Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Taking Inventory of Your Business

Bar codes and scanner technology were first seen commercially in large retail chains, but have become so commonplace that large stores now offer checkout lines where you scan your own products for purchase. Almost all large businesses keep track of inventory using some sort of bar code tagging, and this technology has trickled down into the small business and customer sector. Can you use this technology, however? While pricing and actual store purchasing requires a sophisticated link between scanner, cash drawer, and database, using bar codes to keep up with equipment, or keep an eye on inventory levels is relatively simple.

First, let’s check out your software. Whether you build your own database or you use an accounting system that has an inventory file, you can use bar codes and scanners to quickly and accurately record the movement of your products and purchases. The first thing to do is research the type of scanning equipment you’ll need (we will hit this topic in the next section). To illustrate how simple it is, however, consider a product ID cell in your database (the place where you enter the ID). A bar code is simply vertical lines of different width. The contrasts in width are designated individually as numbers, and a laser in a scanner is used to pick up and translate these differences into numbers. Using the software sent with the scanner, the scanner will automatically transfer the bar code information, in digit format, into the ID cell you have highlighted. That’s all there is to it. It is simply a translation of symbols for numbers, and vice versa.

If your product already has licensed UPC codes, you can use them to enter and retrieve information from your database. If you are wishing to inventory things such as tools or other items not equipped with bar codes, making your own is no problem either. If the software for your scanner is not equipped to make labels, there are still other alternatives. You could buy a Brother labeler that is equipped to make bar codes, but this could be costly and time consuming. However, if you go to a website such as CNet, which has a database of downloads, there are several free downloads for macros that enable your Excel, Windows, or Access to make and print bar codes. All you’ll need then is paper with an adhesive backing.

If you are intrigued by the possibility of inventory control using this method, the next step is to find a scanner that is right for you. This step should be taken most seriously, because the type of scanner you purchase is the single most important factor in having a ROI in the shortest time period possible. There are a myriad of options, but the two largest vendors are Symbol and PSC, and they offer most of all the functional scanners. For instance, if you have items that will be inventoried near a computer, then a wand or gun scanner will be cheap, easy to use, and easy to install. However, if you need your scanner to be mobile, consider a PDT (Portable Data Terminal). This scanner stores barcodes and other information in its internal memory, which can then be uploaded to your inventory at your convenience. However, it is less cost- effective than a wired device, and requires more set up time and training.

A recent development in PDTs has been created by Handspring, which produces Visor PDAs, which run on Palm OS software (i.e., a version of Palm Pilot). The Visor is equipped with an expansion slot at the top called Springboard, and several vendors, including Symbol, have developed scanners for the Visors. This is an intriguing possibility for anyone who needs significant data entry along with the bar code, or someone wishing to look at inventory, details of the item, or any other imaginable information that can be stored on a Visor. If so inclined, you could even have your Visor attached to a wireless connection, so that you could instantly update your inventory, your accounting department, or even customers and suppliers.

As you can see, there are endless possibilities for scanners, and what they can do for your business. If you wish to pursue this option, here are a few web sites to get you started:


How to Get Started Using Barcodes…
(note: this is an excellent site on getting started, and includes links to vendors, macros, and other accessories)

John Mark Kennedy is currently a Senior at the University of Kentucky pursuing a degree in Descision Sciences and Information Systems. His e commerce interests include eCRM and supply chain management infrastructure.

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