item through manufacturing for the purpose of scheduling or tracking the amount of time used in each step.   Knowing the exact location of an item as it is manufactured can be a powerful Customer Service tool. By bar coding the steps in the manufacturing process and scanning the items as they are built, a real time picture of the overall operation is possible.

Customers looking for updates can be given realistic time-frames for when their order will be ready for shipment.   Manufacturing applications typically include a wireless network, bar code labeling of work orders, fixed or portable readers, and, for some applications, RFID tags and readers.  

Time & Attendance - the process of tracking the work time of employees

Most facilities use an employee identification some type. Time & Attendance systems usually use a fixed reader with a bar code scanner, RFID reader, or Mag Stripe (like on your credit card) reader.   Inventory - the process of putting finished goods into storage locations for use in filling orders. There are three types of inventory - raw goods or component inventory, work-in-process inventory, and finished goods inventory.   Knowing what you have to work with is a key to success in manufacturing and distribution.

A bar code inventory system links an item number with a location by scanning both the item and the location. Locations may vary widely; from shelf labeling in a retail store to large reflective bar code labels used to identify racking in a warehouse. Using bar coded inventory allows a company to have a better idea of what they have on hand; replacing or reducing the practice of annual inventories and cycle counting.   Inventory applications typically use a wireless network, bar code printers or pre-printed labels, specialized location labels for identifying specific warehouse locations, and hand held or vehicle mounted terminals.  

Picking/Shipping - the process of filling an order from inventory and sending it to its final location   

Orders entered by sales and administration cannot be completed until they are picked and shipped. Shipping an order usually is the trigger for an invoice to be generated for that order so it is important that it is done accurately. Inaccurate shipments can be costly for an operation; a mis-shipment can cause delays in payment and additional cast for correcting the mistake. By scanning bar codes as a shipment is picked, inventory can be kept accurate and orders can ve verified. 

Delivery/Mobile Application - a class of applications directing and tracking mobile workers as they perform daily tasks  

The list of mobile applications is long - route sales, route accounting, proof-of-delivery, signature capture, service dispatching, service accounting and service billing, GPS tracking, turn-by-turn instructions and many others.   Mobile applications typically use a WLAN or wide-area local area network; which in simpler terms means using cellular networks for communication.

Portable terminals used in mobile applications now combine bar code scanning, digital camera, and specialized software into a single unit. There may also be battery-operated, portable label or ticket printers for printing receipts, bills, tickets, or other documents.

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