Barcode scanners – time for a recap

It’s a fact that material handling businesses gain great efficiencies from using remote info-gathering tools – with rugged scanners to the fore. But do you feel comfortable when it comes to choosing new scanner equipment? What kind, where to buy them, what you can expect? In this blog post, Greg Smith, field applications engineer and scanner expert at JLT Mobile Computers, talks about barcode scanners, how they came about, where they’re going, and what you should consider when deciding on the best solution for your operation.

What comes to mind when you think of barcode scanning? That managing all the finding, handling, moving and storing of materials would be impossible without it? All that keeping track of things, recording what goes where, knowing how to get it there and in what order, and just generally staying on top of all the logistics that keep supply chains going. It just couldn’t be done without scanning technology.

Barcodes are everywhere today and it’s hard to imagine how things got done before they came along. About $7 billions worth of barcode scanners were sold last year, and the scanner market keeps growing. Once there were just basic scanners. Now there are new types and new functionalities, and scanning has become what binds material handling, logistics and supply chains to the overall global information infrastructure.

If you use scanners, do you feel you made the right choice and do the scanners work as expected? Does your staff like them? If you’re just thinking about buying scanners, do you know what you should be looking for?

Barcode scanning 101

Let’s recap what scanners are and how they work. The basic idea is to tag things with something to identify them. Regular writing would be cumbersome and inefficient. Barcodes are unique and easily found.

What do the bars represent? Combinations of different bars stand for numbers and letters in an alphabet. It’s like writing with lines of different thickness and distance between them. There are linear 1D codes, and 2D codes that can store a lot more data. Not all barcodes use bars. Some use other symbols and even color. There are many different types of codes because different markets and materials have different needs.

Laser scanners are most common, but they can only read linear codes. For 2D codes you need an imager scanner that works more like a camera.

Barcodes can be small or large. Codes may be printed on different surfaces. They may have to be read up close, from a distance, if they are damaged, or in difficult light. That’s why some scanner types, scanner technologies and barcode types will work great for you and others not so much. It’s all in making the right choices.

Aspects that matter

It is really important to ensure the scanners work well for those who actually use them. Warehouse staff do many scans per shift, and seemingly small details can make a big difference. Is the scanner light enough to be held for hours? Are the scan buttons in the right place? Does the touch screen respond well? Is the screen easy to read? Does the battery last the entire shift? And so on. Ergonomics have a big impact on how your workforce adapts to the scanners. Little things can reduce fatigue, injuries, and bad reads.

As scanners will get dropped no matter how careful workers are, they must be tough enough to handle this – along with exposure to dirt, grime, spills, heat, cold and more – without breaking down. So check what scanners have been tested and certified for before making a purchase decision. And make sure they are easy to clean and disinfect after every shift. That’s critical these days!

Finding the right scanner is important but is only part of the challenge. Once the data is read, it’s then up to a good backend system to log, process and analyze the data so it can be used to make informed decisions for inventory control, process optimization and the overall performance of the material handling operation.

 The connection between the scanner and the backend systems must be fast and rock-solid. That isn’t always easy in material handling where wireless data coverage, consistent signal strength and seamless handoff can be problematic. Here, again, making the right choice is key to success.

Backends usually run on Microsoft, most scanners and handhelds on Android. That’s not generally a problem and workers love Android devices because they know how it works from their phones. But do make sure the two platforms are compatible and your vendor offers utilities and tools to manage, configure and update the scanners.

Talking of vendors, don’t underestimate the value of spending time to find the right supplier. Buying gear off the shelf or online may lower upfront cost. More often than not, a better choice is working with a supplier that knows your field, specializes in equipment for your field, and can offer solutions and long-term support.

Download our free guide on scanner success or contact [email protected] if you have any comments, questions, or want to find out more about how we help companies such as yours find the best scanners for their business.

Guest blog submitted by JLT Mobile Computers

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