Speed and efficiency are two things that a healthy warehouse thrives on. But, it’s not always easy to achieve. Thankfully, technology like Radio Frequency scanners (handheld barcode scanners or readers) makes things move much faster than they used to.
RF scanners can do a whole lot more than just help your employees pick and pack throughout the warehouse. Today we’re diving into all of the different features they offer and how they can help you improve your warehouse.
What Are RF Scanners?
RF scanners are handheld devices that attach to your smartphone, enabling you to scan barcodes. These handheld computers are essential to most facilities, and they do a lot of work that would have otherwise likely been done manually.
Uses for RF scanners include:
- Communication between different scanners
- Communication between technology systems throughout the warehouse
We’re going to break down some of the different processes that these scanners will help improve throughout your warehouse.
Processes Optimized by RF Scanners Optimize Your Warehouse
We’ve mentioned a few of the different ways these scanners can be used and ways that they can optimize, but let’s dig in further. These are the areas we’ll be covering:
- Picking and packing
- Receiving goods
- Inventory management
- Quality control
- Receipts and order confirmation
- Warehouse management
- Shipping orders
Picking Packing Inventory Orders
RF scanners make the process of picking and packing inventory much more efficient. With the use of RF tags, items can be scanned and sorted with greater accuracy. Employees will spend less time looking for specific items and more time fulfilling orders.
In addition to accuracy, RF scanners also help speed up this process. Employees can quickly pack orders and get them out the door by scanning several items at once. This is especially helpful for warehouses that are understaffed or experience high volumes of orders during peak times. Efficiency is everything, and having the right tools make all the difference.
Receiving Goods and Orders
When goods are received, it is essential to have a process in place that can accurately track and store them. RF scanners play a big role in this process by quickly scanning items as they come into the warehouse. This information is then used to update inventory levels and help with stock management.
In addition, RF scanners can be used to scan orders as they come in. This information can then be used to confirm receipt of the order and help with tracking. Having accurate information at your fingertips makes for a smooth and efficient receiving process.
Inventory Management and Counting
Keeping track of inventory is essential to any business, but it’s especially important in a warehouse setting. If your inventory is neglected or you lose count and over-order or over-sell, you can find yourself in a bit of a pickle. Keeping good inventory counts can be either an easy, mostly automated process or one that takes a lot of time and manpower.
RF scanners will allow you to keep a digital log of this process and make it more accurate and efficient. With the use of RF tags, warehouse employees are able to quickly scan items throughout the facility without having to search through long lists or manually count inventory to know stock supply levels.
Quality Control for Inventory and Shipments
Good quality control is vital for any business, especially where food or pharmaceuticals are concerned because mistakes could have serious consequences. Additionally, RF scanners play an important role in this process by allowing employees to quickly and easily scan items for quality control purposes. Products that expire need to have multiple quality control checks before shipments.
This information stored in the RF code can be used to help with:
- Sorting inventory
- Identifying defective products
- Keeping up on expirations
In addition, RF scanners can also be used to track shipments as they leave the warehouse and ensure that everything is going out on time and arriving safely.
Receipts and Order Confirmation
RF scanners can be used to scan barcodes on orders before they’re put into the warehouse. Thus generating receipts for orders received and sending an update to the company that shipped the item to the warehouse. Order confirmation and ensuring that orders are correct and on time are other benefits.
If you’re shipping directly to customers, sending shipping notifications and receipts when the items are shipped is yet another benefit of employing automated technology throughout your warehouse system.
So far, we’ve touched on a number of inventory management benefits. Still, there are also several different benefits associated with your warehouse management as well as the inventory side of things.
For example, using RF scanners to track inventory will help you know when it’s time to reorder. You’ll also be able to take control of your warehouse space by minimizing the amount of racking needed for products that are not in current supply levels at any given point in time.
You’ll also be able to track which employees are picking and packing which shipments. This allows for an extra level of productivity monitoring and quality control throughout your business.
In addition to scanning orders as they come in, RF scanners can also be used to scan outgoing orders. This is done by attaching an RF tag to the product that’s being shipped and then scanning it at the shipping dock as it’s sent to get loaded for the shipment.
This information can be transmitted to a computer or handheld device, which will print out a packing list for the order or send a shipping confirmation for the order.
Understanding How RF Scanners Work
We’ve gone through some of the benefits, but you might be wondering how these “magic” devices really work and whether or not it’s worth spending your money on a high-quality RF scanner vs. a middle-of-the-line or cheaper option.
There are a number of different RF scanners on the market, and while they all work in pretty much the same way, some might be more suited for your warehouse needs than others based on the size of your warehouse and what all you want the scanner to do.
Creating RF Codes and Scanning Them
A few different types of codes can be created to carry different levels and amounts of information. QR codes will allow you to store more information and have more variations than the traditional barcode that’s printed on almost every product. RFID is a new code system that offers specific instructions when scanned and can then take employees through a specific set of processes.
When getting started with RF scanners, you’ll need to set up a printer and attach it to your warehouse management software. Some printers will be more automated than others. Do your homework or talk with a professional warehouse management company before diving too deep into the different elements you’ll need for this system.
Transmitting the Signal
The information that’s stored on the RF code is transmitted to a receiver after being scanned. The receiver will then send this data over your wireless network so it can be read by certain warehouse management systems or mobile devices. Depending on how you have your warehouse setup, the specific pieces of technology may vary.
Some of these receivers are actually hardwired into the database itself, while others need to be plugged in and/or recharged periodically. The signal can work on a WiFi network but is often run on a 3G or 4G network to ensure good service and reception throughout the warehouse.
The fast transmission of the signal from an RF scanner to your WMS (warehouse management system) makes it possible for your warehouse to be run and managed in real-time.
Types of RF Scanners
There are several types of RF scanners, and different scanners may be more suited for certain tasks than others. Along with the differences in hardware, there will also be differences in terms of software compatibility, so make sure you understand what type of RF scanner your warehouse needs before making any purchasing decisions.
Bar Code Scanner – Probably most similar to the traditional scanners that you’ve used in the past. The bar code scanner uses a laser beam and is designed to be run off of a power cord or battery pack for wireless scanners. It’s useful for scanning simple codes like UPCs or EANs but won’t work very well with QR codes due to their size and complexity.
QR Code Scanner – Designed to read the code on a QR label, these are some of the most common scanners. They can also offer the ability to scan barcodes. The main difference between this type of RF scanner and others is that it often has its own screen or display, which can then transmit information back through wireless networks. These scanners are often smart devices.
RFID Scanner – These scanners are more common than you might think for being newer to the market and are often used to track inventory in real-time. They can be handheld, stationary, or worn around the neck on a lanyard, making them versatile for whatever your warehouse needs.
Picking Out an RF Scanner That’s Right For You
As you’re looking into different options and models of scanners, it’s important to take into account your warehouse size and what you’ll want the scanner to do. If you have a small warehouse with just a few items that need to be scanned, then a barcode scanner might be your best bet and the most affordable, least complicated option.
An RFID scanner could be the right choice in a large, multi-level warehouse with high ceilings and lots of products that need to be tracked. There are also some RFID scanners that can scan barcodes and QR codes, so if your warehouse is transitioning from traditional to newer technology, that might also be a selling point.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to RF scanners, but there’s definitely an option out there for whatever kind of warehouse you’re running and trying to build up. If you want to make this process easier, then contact Scout and we’ll help you build a customized solution for your warehouse.
Combining RF and Barcode Scanners With an Inventory Management System
To get the most out of your RF or Barcode Scanner, you’ll want to combine it with an inventory management system. This combination will allow you to track your barcodes and RFIDs in real-time so that they can be updated across all devices. If you’re not already using an inventory management system, our Scout team would love to help you get started with a free trial or demo.
Thankfully when you choose to work with us, we can help you integrate different tools at any point.
We’ll help you stay on top of your warehouse, and you won’t need to worry about the technology aspect of inventory management systems at all. Our skilled technicians can guide you through the process.