Labeling for Success in your Warehouse’s Inbound Process Area

This week’s article is about labeling on inbound goods – both raw materials and goods for resale.

Let’s start by looking at the basic anatomy of a label which can have at a minimum any one of the following:

-        Part Number

-        Purchase Number (typically your PO #)

-        Sales Order

-        Production Date

-        Lot # and/or serial #

-        Quantity

-        Unit of Measurement how the above quantity is expressed e.g. each, pieces, kg, lb

We are not considering specific label formats for automotive, retail, drug, food, and electronics industries to name a few. 

However, once the product and labels arrive at your destination the question becomes what can you do with them?

Here are 5 basic rules for efficient inbound labeling:

1)     Support for the Supplier’s Part # 

Unless you use the same part number schema as the manufacturer, you’ll need your systems group to build an alias table which cross references the manufacturer’s part # to yours. The alternative, of course, is to get the supplier to put your part # on the label – this is not typical as we have seen it done for only very large buyers e.g. Wal-Mart.

2)     Make sure the barcode font is readable by your barcoding equipment

There are two areas where you need to be mindful. The barcode symbology and the width of the white and black lines as measured in thousands of inches or millimeter.  Generally, a 10-15 mil* barcode will get you a 1 foot scanning distance.  We have seen suppliers (as in ours) send in labels with the part # half that size, that can’t be scanned by our existing equipment.  As for symbology, don’t assume all barcodes are equal. A barcode is basically a font and not everyone uses the same font. For example, suppliers from Europe and Japan still use EAN-13 which is very different from our UPC-A standard in North America.

3)     Parse the Barcode

Often the part # or other information you need is contained in one super long barcode like a UCC label which comprises 42 characters and contains everything you need to know about the product including expiry date, weight, part #, date of manufacture, etc.

This is a relatively simple programming exercise to strip out the characters you don’t need and only populate the fields with the data you need. This becomes more challenging when you have to parse a variety of long barcodes and making sure your equipment can scan those barcodes consistently.

4)     Re-labeling

Ok, you’re stuck re-labeling because perhaps you have to put your own traceability data on the label, perform QA tests on the incoming product, capture its weight, or the supplier won’t play ball. Consider technologies such as portable printers to minimize travel time, printing the labels in advance based on ASN, make sure your warehouse application supports printing of the label WHILE you are performing a receiving activity this will save a lot of operator time, and lastly only print a minimum amount of information if there is already a lot of useful data already on the supplier’s label. Also remember to remove or label over the supplier’s label if it’s not going to be used. 

5)     Create a Labels Action Committee

This is often left to the project manager or IT person to figure out the labeling standard. It’s been our experience that they don’t have the clout or expertise to fully understand the range and impact of all these labels coming into your facility. Suggest a team comprising of individuals from IT, operations, purchasing, and sales – as the label coming in is in most cases the same label going out to your customers.

Since the Inbound process is one of the most important warehouse activity, labeling of incoming goods is an essential part of that process. These five steps will help you implement your inbound labeling program with a minimum of drama and angst.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

For more information on other such warehouse processes and how you can optimize them, head over to our website