Optimize your inventory management: How to implement a barcode system for your inventory

You can scan a barcode much quicker than you can type a random string of letters and digits by hand. Implementing barcode inventory management software will make your inventory workflows faster, easier, and more efficient.

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Efficient inventory management is crucial for success. If you’re looking to streamline your operations and gain better stock visibility, a barcode system could be a game-changer for your business. In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of optimizing your inventory management by introducing a barcode system. 

Let’s start with the basics: What exactly are barcodes, and how do they help you handle your inventory?

What are barcodes?

Fundamentally, barcodes are visual representations of data. They encode numbers, letters, and other symbols in black-and-white lines or squares. 

We can categorize the different barcode types into one-dimensional (1D) and two-dimensional (2D) symbologies. One-dimensional barcodes consist of lines and are designed to be scanned horizontally with laser scanners.

Two-dimensional codes also use vertical space, and they can only be scanned with devices that have a camera, like imager scanners or smartphones. 

What are the benefits of utilizing barcodes for your inventory management?

Barcodes are used for countless applications across industries because they offer a range of benefits. Let’s go over the main advantages.

  • Efficiency and speed: Scanning barcodes is much faster than manual data entry. This significantly reduces transaction times, shortens waiting lines, and makes inventory management more efficient.
  • Accuracy: Barcodes eliminate human error. Manual data entry is not only slower, but also produces significantly more errors than barcode scanning.
  • Cost-effective: Barcode labels are relatively cheap to design and print. Barcode systems require next to no training to use and can save money by reducing the time spent on correcting data entry errors. 
  • Inventory control: Barcodes offer a very efficient way to track inventory, making them especially useful in retail and warehousing. As counts are updated with every scan, barcode inventory systems can provide real-time stock levels.
  • Data availability: Since barcodes, especially 2D codes, can hold a lot of data in a small space, they allow for the storage of detailed product information. 

How to use barcodes for inventory management?

A barcode-based inventory system monitors stock using barcode labels affixed to items. Many inventory operations only require a swift scan with a reader or smartphone. This approach delivers real-time insights into the whereabouts and quantity of any item in your warehouse or store.

When an item is scanned, the barcode data is transmitted to the inventory management backend for processing and monitoring. This direct access to precise product data enhances decision-making concerning stock levels, purchasing patterns, and other relevant factors. 

Furthermore, the data provided by a barcode inventory system streamlines report generation on performance metrics, including sales figures and item popularity.

Which barcode scanner to use for inventory management

Barcode technology is deeply established in a range of industries. Over the last decades, different types of barcode scanners have been developed. They all have their advantages and disadvantages and are thus suitable for different use cases. Let’s take a look at four common types of barcode scanning devices.

  • CCD (charge-coupled device) barcode scanners: CCD barcode scanners are the standard in point-of-sale environments. They work in distances from a few centimeters to about half a meter, depending on LED strength, optics (depth of field), barcode size, and ambient light. They are limited to 1D codes.
  • Laser scanner: Due to their fast and reliable detection, even in bad lighting conditions and at considerable distances, laser scanners are well-suited for industrial and transport use cases. They, too, are limited to linear barcodes.
  • Imager barcode scanner: Imager barcode scanners function more like cameras than the traditional scanner types described above. Thus, they are suitable for 2D barcode scanning and are used in healthcare, ticketing, and industrial production.
  • Smartphones: The right software enables even inexpensive smartphones to quickly and reliably scan all common barcodes, no extra hardware needed. Enterprises can take advantage of this by creating mobile apps or web applications to enable digital workflows based on barcode scanning. A Barcode Scanner SDK simplifies the development of such apps significantly.

The choice between 1D and 2D barcodes

Deciding on whether to use 1D or 2D barcodes for inventory management involves several factors, e.g., size, data density and software support. Opting for the right barcode symbology is crucial for optimizing inventory management.

1D barcodes have a relatively simple structure, since a specific sequence of bars of varying widths corresponds to exactly one character. This also makes it easy to create 1D barcodes. There are even fonts that print the correct bars for every keystroke on the screen.

However, while some 1D symbologies make it possible to detect errors during scanning, correcting these errors is not possible – they just result in a failed scan. 2D barcodes have remedied this shortcoming.

For one, two-dimensional symbologies include various patterns that make it much easier for machines to locate and scan them without errors:

  • The finder pattern contrasts with the rest of the barcode, making it easier to locate in an image.
  • The timing pattern helps barcode scanners determine the size of a barcode’s modules (squares).
  • The alignment pattern can compensate for a certain degree of image distortion, enabling scanners to still read the code correctly.

For another, 2D barcodes have a much higher error tolerance and can be reliably scanned even in poor conditions. Their data structure is purposely redundant, so even heavily damaged barcodes can still be scanned. 

The robustness of 2D barcodes is enhanced further by built-in error detection and correction algorithms. Scanning from an angle, in poor lighting conditions, or with a low-resolution camera presents much less of a problem than with 1D barcodes.

How to set up a barcode inventory system in 7 steps

1. Define your inventory structure

Categorize products logically and determine the organization of your inventory.

2. Choose a barcode system

Select a barcode symbology based on the required data density, industry standards, and your specific needs.

3. Generate barcodes

Use barcode generation tools or software to create unique barcodes for each item.

4. Choose a barcode scanner

Decide on a reliable hardware- or software-based barcode scanner that supports your chosen symbology.

5. Configure your inventory management software

Ensure seamless communication between the barcode scanning system and your inventory database.

6. Train your team

Educate your team on barcode scanner usage and how scanning will be integrated into daily operations.

7. Schedule regular maintenance and updates

Routine maintenance for hardware and software components keeps them at peak performance. It also pays to stay informed about barcode technology advancements.

Integrating a Barcode Scanner SDK into your inventory management workflows

Integrating barcode scanning into your inventory management operations can significantly streamline and improve them. Apart from higher efficiency, you also benefit from greater accuracy.

By implementing a Barcode Scanner SDK into your existing mobile or web app, you empower your team to scan barcodes effortlessly using a smartphone or tablet. This eliminates the need for manual data entry, reduces the risk of errors, and ensures fast inventory updates.

Here’s what you can do next:

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