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Increasing Your Shop Floor Efficiency With Clever Uses of New Technology

SaberLogic blog heading for increasing efficiency of shop floor with clever uses of barcodesSaberLogic's core goal is to help you make better use of new technology to increase your process efficiency in your Epicor ERP implementation. For years the gold standard on the shop floor has been to use dedicated barcode scanners to replace time-consuming, and error-prone, manually keyed entry.  Unfortunately, many mobile applications require the user to verify that they are entering data into the correct field before scanning a barcode. Then, you have an obligation to re-check after the scan to ensure that you entered the correct data into the correct field. This process eliminates some of the efficiency of the barcode system because it requires the user to constantly look back and forth between the handheld unit and the task that they are performing.

So, how can this be improved?

Using Field Qualifiers and Non-Visual Feedback

The first efficiency that you can add back into your process is to add field qualifiers to your barcode labels. These barcodes can be interpreted so that the data can be automatically added into the correct data fields rather than of relying on the user to have the right fields selected. Most clients benefit from adding an automated step to their purchase order receipt process that will print off an internal label. This label can then be attached to any raw material received. This process ensures a consistent label format for all internal transactions.

The image below shows a carton label which is printed by the customer as a finished good label. It includes their part number, job number that produced it, and the quantity in the carton. The user can just scan the three barcodes, have it entered into the correct fields automatically, and complete whatever transaction they are performing, whether it be inventory movements, picking for shipping or assigning a product to a shipment.

Barcode label on one box ready to be scanned into Epicor

The next efficiency that you can add is to provide non-visual feedback to the user. When the user has scanned the necessary data to perform the transaction, you can add an audio or vibration queue so they can focus on the task rather than having to provide constant visual verification of the process.

These simple changes can provide a dramatic improvement of data integrity and employee efficiency for shop floor operations. However, to quote Steve Jobs “one more thing...”

Think Bigger Than A Single Scan

Most modern handheld devices, including smartphones or the latest generation of mobile computers for shop floor applications, such as the Zebra TC7x and TC5x series, now include a camera.  While shop floor selfies may not have a use yet, the camera can still add substantial value to shop floor processing efficiency.

Many of us have used the barcode scanning applications on a smartphone, the problem is that they are much slower than a traditional barcode scanner, they are unwieldy to use, and are not appropriate for a shop floor environment. However, what if instead of scanning one barcode, you can scan all of the barcodes at once using your camera?

In the customer barcode example at the top, if they were to add that box to a picking process, the user would need to scan the three individual barcodes as they put it into a cart. Using that exact image above, we can extract all three barcodes our simultaneously and then by using their data qualifiers or their relative locations on the label we can make the same pick with a single operation.

Now...Think Bigger Still!

By scanning with data qualifiers and a feedback mechanism to the user, scanning a single box with a dedicated barcode scanner will still likely be quicker than taking a picture. However, there is nothing that limits us to processing the transaction to a single box at a time. Take for instance the picture below:

whole stack of boxes with barcode labels ready to be scanned all at once into Epicor

Scanning each of those barcodes, although still very efficient, would also still mean that you would have to perform a transaction for each box. By using the camera, we could perform that same transaction on all of the boxes simultaneously! Or, we can provide the user with a touch-based interface where we present all of the data we gathered from the image (each box) and then allow them to select the boxes that they would like to perform the final transactions. This scenario increases your process efficiency dramatically by replacing many complex operations with a single step.

mobile interface for receiving multiple items into Epicor with a single scan

In this case, we’ve extracted all of the labels that were visible. From there we’ve created a mobile UI in the Ionic framework allowing the user to select the cartons they would like to choose or pick all of them in a single operation.

Hopefully, this inspires some of you out there to look at what else mobile devices can do to increase employee efficiency for shop floor operations. If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to reach out and we’ll help however we can!

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