Ask the Experts – Effective Labeling Practices During the Covid Era
As we’re adapting and implementing changes during these volatile times, our labeling practices often get overlooked. In this interview, we chat with Barcoding’s fantastic duo Dave Reba, Director, Labels & Printing Solutions, and Dan Blank, Label & Printing Specialist, on how to build better procedures, some of the pain points businesses are experiencing, and how our free labeling assessment can make all the difference.
Q1: When it comes to efforts to cut costs, do you believe that investing in the equipment required for an in-house automated labeling process is better for organizations, or should they prioritize outsourcing the production of their labels?
Reba: Barcode labeling is very application-specific. Outsourcing (using an outside third party) does not work for most labeling applications. Automated labeling is a specific application in itself. It usually refers to printing the label on the manufacturing line and then adhering the label to the product automatically— no human intervention. This is known as Print & Apply at the point of manufacturing. These P&A systems use special labels and draw raw data from the MRP system. There is usually a variable print sequence involved which changes each label per the part number, lot number, shipping information, or any other specific identifier. Outsourcing this activity would be very costly, especially if time to market is critical. For applications like this, in-house is better and more cost-effective. However, outsourcing works very well for the right application. For example, there are many retail applications that are more cost-effective using outsourcing.
Blank: As Dave touched on, this depends on the nature of the application. For extreme durability, environmental resistance, or in instances where label-failure can result in the loss of life, outsourcing this task to subject matter experts (SME) ensures success and will result in savings in the long run. Another instance where outsourcing makes sense is when a company is producing specialty or custom labels that are only needed in low volumes, as there is rarely any ROI on the equipment required to produce them. For everyday, on-demand labeling needs, I find ways for our clients to save by investing in automated Print & Apply technology and working with a vendor who offers managed inventory solutions.
Q2: What are some of the pain points you see warehouses/DCs are suffering from today, especially during COVID-19?
Reba: One of the pivotal pain points we are seeing in warehouses/DCs is that labels and scanners are not matched correctly. For obvious reasons, this leads to the scanners working poorly. Similarly, when labels are outdated or have not been replaced, the DC’s performance is negatively impacted. In the worst-case scenario, we have DCs that contain inventory not labeled at all and instead rely entirely on their employees’ knowledge when trying to create and maintain an accurate account. With COVID-19 the problem is worse. People have been forced to transition from what was an easy or well planned out workflow to a restricted workflow or have fewer employees available. Up-to-date technology and correct labeling can overcome many challenges.
Blank: Many warehouses today are still being run using inefficient and often inaccurate paper forms. Inventory locations are often ‘tribal knowledge’ and only known by a few long-time employees. Keeping one of these warehouses running with any level of worker turnover was already difficult; let alone when you add in the stress of a pandemic and on-site worker restrictions. Recently, I’m constantly working on “Warehouse Readiness” projects, to bring a facility up to speed with the software, scanners, wireless infrastructure, printing, and labeling solutions they need to stay competitive in today’s environment.
Q3: Why is an assessment important?
Reba: An assessment can illuminate the weaknesses and strengths of a labeling initiative. With one, we take a thorough analysis into process, technology and the people charged to complete a job. As SME in these areas, we are bringing real-world solutions to the table. End customers are focused on what they can do to increase their revenue, and they may or may not realize the significant role that correct labeling can play in allowing them to reach their goals. As experts, we can identify what is working and what can be improved. The value is proven and exceptional and provides the customer with a higher level of visibility and control.
Blank: Assessments are key when it comes to ensuring that something as silly as a ‘sticker’ – is never a source of operational pain for your business. To reiterate Dave’s point, our specialized knowledge may allow us to find ways to not only enable your business to run more smoothly but also save you some money! Having a clear picture of how your business is currently operating, especially pain points, allows us to offer the best solutions.
Q4: What are some of the advancements you see with labeling solutions?
Reba: One of the most exciting advancements I am seeing with labeling solutions is Managed Print Services (MPS). This solution provides unparalleled visibility of both the hardware and label usage, allowing for redeployment options for a better ROI. One other benefit is the automated re-ordering process, which reduces costs considerably. Another fascinating recent development has been the use of rewritable labels. These are labels that can be printed on and erased and then printed on again, for up to 100,000 times. This technology is a paradigm shift. Think relabelling totes in a DC—the entire process and cost structure changes dramatically. RFID also continues to find new niches and is becoming more cost-efficient as it reaches a broader audience.
Blank: Recently, “Warehouse Decoration” dominates most of my time. We work with some large retail distributors and 3PL’s like DHL, who are continuously outfitting new million-plus square foot facilities, as well as smaller organizations like a five-thousand square-foot Pecan Farmer in Georgia. Everyone needs accurate barcodes in their warehouses to identify the locations of their inventory. No two warehouses are ever the same. Implementing this kind of highly custom solution typically only goes well if you’re working with a SME.
Q5: What is the difference between a barcode sticker and a label?
Reba: Stickers are what you put on your hat, car, window, etc. Barcode Labels have intrinsic value by virtue of the information they transport and the businesses they drive. They are very complex solution sets.
Blank: A ‘sticker’ is typically the final product itself. Its end-use is to be attractive, cute, funny, whatever the designer is aiming for. A ‘label’ has a purpose. It carries and protects some type of valuable information and is typically constructed to meet the specific needs of a very particular application.
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