The modern supply chain is rife with challenges, but efficiency remains one of the greatest obstacles. Sky-high expectations mean that today's companies need to pick and ship products in next to no time. Meanwhile, demanding customers have made real-time visibility a necessity.
Unfortunately, it can be tricky to balance transparency and the need for peak efficiency. This struggle is especially noteworthy in the food and beverage industries, where sensitivity to spoiling makes already significant timing concerns that much more urgent and the harsh environment of cold storage can present special challenges to traditional barcode tracking systems.
Such challenges are best addressed with an effective warehouse management system (WMS) that strategically incorporates advanced barcoding solutions for use in cold storage. An ideal WMS will handle all aspects of inventory movement, beginning with receiving and extending to putaway, picking, and eventually, shipping. All this must be supported by creative signage and labels to ensure the best possible return on investment.
Why are barcodes so important in food and beverage logistics?
In an effort to boost efficiency and produce maximum savings, companies make huge investments in WMS solutions. Significant spending may also accompany the process of implementing such systems. Proper hardware, software, infrastructure and training are also all required, further adding to the cost.
With so many financial aspects to consider, it's important that every impactful detail is accounted for when developing overarching WMS systems. Barcoding is one of the easiest components of a WMS to neglect, yet it can have a huge impact on the system’s return on investment (ROI).
At their most basic level, barcodes serve as the crucial link between WMS solutions and the employees responsible for keeping warehouses running. Pickers and lift operators in particular need clear signs and labels to help them navigate the warehouse environment as quickly and safely as possible. Beyond this, barcodes allow for real-time tracking. This is crucial when time-sensitive, spoil-prone products are involved, so barcode quality is especially critical.
Choosing the best labels
No matter how you handle essentials such as storage and staging, it's imperative that you develop a system of signs and labels that optimizes the organization and flow of your warehouse. You should always feel confident that your signs and labels will provide quick and precise reads.
At minimum, the location labels and signs that support your WMS should include the following:
● Durable label materials. Location labels need to stand up to heavy use. Materials such as polyester tend to hold up better over time than paper. All elements of a label need to be durable, so pay attention to the adhesive and liner quality, which will improve its lifespan.
● Color coding. Visual cues, namely color, can help workers determine what signs mean in a split second. This can boost efficiency by taking advantage of the brain's tendency to associate specific colors with ideas, locations or objects. Effective color-coding could also hold significant implications for warehouse safety; specific colors can be used to highlight areas in which additional caution or safety protocols are required.
● Strategic placement. As you focus on label durability and appearance, don't forget to choose strategic locations that improve their visibility to workers. Depending on the context, labels may be best when placed on racks, on the floor or suspended from the ceiling.
● Operational scan distances. Pay close attention to barcode specifications, as the optimum distance for scanning can vary. The ideal distance will largely depend on the type of scanning system you've implemented.
● Flexible labeling solutions. Agility is essential in today's quickly evolving warehouse environment. To remain competitive, businesses need to be able to scale up operations at a moment's notice to account for unexpected shifts in demand. Flexible solutions such as removable or magnetic labels encourage a dynamic space in keeping with today's logistics sector.
The factors highlighted above are essential across a wide range of industries, but additional challenges tend to accompany food and beverage warehousing, which often includes working in cold-storage warehouses. These include:
● Specialty materials and adhesives. Cracking and curling are common labeling problems in cold-storage environments. Preventing those issues begins by using strong adhesives and materials that resist damage at -65°F. Barcode application also matters, as implementing labels at sub-zero temperatures can often cause damage. Thankfully, many solutions allow for label application at sub-zero temperatures down to -20°F.
● Magnets for cold temperatures. Few solutions are as well-suited to cold temperatures as magnets, which are available in numerous thicknesses and strengths. When in doubt, opt for an industrial-strength magnet, which will hold up remarkably well in harsh conditions. Depending on the circumstances within your warehouse, you may need flexible magnets that can be moved easily or even ceramic options to hold signs in place.
● Promoting efficiency in a cold environment. As workers maneuver within food and beverage storage areas, they want to move quickly to avoid long exposures to cold temperatures. Your labeling solutions can help keep them safe and comfortable by allowing them to spot and scan key items almost instantaneously. Even seemingly minor details such as highly visible aisle signs can make a huge difference. After all, in frigid storage environments, every second matters. Don't forget to address concerns such as the placement of blowers or fans, which may impede visibility and cause employees to waste valuable time.
Logistics improvements through barcode optimization can help your organization gain a significant edge on the competition. To succeed, however, your supply chain must be complemented by strategic labeling and signage. A customized solution that meets your facility’s challenges can help you optimize your WMS to achieve an exceptional ROI that further pays off with the improved speed, precision and transparency that customers expect.