Barcodes: Not just black and white!
July 5, 2012
Recently Walker Miller Equipment has decided to reorganize its inventory using the cutting-edge technology of barcodes and barcode scanners.We did some product research and got a basic internet education on how barcodes and barcode scanners work, but this did not quite prepare for the barcode adventure that was to come.You may think to yourself, well that doesn’t seem confusing.Don’t most products come with barcodes on them already?And if you just scan it, the computer will automatically pull up the correct item, right?
Au contraire, my friend. There is apparently far more to barcodes than just those deceivingly-simple vertical lines.
Our first research (courtesy of Wikipedia) taught us that the first barcode was scanned on a pack of Wrigley chewing gum in 1974 – almost forty years ago! That first barcode used was a Universal Product Code, or what the super-cool barcode-ites abbreviate to “UPC.” And so began a crazy journey that led us to the wild world of barcodes, barcode types, and barcode scanners. Apparently there was even a barcoding convention a few weeks ago in Las Vegas – which we were very disappointed to have missed.
Essentially, there are two different types of barcodes: SKUs and UPCs.
UPCs are Universal Product Codes, meaning that that code is unique to that item. When using a UPC, it means that code will only ever refer to that exact product. The most common form of the UPC is the UPC-A, which has 12 numerical digits.
SKUs are not universal. They are made up by an individual company, and usually only hold their association with their individual products within that company. For example, scanning a SKU of 10985 at Walgreens may pull up a hairbrush, while at Walmart it could pull up a baseball cap.
Because SKUs are so individualized, it’s usually easiest to only use UPCs, but not all items arrive from their manufacturer with a UPC, so then the vendor has to come up with an identifying SKU for the object. This would normally be the “part number” or “item key” for the object – whichever is the most common identifying number for that item.
To make all these barcodes useful for inventory control, it’s necessary to have a barcode scanner. For companies that have big warehouses and a lot of inventory in said warehouses, wireless barcode scanners are the most convenient. Wireless scanners can have a very long range, and often use Bluetooth to transmit their information to their corresponding computers.
There are also different types of scanners – literally, different options for that little red light that scans the barcode. Laser scanners are, from our research, the most economical and effective type of scanners. After thorough product research, we started using the Wasp barcode scanners, and are very happy with them so far. We have also heard good things about Motorola scanners in the customer reviews.
Basically, what a barcode scanner does is simple. It eliminates the need to type in the product key and hit enter. Instead, the scanner pulls up the file directly so you can access or modify. Or, should you be adding the item to a contract or transaction, the scanner will add the item automatically. Usually it will assume the quantity to be 1, and you can modify that in various ways, depending on your inventory software.
Barcode scanners can come in all different forms. The barcode guns most commonly seen are particularly useful, but they can be as fancy as a “mobile computer” (a scanner with a keypad and an OS) or even your iPhone. There is literally an app for that.
As important as the barcodes and barcode scanners are, the inventory control software is equally important. Before spending money on installing a barcode system, it is extremely important to make sure that your inventory software is barcode scanner compatible in all the ways you want your scanner to help you: sales, receiving, price checks, end-of-year inventory, etc. The barcode scanner can only do as much as the software will let it; they are both tools that need to be extremely compatible to work best together.
Whew! Bet you didn’t think barcoding was quite so complicated! Now that you know more than you probably wanted to about barcodes, look around – they’re everywhere!