It seems there is never a lack of challenges for municipalities. From increased regulations to tightening budgets, the pressure to do more with less is ever-present. This is especially true for departments that manage the warehousing of assets and inventory.
The manual data collection processes of the past cannot keep up with the warehouse demands of today. Manual processes often result in lost or missing containers, tools, and equipment. Inaccuracies and backlogs also make it nearly impossible to get an accurate assessment of inventory stock levels. In short, manual processes waste time and increase costs.
The warehouse environment is full of opportunities to boost productivity. However, streamlining warehouse management can seem like a daunting task. How do local governments increase productivity and lower costs despite limited resources? Enter automated data collection.
Forward-thinking organizations are applying new automated systems to streamline warehouse operations, manage assets, maintain customer service, and ensure continuity. Two methods of automated data collection are typically used in warehouse management: barcoding and radio frequency identification (RFID). Here’s a brief overview of each.
A tried and true method that has been used for decades, barcoding is the most common form of automated data collection. Today, barcodes track everything from retail goods to machinery and medical records. In the warehouse environment, barcode labels can be created and applied to inventory and assets including containers, specialized tools, equipment, and machines. Each label contains key information about the item such as manufacturer and item number.
There are pros and cons associated with barcode technology. For instance, barcodes are “line of sight” technology. This means each barcode must be scanned individually by a barcode scanning device. Barcodes must also be attached to the outside of the product, making them more vulnerable to damage that renders them unreadable. However, barcoding does have its advantages. For instance, the cost of barcode labels is significantly lower in relation to RFID. Also, barcodes do not have limitations on the type of products they can be applied to.
If putting data into computer databases with little to no human intervention sounds appealing, RFID may be for you. RFID is a technology that reads tags, identifies information about the object, and enters this information into a computer database. An RFID system consists of an RFID tag or smart label, an RFID reader (also called an interrogator), and an antenna. The tag contains a circuit and an antenna, which transfers information to the reader. Once the information is transferred, the reader converts the information to a more usable form of data. This information is then transferred to a computer database using specialized software.
Although this technology is similar to barcoding, RFID systems are able to store much more information than traditional barcodes. Information such as product maintenance, shipping histories, and expiration dates can all be tracked using RFID. Unlike barcodes, RFID doesn’t require line of sight. This means RFID tags can be read at a faster rate than barcodes, without a human resource scanning each barcode label. However, RFID may struggle to read information when passing through liquid or metal, and the signal from one reader can interfere with the signal from another where coverage overlaps.
So which option is best for your warehouse? Choosing the right data collection method for your warehouse depends on many factors including the type of items to be tracked and your specific warehouse environment and workflows. In fact, many environments warrant using a mix of barcoding and RFID solutions to achieve the desired result.
Transform Warehouse Management
Both barcoding and RFID can help eliminate manual tasks and decrease errors, setting the stage for more efficient warehouse management. For example, automated inventory management can be performed much more quickly and accurately than manual counting, transferring, and recording. When integrated into a backend system such as Cityworks Storeroom, it also ensures real-time visibility into the quantity, location, and status of your inventory and assets.
In turn, costs are reduced by allowing more accurate ordering, less waste, and prevention of overstock. Beyond keeping inventory and assets in check, another step toward optimal warehouse management is ensuring your workers are operating at their highest productivity. Automating processes can help improve their pick routing, space utilization, and replenishment tasks such as:
- Picking (wave, directed, distributed)
- Cycle counting
Often called “task interleaving,” this consolidation helps workers complete replenishments, put-aways, and picks simultaneously and in a logical way. It adds efficiency to warehouse processes by eliminating non-productive activities and increasing inventory turns. Automated data collection can also help collect better time metrics against jobs, tasks, and work orders—allowing organizations to measure, analyze, and report against labor performance.
Automated data collection ensures warehouses are operating as “lean” as possible and that collected data is always accurate. With automated processes in place, it also becomes easier to measure productivity and understand where improvements are needed. The ultimate goal is to achieve maximum efficiency and get a handle on key warehouse data to put your goals within reach.
Wendy Stanley is the marketing director at Radley Corporation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.