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Barcode Warehouse and Distribution

Are Your Barcode Printers Limiting Your Warehouse Efficiency?

Operators are continuously looking for ways to cut costs and improve warehouse efficiency while still meeting customer satisfaction expectations and maintaining overall profitability. This can be especially challenging for warehouses that are already highly automated. Once a facility has deployed barcode scanning, automated material handling equipment, and other technologies, it can be difficult to find areas for additional improvement. One way is to further optimize the use of the technology to ensure that the equipment is being used to its fullest potential.

Barcode printers are a good case in point. Generally considered an enabling technology when it comes to(203) 972-9200 warehouse automation, once they are installed and generating labels, most users consider the deployment complete. However, there are ways to generate new warehouse efficiency gains by optimizing printer operations.

How Barcode Printers Can Help Gain Efficiency

You can save time by printing at the point of activity. If employees spend a good part of their day traveling back and forth between their work area and a central print station to retrieve labels, odds are you can achieve a big productivity gain by deploying mobile printers or wireless printer carts. Workers can print labels on demand as they receive, pick, or putaway goods, which not only saves time but also increases accuracy. This can save tens of thousands of dollars per year in wasted labor.

Rugged printers can reduce downtime. If your barcode printer isn’t designed to work well in your business environment, it will likely fail more quickly and more often. In a warehouse, that means you need a ruggedized printer that can handle high-volume printing in a dusty environment and less-than-gentle handling. Consumer-grade or less-rugged printers will likely break down in a warehouse. This will result in costly downtime, repair expenses, or high replacement costs. Fewer breakdowns will mean improved warehouse efficiency.

Mobile printers will improve picking and other processes. In addition to reducing unnecessary walking, mobile printers can also enhance most warehouse efficiency in most operations. In receiving, they can save time by allowing workers to label goods on the dock as they arrive. A Zebra Technologies study also found that mobile printers used for putaway can improve processing time by 62%. Employees can also label items as they are picked, saving time at the packing/shipping station.

Barcode printers also improve accuracy and quality assurance (QA). Barcode labels help ensure that the right items are in the right package, and headed to the right customer. Using printers at the point of activity can help reduce labeling errors. And by ensuring the printers are correctly maintained and calibrated, you can be sure to meet customer requirements for legibility.  

Efficiency-Minded Printer Features

Are your printers designed for quick media changes and maintenance on the floor? Proper maintenance and care are critical for ensuring a long printer life. However, if changing out media or cleaning the printhead requires a lot of time, training, and specialized tools, you are likely to bog down your printing operation. Upgrade to printers that are designed for fast media changes, and that can easily be opened for cleaning/maintenance.

Centralized print management saves time as well. Print jobs can easily be assigned or redirected, and software/firmware upgrades can be quickly deployed to the entire printer fleet without having to take the printers offline.  

Optimizing your barcode printing operation can have a large impact on warehouse efficiency. Continuously monitor and evaluate your own printing processes to find areas that can be enhanced, and you can quickly achieve cost and productivity improvements.

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Industry Solutions Mobility Warehouse and Distribution

Voice in the Warehouse: Tips for Maximizing Performance in Demanding Environments

Warehouse workers use their hands a lot — for picking, putaway, shipping, and other important tasks. While mobile computers have helped increase efficiency in the warehouse, those computers also tie up your employees’ hands. Hands-free, voice-based options can help boost productivity even further by keeping employees’ hands free and their eyes on their work. Using voice in the warehouse can improve inventory throughput, shipping accuracy, and even safety.

The Benefits of Voice Direction

Receiving voice direction from the application and being able to speak location, bin codes, status and activity rather than stopping to scan or key-enter them can increase the speed of each pick and putaway action. Voice software is designed to guard against errors and alert employees when they have entered the wrong code or item.
In a typical scenario, the employee scans a barcoded order number from a picking card or sheet, and then receives audio directions about where to locate the items on the sheet. At each location, they can speak the location and bin numbers to confirm they are in the right place and selecting the right item. The system provides quantity information that is confirmed verbally.

Productivity improves because employees can complete more tasks in less time, while accuracy increases because of the feedback and confirmations the system provides. Workers are safer because they aren’t staring at mobile computer screens to confirm their work. There are ergonomic benefits as well because there is less typing and managing of handheld devices.

Voice + Barcode

Each business has different requirements, of course. There will always be a need for barcode scanning in the warehouse. Other operations may find more benefit in a pick-to-light or other type of system.

Each warehouse will require different levels of technology integration to ensure efficient operation. Voice in the warehouse provides a flexible platform that can be used in conjunction with other technologies (such as barcode scanning). Voice also offers significant speed and accuracy improvements compared to other solutions that can quickly provide a return on investment (ROI), particularly for high-velocity and dynamic warehouse operations.

How to Make Voice Work for Your Warehouse

To be successful, a voice implementation should integrate smoothly with the warehouse management system (WMS) in place and be coupled with process optimization activities that will help eliminate bottlenecks and reduce redundancies. In fact, deploying voice in the warehouse can help uncover some of those inefficient workflows and processes because employees will be more focused on value-added tasks. In order to effectively gauge the potential benefits of voice in the warehouse, companies first must identify the pain points that they want the voice solution to address.

Those problem areas can include:

– Higher demand and inventory volumes
– Picking/shipping errors
– Increased operational costs

Voice technology can often address these pain points by enabling higher accuracy and increasing the velocity of picking/putaway tasks compared to paper-based processed, RF scanning, and pick-to-light solutions.

Implementing voice takes a solid understanding of the processes, the application, and the technology.  Some systems may allow for simply voice-enabling existing applications if the applications and operations are already fairly efficient.  Other operations can be completely restructured to interface into new applications for best performance.  Time and motion studies and an open mind to process flow can provide the optimum new system.

Using voice in the warehouse can provide a strategic platform that helps companies expand their business while controlling operating costs and improving customer service. The hands-free, eyes-free approach of voice will provide the most natural and effective method for your warehouse workers to complete their jobs.

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Barcode Labeling Solutions Supplies Warehouse and Distribution

Improving Warehouse Efficiency Through 5 Effective Labeling Strategies

There are a number of technologies that can help improve warehouse efficiency, but there is one that is so common within the warehouse that it might be overlooked as a productivity tool — the barcode label.

Labeling is part and parcel of inventory management at many warehouses, but an effective and holistic labeling strategy can extend the benefits of the technology to different operational areas. Barcode labels are designed to provide increased picking productivity and accuracy, and they can also improve the way goods and people flow through your facility.

Here are five parts of a well-thought-out labeling strategy that can improve your operations.

1. Pick the right labels. The first step in an effective labeling strategy is to select the right labels for the job. There are thousands of combinations of materials and adhesives. Make sure you have the right mix for the goods you are labeling and for your environment. The approach to labeling items with rough surfaces will be different than labeling items with smooth ones, for example. Cold storage warehouses or environments where labels will be exposed to contaminants also have special requirements.

2. Barcode all inventory. Having barcode labels on all products, cases, and pallets will greatly improve warehouse efficiency. Inventory will be more accurate, and you will automatically know how much of every item you have in each location. Picking will also be more accurate with a robust labeling program.

Not every item will arrive with a label that can be used for your internal tracking, however. Make sure you can print those custom labels on demand at receipt to ensure every item or case can be properly tracked.

3. Use efficient printing technologies. You can reduce time and material waste at the printer by using linerless labels or labels that use thinner liners. This will give you more labels per roll with less waste and less time spent on roll changes.
Also, deploy printers that are easy to service and clean so that consumable can be quickly changed when necessary.

4. Label all of your locations. You don’t have to restrict labeling to inventory. You can label every aisle, bin, shelf, and other location with a combination of shelf tags, floor tags, and even hanging signs. These can all be labeled with barcodes and scanned using long-range scanners. Having location data easily married to inventory data will provide for much faster putaway and picking. It will also reduce the amount of walking that warehouse workers have to do in order to complete a pick. With clearly labeled racks and shelves, employees can more quickly find the right inventory for each order. Custom barcode labels that also include other graphics can help provide direction to employees and improve traffic flow in the warehouse.

5. Use mobile printers. Walking back and forth to a stationary label printer can eat up an enormous amount of time. Provide mobile label printers that staff can carry on their belts. Combined with a mobile computer, this will allow them to generate labels at the point of activity. This can increase both the speed and accuracy of your labeling operation.

By taking the time to evaluate where labeling can provide additional benefits, your labeling strategies can streamline operations and improve warehouse efficiency. Don’t underestimate the potential value that labeling can have — look beyond boxes and pallets.

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Industry Solutions Warehouse and Distribution

5 Ways to Develop More Productive and Efficient Warehouse Operations

When it comes to warehouse operations, any improvement in productivity or efficiency can go straight to the bottom line, through reduced costs, less labor, and increased throughput. A more efficient warehouse can improve customer service and create the capacity you need to take on more business.

While every warehouse is different, there are a number of common approaches to achieving a more productive and efficient warehouse:

1. Use automatic identification and data collection technology in combination with a robust WMS.A strong warehouse management system (WMS) will help you streamline warehouse operations by generating automated pick lists, managing inventory, suggesting pick/put-away routes, and eliminating the need for paper pick sheets.

Using mobile computers and barcode scanning will eliminate manual data entry, reduce mistakes, and significantly reduce the labor and time needed for verifying shipments. If you are in an industry that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, handheld RFID scanners can scan dozens or hundreds of ID tags at a time — producing an even bigger efficiency gain in shipping and receiving operations. Hands-free picking solutions that use voice technology can also speed up warehouse operations while improving the ergonomics of your technology.

2. Take advantage of your vertical space. Warehouse operators should take advantage of every square foot of space they have. If floor space is in short supply, then consider building up instead of out. By extending your shelving and racking upward you can greatly increase the volume of goods you can handle without eating up additional room on the floor.

Pallet racking and other systems are easy to use and can improve workplace safety (as well as warehouse operations) by reducing clutter and making it easier for employees and material handling vehicles to move around the facility. Invest in a variety of racks and shelves that fit the size of your goods. That can include using standardized bins for smaller items. With well-organized racking and shelving, it will be easer for employees to pick and put-away inventory.

3. Consider robotics and other material handling automation solutions. With the use of more racking and shelving, you may find that you need more automated material handling equipment. Conveyors can make it easier to move goods across a facility while reducing strain on employees. Storage systems that can automatically move bins up and down through high shelving systems can also increase efficiency of your warehouse operations.

Robotic picking systems are also increasingly popular in warehouse and manufacturing environments. These robots can be used to pick items from shelves/bins at any height and accurately return the goods for sorting or shipping. They can operate across multiple shifts (saving labor) and perform work that might otherwise result in workplace injuries for regular employees.

4. Organize your warehouse for maximum efficiency. Evaluate your picking paths and methodology as well as how you have organized goods without your warehouse. The workflow in your warehouse should help ensure speed, accuracy, and accountability. Fast moving items should be placed close to shipping; items commonly shipped together should be co-located on the shelf/rack.

De-clutter the warehouse to remove obstacles that can slow down pick operations, and find ways to reduce the amount of walking that staff members have to do in order to complete their work. Have processes in place so that employees don’t have to leave their work areas in order to address problems. For example, create a space for packers to place incorrectly picked goods so that pick/put-away staff can retrieve them. Use your WMS to create efficient picking plans. Constantly re-evaluate your inventory and order patterns, and reorganize based on changes in order volume.

5. Institute continuous improvement. Don’t consider an efficiency initiative as something that will eventually be completed. You will need to continuously measure and monitor performance, and then adjust your warehouse operations to match any changes in your business. Don’t just focus on short-term improvements; set goals and objectives, and measure against them.

With the right physical infrastructure, organization, and technology in place, you can improve the efficiency and productivity of your warehouse operations while also boosting customer service and making your warehouse a safer place to work.

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Barcode Mobility Warehouse and Distribution

The Best Strategies for Improving Warehouse Efficiency

Inefficiency can have a corrosive effect on warehouse operations that goes way beyond shipment velocity or throughput. Lack of efficiency can have a domino effect across different warehouse activities, leading to missed shipments, returns, customer chargebacks, and ultimately lost business.

Optimizing warehouse efficiency requires a mix of technology and process changes that, taken in tandem, can both cut costs and create new business opportunities. Here are some key strategies for improving warehouse efficiency:

Process Evaluation: Prior to any major technology deployment, map out every process on the warehouse floor and search for inefficiencies and bottlenecks. If a process doesn’t seem to make sense, find out why it was implemented. In some cases, you may find employees are doing something simply because “It’s always been done that way,” even if “that way” is not longer necessary.

It’s important to root out and change bad processes prior to an automation project, otherwise you’ll simply increase the efficiency of a bad process and get the wrong results at a faster rate.

Automation: Humans are prone to errors, so any opportunity to take the human element out of data entry and data collection is a golden one. Automation technology in the warehouse can take the form of mobile computers, voice-directed picking, pick-to-light systems, conveyers, warehouse management software, bar coded pick lists and putaway locations, or RFID tag tracking.

The key is to reduce or eliminate the number of times an employee has to write things down or search for SKUs. The fewer “touches” on the data, the more accurate it will be and the more quickly your employees can complete their work.

Automation systems can also be set up so that if there is a mispick or mistake, employees are unable to move forward with their picking or packing process until the error is corrected. That way, mistakes are fixed before they reach the customer’s dock door and employees are given a sense of accountability in the process.

Hands-Free Picking: If your warehouse requires a lot of piece picking, then your employees will work faster with both of their hands. Ditch the clipboard or the brick-style mobile computer and see if your picking operations can benefit from a voice-directed picking solution that allows them to work faster.

Measure: Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and find out how you are performing against your peers and your own month-to-month numbers. Find your baseline and establish targets. Keep the metrics at a manageable number so staff can focus on specific improvements.

Also, determine your fastest and slowest moving SKUs, rank them, and focus your efforts on improving shipping performance for your most in-demand items.

Stay Organized: Keep your shelves and bins neat and organized. If you deal in different sized products, try using different sized shelving for those products to reduce wasted space. Make better use of vertical space as well; it can save you an investment in more square footage down the road.

Once you identify your fast- and slow-moving SKUs, organize the warehouse so that you can reduce the number of times items are touched, and cut down on the distance your employees have to walk to complete an order and print off labels. Most of the wasted time in a typical warehouse involves staff walking from one spot to another, multiple times per day. If you can trim that time you’ll improve warehouse efficiency and make working conditions better for your staff.

Documentation: Keep a central record of your performance against your targets, and make sure managers are aware of any significant improvements or failures. That documentation should extend to process or staffing changes, new customer demands, technology upgrades, and other changes in the warehouse. With that data available, you can map errors or bottlenecks and potentially identify the source of the problem more quickly.

Warehouse efficiency is critical in an increasingly competitive supply chain. Root out poor processes, invest in technology that can improve productivity, and continuously document and measure your performance in order to keep your operation running as lean as possible.