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Barcoding Inventory: How to Implement a Barcode System for Inventory

In the time it takes your average person to manually type a couple letters or numbers, you can scan a single barcode containing numerous characters at once. That means barcoding your inventory will make inventory management much quicker and easier.

Image of a barcode being built out. Barcoding Inventory: How to Implement a Barcode System for Inventory

Do you need a barcode system?

Implementing a barcode system takes time, however, so how do you tell whether you need one? If any of the following are true, you’ll most likely benefit from using barcodes.

1. You warehouse your inventory

Keeping track of thousands of inventory items in a warehouse can be difficult if you don’t have an easy-to-use system to keep an eye on item counts, details, and so forth. A barcode system is a must if you warehouse your own inventory.

2. Your vendors/retailers require barcodes

If your inventory gets sent to vendors or retailers, they might require barcodes for the items they purchase from you.

3. You’re maintaining MRO inventory

Not all inventory is meant to be sent off to vendors or stores. Some items kept for maintenance, repairs, and operations (MRO) are kept exclusively in-house. That said, your MRO inventory management will be much easier and more precise if you use barcodes to track everything. That way, you don’t risk suddenly running out of a spare part you need.

Set up your barcode system for inventory in 6 steps

Once you’ve decided that you need a barcode system, it’s time to get started actually implementing it. These steps should help you get your system set up in a way that will work best with your inventory.

1. Define all SKUs and variants

Start off by making a list of all items in your inventory. You can do this by keying each SKU number and variants into a database. With each unit, you might want to include some or all of the following information:

  • Item measurements
  • Purchase cost
  • Vendor information
  • Minimum amount you need in your inventory
  • Physical description of the item

This information can make organizing your inventory easier, especially if you have a wide range of similar items.

Tip: Inputting all this information into a spreadsheet is highly recommended. That way, you can easily sort items without having to deal with reams of paper.

2. Choose a barcoding software system

Once you have a complete catalog of your existing inventory, you’ll want to choose a software system to create your barcodes. Some popular barcoding software systems include:

  • Finale Inventory
  • Fishbowl
  • QuickBooks
  • Clear Spider
  • Square

Some CMMS’s can be used to create barcodes for items as well, so if you’re working on barcoding your MRO inventory, that option may be worth looking at. Ultimately, the system you choose should match your company’s scale and requirements.

3. Define your barcodes

With a software system ready, it’s time to determine the types of barcodes you’ll want to use. Some of the most common types of barcodes are:

  • Numeric, which are often used in retail, warehousing, and industrial settings
  • Alpha-numeric, which are used anywhere from grocery shelves to automotive factories to the military
  • Two-dimensional, which include QR codes capable of containing over 7,000 characters in one code

The code you choose will ultimately depend on how much information you want to code into the item. A numeric UPC code may be sufficient for smaller inventories where you only need to track product and manufacturer information, whereas a QR code might be better for tracking vast numbers of different items.

4. Create the barcodes

When you have a barcode type you like, use your software to create the codes for each item. Most software systems make this fairly straightforward. Typically, you’ll select the type of code you want and use the software to automatically generate a code for each item.

If you plan to use your barcodes for warehousing, you’ll want codes for shelves as well to allow you to track inventory placement.

5. Update your inventory management system with new barcodes

If you’re using a CMMS or inventory management system that’s separate from your barcode creation software, you’ll want to make sure that system is updated with the new barcodes. Doing so will make inventory management much more streamlined.

Tip: If you used a CMMS to create barcodes for your MRO inventory, this step isn’t really necessary. Your system should already have that information stored with each item.

6. Put barcodes on your inventory

Last of all, print the barcodes and place them on each item. Often, this is as simple as printing the tag and sticking it on, but you might need to take extra measures or use special materials with certain items.

For instance, rugged items with uneven surfaces may require foil barcode tags, whereas items used in cleaning might need lamination over the code to protect it.

Your barcodes are on. Here’s what you can do with them!

Now that you have a whole barcode system in place, what do you do with it? Your system will help you with many aspects of inventory and supply chain management, such as those described below.

Inventory tracking

First off, you’ll be able to track your inventory wherever it goes, whether you’re sending it across the nation, or simply moving it around in your warehouse. Ideally, each time an item moves to a different location, it gets scanned, meaning it’s less likely to get lost. If something does come up missing, it’s easier to track it down.

Tip: In order to keep a close eye on item movements with your barcode system, you will need to have a system in place to support it. Training employees to scan items in or out is a must, and it’s simple to do.

Optimize inventory management

Barcodes make it easier to optimize your inventory management, including the placement of items within a warehouse. By tracking the types of items you have in stock and where they’re placed, you’re able to make decisions about warehouse layout that make logistical sense.

Stock auditing

Another component of inventory management is stock tracking. Scanning barcodes is much quicker and easier than manually entering numbers into a computer, and it tends to be far more accurate as well. Because of this, you’ll have a much easier time with stock auditing with barcodes than you would otherwise.

How UpKeep makes inventory management easy

Upkeep provides numerous features that make inventory management simple, including:

  • Barcode generation and scanning through mobile devices
  • Automatic updates to MRO inventory stock counts as work orders are completed
  • The ability to create purchase orders
  • Importing inventory lists from a .csv file

Key Takeaways

In the end, a barcode system takes a bit of work to implement, but the benefits it can have for your inventory management processes are significant. Certain software solutions also make it much easier to implement, saving you time and expense.