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Bar code scanning for data collection

Bar Code Data Collection – Is it for you?

This is just an example of just ONE Barcode Data collection project we have successfully implemented for a customer. Each requirement is approached in a detailed manner and considers the specific requirements of our customer. Contact Us if you would like to discuss your need to:

  • Improve Stock Control
  • Save Labour Costs
  • Streamline Production
  • Meet your industry compliance regulations
  • Increase Productivity
  • Improve traceability

The following document which describes a project was prepared for manufacturers of specialist equipment for the food service and environmental industries.

Executive Summary – How the conversation started…..

A Qi customer was using “Picking sheets” and “Stock Count” sheets to instruct operatives what stock was required, and what stock needed to be counted.
These processes were labour intensive and left the business vulnerable to stock shortages which hindered production and meant that stock check was a lengthy process with the results being open to human error.
Having successfully migrated from Sage applications to NAV (now part of the Dynamics 365 Business Central suite) via the Qi Migrate Now! process, the customer wanted to benefit from the powerful development tools available for use with NAV.

Qi proposed the use of “Barcode” data collection to automate the following processes

  • Goods Receiving
  • Picking components for assembly into finished items
  • Monitoring progress of Production Orders (including Assembly Orders)
  • Monitoring movement of stock from Bulk Stock locations to Picking Face locations
  • Stock Count

The stock count would allow either a full stock count, or a “cyclic” stock count, where a selection of stock was counted (either by stock code, stock category, stock location, or last counted date).
There was also scoping to add further functions later, for example sales dispatch confirmation. Our customer wanted to consider a ‘phased’ approach so that working changes were made in stages (helps budgeting too!)

Business Situation – Why consider Bar Code Data Collection?

Stock Control

Our customer faced several challenges in maintaining accurate stock figures, some of these were physical, for example stock being held off site, and the difficulty of counting some items, such as hoses, and small fittings. Bar Code data collection would help to eliminate problem areas, such as incorrect stock items picked, mis-identification of stock items, or incorrect stock count.

Qi discussed with the customer, the merits of “wedge” bar code scanners (simpler to implement and develop for, but less flexible in use), and fully programmable “smart” bar code scanners (more expensive, more difficult to program and develop for). Both wired and wireless wedge scanners were available. A compromise solution would be to use a tablet computer with a wedge scanner attached. The most appropriate solution was explored for each scenario across their operation with hardware deployed considering the user experience and the best use of budget.

Qi developed a Qi Development solution using to address this requirement. The system updates the Dynamics-NAV system using “web services”. This means that all updates are processed via the standard business logic. Dynamics-NAV provides multiple cross references for each stock item. This facility is used to record the EAN numbers (European Article Numbers) for the customer’s stock items, and the bar code scanning allows either codes, or EAN numbers to be used to capture the information. EAN number are flagged so they can be used for printing on Labels etc. where required for customer identification.

Because the functions use standard Dynamics-NAV logic and store all data in Dynamics NAV, development costs were kept to a minimum by limiting it to the Bar Code functionality for functions that benefited most from the automation. All other functions, such as adjustments, revaluations and re-categorisations, are performed using the standard Dynamics-NAV functionality.

Solution Scope – Forming a documented plan with our customer

Goods Receiving

Both “Bulk Stock” (many individual units in an outer) and individual stock to be scanned were part of the “Put away” process. The code of the stock item and the location where it is being stored is scanned. This updates NAV via “Web Services” to show what stock there is and where it is located.
Mixed pallets are scanned individually.
Depending on the product, further detail is required to include the initial goods receipt, followed by quarantine before ‘Put Away’. The stock movement from goods receipt to quarantine and put away are then Stock Transfers as described below.
For this task the most practical solution appeared to be a rugged Windows tablet PC mounted on the forklift with a rugged wireless wedge scanner. From the user and program point of view this should be ideal but although there were some issues to monitor and successfully overcome (mounting, tablet charging, wireless scanner battery life, Wi-Fi coverage and associated program reliability).
In some areas a smart scanner was deployed allowing for the load of purchase order details onto the scanner, followed by the scanning of the items. The scanner can then warn of any unexpected items or incorrect quantities. Returning the scanner to the PC allows the Qi Development program to update NAV.

Transferring stock

Stock transfers will be either, same stock between locations, or stock being transferred from a bulk location into a picking location. Dynamics-NAV has a concept of a “Transfer Order”. This can be a single stage transfer where there is no noticeable delay between stock leaving one location and being available at the new location. Or as a two-stage transfer when stock is booked out from one location, and then later booked into the new location. In the interim period the stock is booked to the transfer order and will be seen as potential supply based on the “due date” of the transfer order.

Transfers from goods receipt to quarantine or put away can be treated as single stage transfer orders. In this instance it was agreed that transfers from the main stock unit to the production unit would be two stage as this was the best it or their operation.
The same forklift mounted Windows tablet and scanner is used for most stock transfers, but the programs developed for the forklift, also run on a desktop PC with a wedge scanner.

As an alternative a smart scanner could be used in this role. The user would select a ‘stock transfer out’ mode on the scanner, and then scan the items being taken and their locations. When the goods arrive at the destination the user selects a ‘stock transfer in’ mode and scans the items and their new locations. The scanner can warn if the total quantities of each product involved in the transfer do not match. This is all happening on the scanner, and the information would only be loaded to the Qi Development system and then on to NAV when the scanner is returned to the PC.

Picking stock for Production or Assembly

The component stock required for an Assembly or Production order is loaded to a smart scanner. When stock is picked it is scanned, which confirms the stock code that has been selected is correct for the requirement of the order, and the location that it has been picked from. Once the scanner is returned to the PC the Qi Development program updates the Dynamics NAV stock information so that stock count, etc. are accurate.

For assembly all the components are picked at the same time, but for production, especially of more complex products, the operator carries out multiple pick operations.
For this customer it was ascertained that a PC and smart scanner for each user to enable them to load the production or assembly order to the scanner and then walk around and pick the stock – was the best solution. The scanner is then returned to the PC so that the program updates the information in NAV.

Confirming a production order

Each step of the production Order is confirmed by scanning the bar code for the current step of the production process. It is possible to scan only some steps of the process, but the final step is mandatory, which confirms the completion of the production order. Once the order is scanned as complete the update to NAV makes the finished product ready for dispatch or for stock. It is possible for goods for dispatch to create an automatic stock transfer from assembly to dispatch if this is judged appropriate.

These tasks are completed with a wedge scanner as this allows the information to be scanned directly into the Qi Development system to save operator time. (Direct data move to NAV). The system facilitates a stock count of some or all stock. This is done on a smart scanner. The scanner is loaded with the products, locations and counts from NAV. The operator scans the actual products, locations and quantities and then returns the scanner to the PC. The Qi Development program highlights the discrepancies and allows changes to the information before the stock information in NAV is updated. It understands the difference between zero product found and product not counted.

Where stock is found in a different location from that which is ‘expected’ the system will transfer the stock to maintain the costs in NAV correctly. Where stock is lost, then NAV uses the normal First in First Out mechanism. Where stock is found, then the average cost is used.

Additional Facts

The system prints bar code labels for components and finished goods.
Coloured barcode labels are used. The colours chosen, do not hamper the scanners ability to scan the bar code.
Wedge scanners are interchangeable and can be bought from any manufacturer. Basic wedge scanners are available in a wide range of specification from the ‘entry level’ to those of a more robust build with a wider scanning range.
The system described is written in Microsoft Qi Development.
(IP rights – Qi Ltd)

Thought For the Day

No two bar code data collection projects are the same, because no two businesses are the same. However, if you are working with Business Partner that has affected several Bar Code Data Collection projects already, the chances are there will be some common areas. When some areas of a new development are common to an existing one – the cost of development is less. Best to pick a partner then, that has done several developments already and understands the needs of a manufacturing business!