Origin of barcodes

Did you know that in the spring of 1969 the first true bar code systems were installed? One went into a General Motors plant in Pontiac, Michigan, where it was used to monitor the production and distribution of automobile axle units. The other went into a distribution facility run by General Trading Company in Carlsbad, New Jersey, to help direct shipments to the proper loading-bay doors.

Did you also know that the very first product to be sold with a barcode and scanner was a single packet of chewing gum at a Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio on June 26, 1974?

Benefits of barcodes

The overall advantages and benefits of barcodes are well known; speed, accuracy, ease of implementation and cost-effectiveness.

In a nutshell, barcodes are cheap to produce, easy to implement and easy to read. They are infinitely better than a human keying in information. Barcodes are reliable and they just work.

Modern supermarkets simply couldn’t function without barcodes on products and barcode readers at checkouts.

Most well-run records management facilities also use barcodes to great advantage to track file-folders and boxes, run audits and speed up the entering of information. Most offsite records storage facilities use barcodes to track boxes on shelves. It is what we call a “no brainer.”

So, why don’t some organizations use barcodes?

However, despite the obvious benefits, especially the cost benefits, many organizations today still manage physical assets bereft of barcodes. You may well ask “why?” and so do I. Given the low cost of both barcodes and barcode readers and the well-proven technology, I honestly can’t think of any reason for not using barcoding technology to manage physical assets like file-folders and archive boxes.

It just doesn’t make any sense whatever to me. It is analogous to running ten miles to deliver a message rather than just phoning or texting. How many messages a day can you deliver by running and how many can you deliver a day by phoning or texting?

  • Why ask staff to write down file-folder numbers or enter them on a keyboard when you can ‘wand’ or ‘scan’ them much more accurately and infinitely faster using a barcode reader? Why put up with processing 20 file movements a day by hand when you can easily process 200 a day using a barcode reader?
  • If you have 30 file-folders on your desk that you have to process why would you do it manually by keying in each file number (and making mistakes) over 30 minutes when you could process the same number of file-folders in 30 seconds using a fixed barcode reader (and not making any keying mistakes)?
  • When you have 500 file-folders to add to archive boxes provided by your offsite storage provider why would you take hours to do it laboriously with lists and the keyboard when you could do it in minutes using a barcode reader? Simply use your portable barcode reader to read the box barcode then read each file-folder barcode number as you add it to the box and then read the box number again when finished to complete the transaction. What could be faster or simpler?

So, what do you need to convert your slow and error-prone manual-entry records management processes to fast and accurate barcode-enabled processes?

  1. records management software packagethat supports barcodes (I don’t know of any modern RM system that doesn’t)
  2. *A supply of pre-printed barcodes (or you can print them out of your records management software package)
  3. Some fixed or wedge barcode readers (expect to pay $150 to $250 each)
  4. One or more portable barcode readers (expect to pay $1,000 to $2,000 including cables, battery chargers, dock, etc.)

*A word on barcode labels

It pays to make barcodes as durable as possible. This usually means laminating them as un-laminated barcodes produced on a laser printer tend to have a short life expectancy. The easiest way to obtain high quality, laminated barcode labels is to order them from a specialist print house. This way you can specify exactly what you need in terms of format and size and be assured of a long life and reliability. Nothing frustrates more than a worn barcode that doesn’t read properly.

Examples of how to use barcode labels

Of course, someone has to stick the barcode label on the file-folders and then tell the computer system (i.e., file-folder number AB/2003/00067 is now barcode number 1000049). You have a choice of how to do this. If you don’t have too many file-folders you can bite the bullet and add them all as a special project. Or, you can decide just to add them to every new file-folder created and to add barcodes to existing file-folders when they cross your desk. It is your decision based on volume and resources.

However, you need to invest the effort to reap the benefits.

Then if you really want to benefit you will assign a different class of barcode to ‘locations’. That is, offices, shelves, rooms, etc., and even people. This is so you can do an audit on a regular basis using your portable barcode reader. Wouldn’t it be nice to know where everything is and even, where some things aren’t?

Finally, assign yet another set of barcodes to your archive boxes so it is as easy and as fast as possible to move file-folders into and out of archive boxes.

The above describes just the simplest application of barcodes but even so, the benefits and cost savings are significant. The more creative of you will comes up with many more ways to make barcodes pay big dividends. We have one customer for example, that automatically allocates barcodes to emails in Outlook to make them easier to monitor and track both electronically and physically.

Barcodes are simple to use, low cost and well-proven, ‘risk-free’ technology. The effective use of barcodes and barcode readers can remove drudgery, lower costs and massively improve productivity.

If you aren’t using barcodes in your records management operations, your boss should be asking you “why not?”

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