The Basics of Barcoding

Most service centers are familiar with barcoding technology, but few use it to its full potential.
Service centers that have implemented barcoding in their operations have a distinct advantage over those that have not.

Barcoding functionality, incorporated into ERP systems, allows metal centers to significantly improve the speed in which inventory can be received and managed, while increasing accuracy and decreasing labor costs. Barcoding can be used in all phases of the operation—receiving, inquiry, picking, counting, shipping, etc.—significantly increasing efficiency and accuracy.

Most metal center executives are familiar with the obvious benefits of barcoding: capturing data faster and more accurately. A barcode scanner can record data five to seven times faster than a skilled typist, with 10,000 times better accuracy. Less familiar to many are the many other areas that barcode technology can reduce labor costs and generate savings:
  • Work in progress: Many metal centers have work that must go through several steps to complete. Using hand-held computer scanners, plant personnel can track material through each step of the work order process. Scanning a work order and the machine on which the material is being processed will track both the start and end times for each processing step, accurately capturing the time and cost of each process.
  • Dramatically speed up the invoicing process: Each bill of lading can include a barcode label that corresponds to an invoice number. When the day’s bills are returned to the office, the barcode can be scanned using an inexpensive USB-attached barcode reader. With this information, the system can produce a pre-invoicing report. If everything is in order, the ERP system can then generate the invoices and automatically email, fax or print them for mailing, depending on the customer’s preferences. This eliminates data input errors, while dramatically increasing the speed in which customers are invoiced.
  • Physical inventory control: Tracking inventory manually is a laborious process. With barcodes applied to each item in inventory, portable computer/scanners can be used to track shipping and receiving and quickly take physical inventories. The data is uploaded to the ERP system in real-time, instantly updating inventory levels.
  • Quarantine inventory: Some models of hand-held computer/scanners also include a digital camera. This is particularly handy as it allows the operator to take a picture of non-prime material and then upload the image to the ERP system. At this point, the picture can be emailed to a customer for review and acceptance or emailed to the original supplier for a credit or return of the material.
  • Inventory receipt: When inventory that has barcode labels attached by the supplier arrives at the service center’s warehouse, the labels are scanned and such data as the purchase order number, heat number, quantity and pieces will automatically be entered into the ERP system, eliminating the need to do this manually.
  • Signed bill of lading: If the service center requires a customer signature on the bill of lading, and the bill incorporates barcodes, it can be scanned and uploaded to the ERP system, then retrieved and emailed to the customer in the event of any dispute.
  • Bin location labels: Barcode labels can be attached to bin locations within the warehouse. These labels reference the location of the bin. The labels can be scanned when moving inventory, automatically updating the bin location in the ERP system.
  • Picking confirmation: Barcoded material can be picked and assigned to orders using a handheld scanner. If there is processing involved, the processing can be recorded on the handheld and the details of the off-cut (drop) can be entered. The system can then print a tag for the drop. By scanning the drop tag and a bin location tag, the drop is added back into inventory, in real time.
  • Inventory labels: There are two issues related to barcoding of metal products: getting the labels on and getting them off. In a steel warehouse, the labels must adhere on a wide variety of materials, textures and finishes, while at the same time being very scratch resistant so the information is not compromised. The labels also need to be relatively easy to peel off the material. Some barcode label manufactures have the capability to custom-produce labels for specific environmental conditions, and certain suppliers have created labels specifically for the metals industry. Industrial barcode labels come in a wide variety of media sizes and materials, with many service centers using acrylic polyester labels, which are flexible enough to wrap around a bar and durable enough to withstand extreme weather conditions outdoors for up to three years. In addition, barcode label printers can utilize thermal resin ribbons that make the labels extremely resistant to scratching. For service centers with high overhead racking, oversized barcode labels can be used so they can be read easily by near/far scanner models.
  • Barcoding symbology: Many different symbologies are used in barcoding, each having its own algorithm to interpret the barcode label. Barcode hand-held computers come preloaded with a number of the most popular symbologies, although you should confirm with your ERP supplier the symbologies they support.
Editor’s note: This article was contributed by the experts at 4GL Solutions.
4GL Solutions, Markham, Ontario, Canada, offers a complete enterprise computing package for steel service and processing centers. For more information, visit
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Monday, March 19, 2018