Barcodes “magic” revealed – part 1

  • Comments 2

We live in black&white world. Barcodes are everywhere around. On everything you buy, in different shapes, sizes, even colors (ok, the world is not as “black&white” anymoreVeselý obličej) are barcodes. But what is the magic behind them?

Many companies are thinking about implementing barcodes together with their Microsoft Dynamics NAV. Many of them already did it. But when you are new on this field, you can get lost. How to “catch” the problematic of the barcodes? What does it mean? How can I use them? Where to begin?

Take it easy

Main thing is to know this: in most cases the barcode is only tool to “quickly enter data into some application”. You can start with this. The simplest barcode scanner works as keyboard, it is only quicker than human, nothing more. The whole magic begins and ends there. Scanner reads the barcode and send characters/keystrokes to the system. It could be just few characters, or it could be few kilobytes. Just think: where you need to help people enter some data more quickly and precisely into the system?

Are you printing some documents on one place and entering the data from it on another place (e.g. when searching for the document in the system)? Yes? What about printing barcode with the document no. on the paper and read it through barcode scanner on the place, where you are searching for the document? This is easy task – printing could be only usage of correct font with some additional info and you need only simple barcode scanner to read it. The scanner will enter the data where is the cursor. If it is on “Document No.” field on list in classic NAV client or in quick filter textbox on RTC, it will find the document for you. Nothing more, nothing less. Just changing e.g. order of fields on form/page to have same order as the data are captured by the user. People do not need to re-enter the document no. manually, no errors, much more “modern” look – you can say “hey, we are using barcodes in our company!”.

Another example: have you many items with which you are working in company? Nobody knows what is what? Use the barcode. If you stick barcode with the item no. on each object, everybody could read it and they do not need to search for the item in lookup. They will automatically “select” the correct item and it will be much quicker. Again, easy, but it could save you money. You can print the barcode on all paper documents you are using. Than it is easy to look e.g. on availability of the item when you have some document in hand.

image

Just a picture or text

What is the barcode? Only picture. Or just a text with different font you do not understand (but the scanner is). It means, everywhere you are printing text or logo in Microsoft Dynamics NAV, you can print in same way the barcode. You only need the correct font or “picture generator”. And it is easy to find some. Thus why many companies are using special “barcode printers”? Just because they are able to print on different kind of paper/plastic cards with special sizes, surfaces (you can print on metal with laser printers, to special plastic card when you need some durable labels etc.). You can make it more complex and try to use some special application for the printer which is printing the labels for you (it have e.g. nice environment for creating the label template, adding some text, changing barcode types, size etc.) but then you need to solve the interoperability with the NAV. And this cost something. Question is, do you really need it? Or is just standard NAV printing enough for you? All the printers could work as common printer under Windows.

imageimageimage

(the 3rd picture is something like “barcode” too! But I am afraid, that you will not generate it automatically… Veselý obličejjust look at www.microsoft.com/tag)

Basic level

Ok, if you understand that barcode scanner is just quick-writing-robot and barcode could be printed as standard text or picture, you can level-up. You can walk through your company, look at people, what they are doing, what they are typing into system, where they are using paper documents and you can think about this and about the barcodes. You can use them everywhere, from purchase, manufacturing, warehouse, service to sales... You can use them for document numbers, item numbers, user IDs, lot numbers, serial numbers, location codes, bin codes…

And now you can dream about the company, where you are not hearing “tap, tap, tap, tap” of keystrokes on keyboards (as you can see, only max 4 characters were entered in this example, and may be all were wrong), but you hear “beep, beep, beep, beep, tap” of the barcode scanners (in this case, all data were correct and may be that it was more than hundred characters entered, you never know, the last “tap” was confirmation of document posting on keyboardVeselý obličej). You have everything you need in NAV already. You just needs to print the barcodes on proper places and read them somewhere else.

 

Advanced level

What is next? Ok, what about the warehouse? When you see some crate, do you know what is inside, for which customer it is, where the material was bought, how long it is there, where it was before, who moved it last? Ok, stick barcode with some ID on it, trace the operations regarding it every time someone is doing something, connect all the info. You have now traceability. Of course, it means that someone must enter the data into the system. You are not moving something from one bin to another, you are moving this specific crate. And this is additional info you need to enter. But, wait, it is just additional “beep” instead “tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap”. And if you have good application, you do not need to enter item no., system knows that this crate ABC includes item XY! Oh, wait, you do not need even to enter quantity! System knows that there is 5pcs of item XY inside (because somebody entered this info already when the crate was created). Another “tap, tap, tap, tap, tap” you do not need. Oh, and you do not need to “tap, tap, tap” bin code! It is just another “beep”.

But there is one thing you need to think of: if you want this system where “system describe the real world” where data inside system are in line with real world, you need to catch the changes in real-time. It means, the people in field must collect the data, not people in office two hours after (in better case). Of course, the people in field have different “attributes” than people in the office, and the application must take it into account. It must be really “beep, beep, beep, tap” solution. It must take only few seconds to do the operation, because else the people will refuse the solution. They have full hand of work now, if the new solution only add new work, it is bad. If it add new work, but make simpler another part, it is good.

 

Possible tools to use

When you want to use barcodes everywhere, you need to choose correct tools for each situation. But I think it is enough for today. I will leave this on next article…

 

I wish you happy “beeping”!