SupplyChain

Supply Chain & Warehouse

Warehouse management systems (WMS) are transforming static warehouse into dynamic, just-in-time fulfillment centers. Bar codes can increase through put by up to 40% and reduce labor costs by 25-60%. We bar code label everything from racks and floors to walls, pallets and long distance hanging bar code signage. If you want labels that stay where they belong, contact us about the solution.

A decade ago companies focused on production and quality. Now the focus is on storage and distribution. Customers won’t wait for a back-ordered item if a competitive product is available. Immediate access to information about product movement, and the ability to control it throughout the supply chain is the key to success. That’s why you need to have every location uniquely identified, minimize data collection time, and minimize travel distance to scan bar codes. Ask us how!

WAREHOUSE and DISTRIBUTION INVENTORY LABELS OVERVIEW

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, companies focused on production efficiencies and quality. Over the past few years, the focus has shifted to the storage and distribution process. In the haste to speed information across the supply chain, too little attention has been paid to assuring that the basic order fulfillment process is in place to back it up. With increasing demands for just-in-time delivery and rapid response programs, “logistics” is the buzzword. Immediate access to information about product movement, and the ability to control it throughout the supply chain is the key to success.

Today, warehouses need to be customer driven; focused on pulling product based on customer demands. These demands require new abilities to support cross-docking, postponement strategies, and other value added services like light assembly and kitting. Warehouse management systems are transforming static warehouses into a nimble just-in-time fulfillment centers capable of meeting evolving customer requirements. They are becoming smaller and more dynamic facilities. Products received can be identified, sorted, routed, and shipped in an uninterrupted flow. The irony is that companies now recognize that this process is not only attainable, but offers processing efficiencies that make it a compelling decision to implement.

Based upon industry standards, companies typically spend 7 to 10 percent of their operations budgets on distribution. Using bar codes for automatic sorting or shipment validation can increase through put by up to 40% and reduce labor costs by 25 to 60%, representing thousands of dollars in annual savings.

DECISION FACTORS
There are a number of factors involved in the decision to implement an automated warehouse management system. They include:

JIT and Rapid Response Capability. In order to respond to customer demand for these services, businesses are finding that they in turn need to implement such programs with their suppliers.

CUSTOMER SERVICE. Customers won’t wait for back-ordered items if a competitive product is available. As a result, many companies have cited service as the primary motivation for automating warehouse management systems. This includes improving shipping accuracy.

COST SAVINGS. It is much less expensive to automate warehouse management systems than it is to simply build out more warehouse space. Reducing inventory, ensuring proper LIFO/FIFO stock rotation, optimizing picking, and cross-docking are all enabled by automatic identification technologies.

GOAL
Increase productivity of warehouse employees by improving the speed and accuracy of put away and picking operations.

OBJECTIVES
Have every location uniquely identified
Minimize data collection time,
Minimize travel distance to scan bar code.

WAREHOUSE SYSTEMS
There are four basic functions of warehousing: receiving, storage, picking, and shipping. Typical automated warehouse management systems (WMS) have four separate but inter-related systems to process product from the receiving door to the shipping door. These systems include RECEIVING, INTERNAL MOVEMENT, PICKING, and SHIPPING. Every warehouse has variations based upon the products they distribute and the customers they serve. The differences include handling and picking full pallets, full cartons, repack of individual items or a combination of these. In each of these systems, the specific product must be identified to assure positive control.

There are three permanent identification components within a tracking system. These components identify who handles products and where the products are located at any given time. By measuring who and how the product was handled as well as where it was located and where it was moved, it is possible to gauge the efficiency of the system. The components are: A) employee identification (via bar code badge) to track productivity and responsibility for each activity, B) identification of storage locations (aisle, rack, cage, vault, etc.) with human readable and bar code identification, and C) bar code identification of picking totes or pallets if they are used in the picking process.

NEW INSTALLATION CONSIDERATIONS
Successfully implementing an identification system in a warehouse or DC requires preventing project stopping issues. These issues are largely underestimated. Such an underestimated, key project stopping issue is the compatibility of scanning equipment, bar code dimensions, label size, and material handling equipment across various applications within the warehouse.

The goal of a new WMS installation is automatic data collection and verification via successful bar code scanning. However, with many different bar code applications occurring simultaneously within the facility, it is necessary to understand how scanning works. The critical elements to a successful scan include the combination of the type of scanner, the “x” dimension of the bar code, the label stock, and the scanner’s scanning range (minimum and maximum). It is critical that the warehouse staff understand this distinction so that the proper equipment, label, and bar code design be acquired and used. Unless this combination of elements is compatible, scanning results will be inconsistent.

Scanners scan within a specific distance or “depth of field.” This “depth of field” is the range from the minimum distance to the maximum distance for which the scanner can read the size of bar code being used. Bar codes can be printed to be readable by a specific type scanner within a specified distance (depth of field). Bar codes can be printed with wider (longer distance) or narrower (shorter distance) bar widths to accommodate a depth of field requirement. For example, a 30mil bar code on standard white material is scannable by a standard scanner from 4-6 feet. Neither the scanner nor the bar code can be used for greater distances. With each scanner there is a minimum and maximum scan range for each size of “x dimension”. There are different types of scanners which will scan different bar code “x dimensions” and scan from different distance ranges. To achieve a “long distance” scan, different scanners, different bar code x dimensions, and/or different label materials are required. The label size is a consideration of the bar code size requirement and the physical location where the label is to be placed.

CONDITIONS
These issues affect the design criteria of the labels:

1. The physical characteristics of the facility.

a. Of particular interest are the height of the racks and the width of the aisles. This will determine the distance and angle at which the bar codes will be scanned. This in turn shapes the label/bar code considerations.
b. The types of storage units (i.e. racks, shelves, bins, totes, vaults, cages, floor areas, etc) can vary by size (very small to ultra large), shape, materials (i.e. plastic, metal, wood, concrete, corrugate, glass, etc), and surfaces (i.e. painted or unpainted, rough or smooth, flat or sharply curved, etc).
c. The distance to be scanned (i.e. 1” up to 35+ feet).
d. Poor location database information.
e. Inaccurate facility location maps. No bar code labeling of the warehouse can begin until a complete and accurate map is available.

2. Environment

a. Temperature: hot and/or cold
b. Humidity: damp and/or dry
c. Lighting: dark and/or light areas, the type of light source (direct sunlight, UV lighting, etc.).
d. Cleanliness: dirt and/or dust

3. Chemical contact

a. Cleaner and/or solvent exposure
b. Oil and/or grease exposure

4. The type of equipment being used or contemplated.

a. Multiple types of scanners ranging from short range to long range, as well as hand held versus mounted.
b. Material handling Equipment. Product picking requirements (i.e. UOM, full case, repack, full pallet) will largely dictate material handling equipment (i.e. totes, man up pick lifts, fork lifts, etc.).

5. The numbering format desired by the facility staff. Any special numbering sequence, bar code symbology desired, bar code symbology required, human readable features including numbers, a prefix, designators, etc. or the use of license plate location labels.

ISSUES TO BE RESOLVED / DESIGN CRITERIA
1. Depth of field

a. What is the range of distance (horizontally and vertically) from which the bar code will be scanned?
b. What type of scanning equipment is involved?

2. Bar code size and symbology

a. The bar code size will be a function of the symbology chosen, the depth of field, the “x” dimension of the bar code, the number of digits/characters to be imaged, and the label material selected.

3. Facilitating location identification

a. Use color (functional) or design codes (i.e. arrows) to improve location identification.
Aisles and tiers can be designated with a prefix (i.e. a location within a rack slot may be
identified as either L-M-R). Tiers may be color coded for different levels of the racks.

4. Label size

a. The label size will be a function of the bar code size, other graphics required on the label, and the label material selected.

5. Substrate Materials

a. Facestock selection. The type of label stock can impact the depth of field by 300%.
b. Adhesives. This selection is based on environmental conditions and surface characteristics.
c. Laminating labels. Permanent label applications within a warehouse are subjected to a variety of conditions that can affect bar code scan performance. Totes are nested, resulting in label scuffing; location labels need to be cleaned to provide a clear scan surface, washing can result in potential bar code damage; daily handling of employee badges can wear the badge quickly. Laminating protects against these issues.

6. Sequencing labels for easy installation

a. Number sequencing, roll quantity, etc. can have a big impact on how quickly and easily it is to label aisle and rack locations.

7. A complete file of warehouse locations to be identified

a. The proper location labels cannot be manufactured without a complete file of locations.

The material used for these applications vary widely depending on the physical and environmental conditions of the facility. Many are pre-printed and laminated for durability using an aggressive permanent adhesive for long-term adherence. Some use removable adhesive. Some are put on tags and are inserted into pockets and others are put on placards for hanging in open areas. Still others are put on magnets for movement in flexible warehouses. Most of the time the material used is synthetic for strength and durability. Standard material, paper or synthetic, can only be scanned at up to about eighteen (18) feet without requiring special material used for scanning at up to thirty five (35) plus feet depending on the scanner used and the lighting in the environment.

These products are normally preprinted so that the product can be laminated. Replacement labels are being printed onsite using Thermal Transfer printers.

SUMMARY

The key to a smooth running operation is a smooth installation.  Having a complete location map, a thorough understanding of the surfaces to which the labels are applied, depth of field issues, and the handling and processing systems will contribute to the proper choice of products.

Two recommendations:

1) Make sure that the installation process of labeling is thought through.  Many times dozens of temporary staff are brought in to apply the racking and tote labels.  The method in which these labels will be applied should dictate how they are packaged (rolls of 1000 are not appropriate if each person is to be issued 50 labels at a time.

2) Test and test again before actual installation.

LOCATION LABELS (RACK/FLOOR/DOCK DOOR)

Accurately expediting the put away and the picking of product for shipment is contingent upon immediately identifying the storage location.  In order to have positive inventory control every item and location must be identified, specifically with a unique identification number.  Every action within the inventory system must be tracked.  This would include tracking the item as well as its location each time it is received, stored, moved, or removed.   The key is employee productivity and data accuracy.

Identification should include numbering and/or identifying designators (aisle, row, rack, etc.) within the layout configuration.  The quick identification of aisle, rack, shelf, and bin locations can be facilitated by the use of colors representing certain warehouse zones, and symbols such as arrows explicitly identifying locations.  Unfortunately, location information and maps in many existing warehouses have evolved over time and has become outdated, inaccurate, and/or obsolete.  The patchwork number system ends up being a disjointed configuration.  Frequently, new locations don’t have a warehouse location map or an accurate database.

RACK LOCATION LABELS

Rack labels are used to identify a specific location in a storage area.  The information on the label is used for visual reference and the bar code is used for automated location verification.  Depending on the size of the warehouse area, there can be dozens, if not hundreds of rows, and probably thousands of rack locations.    Rack labels are used to identify a specific location in a storage area.  Test adhesive on new rack surfaces.  Paint may still be out-gassing which will cause labels to lift and/or fall off.

RACK LOCATION LABELS WITH SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS

With larger and larger warehouse distribution complexes being constructed, there is an increased need for scanning inventory stored in racks 3-4-5 levels high, without having to get in a cherry picker to elevate to the rack level.  In such longer range scanning situations where the bar codes may even hang from a ceiling mount, additional considerations are required.  Additionally, it may be desirable to scan ground level labels from a greater distance rather than take the time to approach a scan location within a few feet and return.   For example, when a forklift operator adds, removes, or simply takes inventory count, the inventory information can be scanned from a longer distance via a long range RF scanner mounted on the forklift, preventing the need to approach within a few feet.  Or, there may be low lighting conditions that make scanning at any distance more difficult.

When long-range bar code scanners were developed, a material commonly used for illuminating road signs at night was modified allowing for bar code printing.  The surface of this polyester based material is coated with microscopic glass beads.  It is the glass beads that create the enhanced reflectance off the material, much like a mirror surface.  The reflectance from this material can triple the scanning distance of long-range scanners.  Today, under reasonable conditions, labels on this material can be scanned up to 25 feet.  Under optimum conditions, distances of over 35 feet can be scanned.    This material is very expensive.  In order to minimize size (and hence cost), consider utilizing a 2D bar code.

FLOOR LABELS 

Frequently palletized product is stored on the floor, though it is usually considered a temporary situation.  Work-in-process units are constantly moved about to different floor locations.    Depending upon the situation, it may be productive to formally identify storage locations on the floor.  These areas can be painted or taped off to represent special areas for pallets. However, in order to utilize automated tracking and inventory, each floor area used for storage should be uniquely identified.  Typically they are numbered and bar coded, minimal graphics (unless color coded for functional purposes), antiskid—scan through over laminate, only large enough to get a readable number and bar code, durable, and permanent.

Floor labeling addresses a simple function:  identifying a location.  It sounds simple. Print a label and place it on the floor.  What makes it difficult is adhesion to a cement floor and more importantly the abuse from constant traffic on the label.  Forklifts and pallet jacks are constantly moving forward and backward, stopping and starting, as well as turning on top of the label.  The label must remain in place, be resistant to scuffing from equipment as well as industrial strength cleaning solutions.  For this, special materials are required.  And, by the way, the bar code must remain scannable.

It is strongly recommended that each label location is completely cleaned and let thoroughly dry.  Typically cleaning agents strong enough to clean the floor are also strong enough to eat away the label adhesive, if the label is applied to the floor before the cleaning agent has completely dried.

Pointil makes floor labels that you can drive over all day long.  Contact us about labels that take a beating and keep on scanning.

In high volume shipping areas with many dock doors, some staged shipments can accidently be loaded on the wrong truck.  In order to prevent this, dock doors and staging areas on the floor should be identified.

Floor labels can be placed on the floor in front of each dock door or in designated staging areas.  As a pallet is picked up by a fork lift operator, the pallet label and the floor bar code identifying that staging area can be scanned to identify that specific pallet.  As the forklift is driven onto the truck, the operator scans the dock door floor label as he drives by, confirming that the shipment is placed in the correct truck.

2D DOCK DOOR TAGS

Optionally, dock door tags may be placed on the wall adjacent to the dock door.   One of the key issues is allowing the forklift operator to scan the dock door label from a distance while loading the pallet onto the truck.  In this way they do not have to stop the forklift and walk over to the bar code door bar code tag to scan it.  Conversely, if you make the bar code too big, you can’t scan it if you are standing next to it.  What to do?  Pointil has developed a BIFOCAL 2D bar code.  Much like bifocal glasses, this bar code can scan at different distances to accommodate different types of scanners simultaneously.  This allows you to scan from short range with a standard scanner or all the way up to the maximum distance scannable by your long range scanner with the same bar code.

Pointil understands the requirements for rack labels.  We have the adhesives that won’t fall off newly painted racks.  We understand reflectance and lighting and how to compensate for lighting and glare conditions that may interfere with your ability to scan bar codes.  We understand bar code depth of field issues, the scanners used for long distance scanning, and which bar codes will optimize your productivity.  Finally, we understand that sometimes it’s not just the label, but simply how we provide the labels sequentially in order for you to optimize your implementation.  Call us for answers.

TOTE LABELS:

Plastic totes and trays have become a packaging staple as much as cartons and pallets. They are a critical element in warehouses where order fulfillment frequently involves processing pick and pack components with less-than-full unit-of-measure orders (i.e. less than full carton quantities). As these orders are being picked, they are placed in a plastic tote or tray.
In adjacent production functions including assembly and fabrication, totes and trays are also used to move components and completed products through the system.

Sometimes the tracking requirement is for 30 minutes (as a pick and pack tote is moved from picking to shipping) and sometimes they are intended to last for years.

The tracking and identification of totes and trays is achieved through the use of bar code labels. Totes and trays are subjected to constant handling in a production environment. Scuffing frequently happens as they are constantly moved about. Additionally, they are frequently nested to reduce storage space, or for returning to a vendor for replenishment. As they are nested, labels will be scuffed resulting in potential scanning problems. As a result, it is recommended that the labels be over-laminated. Over-laminating the bar code image is clearly easier with preprinted labels than those printed onsite on demand.
Most plastic totes and trays are made from molded polyethylene or molded polypropylene, both having low surface energy characteristics. Plastics like polypropylene tend to bleed plasticizers over time. These plasticizers adversely affect many permanent adhesives. As a result, specific adhesives should be used to adhere to this surface. Labels with the wrong adhesive will fall off in a matter of weeks or months.

We understand the requirements for tote labels, be they for both short term and long term use, be they paper or plastic, over-laminated or regular, preprinted bar codes or printed on demand. Contact us at sales@pointil.com for more information about how we can improve your tracking system.

RECEIVING LABELS:

Shipments lost in the warehouse are often the result of incorrect labeling and hence, misplaced. To prevent this, the received units of product (pallet, cartons, etc.) are identified with a uniquely numbered label or tag providing tracking within the warehouse system. There are two basic options:

1. Labels can be printed in the receiving area, on a portable printer attached to the forklift, or via a hand held device. In this manner, specific information about that particular item (include specific data as to the product, data, unit identification number, etc. including a bar coded identification number) can be printed and on the label, allowing them to put it away, do inventory and pick the product.  If printed on demand for each shipment received, the receiving process is delayed while the labels are printed.

2. Using a pre-printed bar code “license plate” receiving label which is scanned into the receiving record. The specific data is entered into the database and linked to the “license plate” number. The exact location of each item can always be identified in real time.  Either a single bar code label or a piggyback set of identical numbers can be used. The set of identical numbers allows a single subset to be removed and placed on picked items, for positive identification.

Pointil Systems provides blank and pre bar coded labels for receiving.  We manufacture both single labels and “set” labels which can later be used for picking sub units such as cartons from pallets.  Labels are available in paper and synthetic materials depending upon the environmental conditions of the warehouse.  Adhesives are available for standard cartons, wax sided cartons, UV printed cartons, totes, and RPCs.  Bar codes can be designed to read near or far by hand scanners or by scanners mounted on conveyors.

PALLET LABELS:

Pallets are one of those industrial products that are taken for granted. However, you would never consider loading 800 cartons individually on a truck, when you could load 20 pallets. Pallets serve a variety of purposes. While these purposes vary in application, they share a common objective of facilitating product processing.  Occasionally pallets are permanently labeled in lieu of labeling rack locations. This provides optimum storage flexibility, allowing inventory relocation without moving the rack labels. This identifies the product on the pallet without tying it to a specific location. This is particularly important when palletized work-in-process materials moved around and require tracking.

Receiving: When product is received, bar code labels (i.e. receiving labels) are applied to the pallets, instantly identifying the pallet contents as the data is entered into inventory.

Inventory control:  Serial numbered labels uniquely identify pallets in the inventory system, enabling tracking and identification through finished goods, putaways, picking, and shipping. This simplifies cycle and physical inventory counting by simply scanning in the code rather than keying in part number and quantity data.

Shipping: Shipping product incorrectly results in time consuming and costly corrections, saying nothing of the potential loss associated with perishable and/or time-sensitive deliveries, and the cash flow implications from delayed payment. When a trailer is being loaded, the operator can scan the pallet label and the bill of lading number to verify that the pallet is being loaded on the correct trailer. This process can expedite, with accuracy, billing information as well.

Pointil manufactures a variety of pallet labels.  Labels can be applied either to the product on the pallet, or the pallet itself. Having labels fall off is time consuming and can lead to erroneous product transfer or shipment. Pallet surfaces are typically rough and difficult to adhere to. Aggressive, high initial tack adhesive is a standard requirement.

Corner Wrap Labels: Labels have duplicate end-to-end bar codes that are wrapped around the edge of a pallet enabling the bar code to be scanned from two different sides.

Distance scanning: Frequently full pallets are stacked high in rack systems or staged on the floor. Long distance scanning may be a requirement.

 Color highlighting: Frequently labels are highlighted with a color for easy locating.  Color-coding can identify or distinguish dissimilar products or represent date of product.

Subset labeling: Subset labeling involves a large, for distance scanning, bar code and a series of smaller labels for picking orders. Frequently, less than full pallet orders are requested. When this occurs, a subset label is removed and placed on the pick order, enabling the tracking and auditing of that order. The label set remains on the pallet for identification.

 

©Pointil Systems 2012         12807 Airport Way     Portland, OR 97230     503.257.5097