How to Control Inventory Using Barcodes

Many people see barcodes as mysterious and bar code management difficult. Barcodes are actually very easy to understand and can make managing inventory a lot more efficient.

A Little History

The most visible use of bar codes is in the supermarket industry, where it has been in use since 1970. They needed a faster and more accurate method of data entry. This was due, in part, to the fact that cashiers were highly skilled people; paid for their data entry speed and accuracy. Automating this process meant that the “average” person could achieve higher rates of speed and accuracy. Oh yes, and be paid a lot less too.

What is a Bar Code

A bar code is nothing more than a font or type style; like Arial, Times New Roman, Courier, etc. Bar code fonts are installed on your computer like any other font. If you have a bar code font installed on your computer, you should see it listed in your Fonts list (like from MS Word®). However, bar codes are not free and most computers don’t have bar code fonts unless they have been specifically installed. When you install software programs like Flat Rate Plus® and Total Office Manager®, they add certain bar code fonts to your computer.

In fact, you could open MS Word, highlight text and change the standard font to a bar code font. This is what we did in writing this article. Take a look at the two identical sentences below. One uses a 12pt Arial font (top) and the other a 12pt bar code font called Code 39.

 

barcode scanner

Some Technical Details

As you can see, a Bar Code symbol consists of a series of parallel, adjacent bars and spaces. Predetermined width patterns are used to code the actual data into the symbol. In the case of Code 39, each character consists of 9 segments, five bars and four spaces. Bars and spaces have two sizes. The width of the bars and the number and position of the spaces determines the character.

Bar codes include a stop and start character. The Code 39 bar codes uses an asterisk (“*”) to tell the scanner when the bar code starts and when it stops. There must also be sufficient blank space around the bar code. This is called the quiet zone.

To read information contained in a Bar Code symbol, a scanning device, such as a light pen (or more commonly a wand), is moved across the symbol from one side to the other. As the scanning device is moved across the symbol, the Bar Code width pattern of bars and spaces is analyzed by the Bar Code decoder and the original data is recovered.

How to Obtain a Bar Code

Bar codes are fonts and they are not usually installed on a computer unless they were part of a software installation that uses them. Bar code fonts may be purchased from www.idautomation.com and other companies.

Installing Bar Code Fonts

As mentioned earlier, bar code fonts are sometimes installed when you install software programs that make use of them. You may also buy them and install them yourself.

Here is how you install bar code fonts on your computer. Click Start | Control Panel | Fonts. From the Fonts list click File | Install New Font. From there, you navigate to the location of the font file that you purchased and click OK.

Creating Bar Codes

Bar codes should be printed using a high resolution printer and clean white paper. Most bar codes require no special inks or hardware. Virtually any modern laser printer can print bar codes. The example shown earlier was printed using a standard laser printer. To optimize readability, bar codes should be printed in black on white paper. A font size of 12 or greater is usually recommended. It is also recommended that no more than thirty characters be bar coded.

As mentioned earlier, you can enter information into Ms Word® and change the standard font to a bar code font. Software programs like Total Office Manager® and Flat Rate Plus® allow you to print parts lists and other reports with bar codes.

Why Use Bar Codes

Bar codes are used to speed up data entry and reduce input errors. Labels, forms and other paperwork can contain bar codes. Important fields such as model numbers, serial numbers, invoice numbers, item numbers, and account numbers would be good choices for a bar code font. These bar codes can then be scanned using a variety of bar code scanners.

Recommended Bar code Scanners

We recommend two different types of wireless bar code scanners. One uses bluetooth capabilities to transmit data to a mobile device, the other uses radio frequency technology to transmit data to a computer. Both work seamlessly with Aptora Mobile II and Total Office Manager to make inventory management simple and efficient. Click here for more information on the barcode scanners Aptora offers.

Usage

To read information contained in a Bar Code symbol, a scanning device, such as a light pen (or more commonly a wand), is moved across the symbol from one side to the other. As a scanning device is moved across the symbol, the Bar Code width pattern of bars and spaces is analyzed by the Bar Code decoder and the original data is recovered.

For example: Place your cursor in a field that accepts characters from a standard keyboard (like a part number field). Next, scan a bar code using a bar code reader. The part number is then entered into the field where the cursor is – as if you typed it yourself.

The bar code reader does not contain any type of inventory or other information. It is simply an input device – no different than your keyboard. Your software must have information about what was scanned. For example, if you are scanning an item number, the software program must have this item number and other details about this item already entered into it.

In the contracting industry, there are many simple and productive uses for bar codes. Here are some quick examples:

  • You might print bar codes for all of your inventory items using reusable stickers. When an item is sold, these stickers can be transferred from the item to the back of the invoice or other paperwork. Your office can then scan these bar codes for faster invoicing and job costing.
  • Most items include UPC labels. Universal Product Codes can be programmed into Total Office Manager as Item Aliases. When receiving items into inventory, you could simply scan these bar codes rather than entering each and every item by hand.
  • Print bar codes for all of your company assets such as computers, printers, phones, tools, and equipment. At the end of each year you can scan these bar codes for inventory purposes.