How to Set Up Bin and Rack Locations for Successful Warehouse Management

To achieve success as a warehouse operator, you will want to use inventory software to support an efficient warehouse management system. In order to optimize this automated inventory control, you need to pay close attention to the set-up of the physical space and the quality of your equipment and supplies. Take the time to consider all the important variables.

Defining bin and rack locations.

Most warehouse operations use three dimensions to indicate the location of items: aisle identification, vertical section, and level number. However, if you can store multiple pallets on a given rack position, you can add a fourth dimension: pallet position.

Maximizing scanning and decoding speed.

In an ideal situation, the warehouse operator should be able to decode a barcode at any level in less than two seconds. Any longer will slow down the inventory control activity. As barcodes are scanned many times a day, you can save significant time by paying attention to the factors that affect barcode scanability. In order to optimize scanning and decoding speed you will need to consider:

  • Height of the racking
  • Width of the aisle
  • Position of the operator (walking, riding a forklift, etc.)

The easiest situation is one where the operator can scan barcodes from a relatively consistent distance of approximately four to eight feet whether he is positioned on the floor or on a forklift truck. Otherwise, typical efficiency problems that arise include:

  • Scanning distance more than 8 feet, perhaps up to 40 feet
  • Narrow aisles and high racking that forces angle, unreliable scanning
  • Operator always scanning from the floor without the option of a forklift truck for high racks

It is important for you to test barcode scanning using the bin or rack at the furthest distance from the operator so you know exactly what your limitations might be. When you have an actual assessment of the effectiveness of scanning, you can consider unique solutions. Specialized scanning hardware and retroreflective labels in conjunction with angled offsets will help you reliably decode the rack and bin locations at a long distance. Additionally, defining sub locations will allow operators to scan an easily accessible barcode and then enter a single digit level to complete the definition of the bin or rack location in narrow aisles with high racking.

Designing effective barcode labels.

The size and design of barcode labels can complicate the scanning process. Common issues that result in inaccurate, incomplete scanning include inappropriate label size and/or inappropriate or incomplete symbology.

In order to make sure you are using the most effective warehouse location labels, perform tests with the scanning hardware that you are planning to use. Location labels are typically between two to four inches tall and three to 10 inches wide. Testing your hardware will help you identify the optimal mil size for your barcodes, which will, in turn, determine the necessary label width for your operations.

Two alphanumeric symbologies that are commonly used in warehouse operations are Code 128, which has excellent density and high reliability, and Code 39, which is a general purpose code used worldwide.

Take a look at the following example of a well designed three dimensional barcode label:

In this example, you can see the Code 128 symbology in a barcode with a 10 mil narrow bar width. The humanly legible portion is separated visually with white space to make it more readable from a distance. Keep in mind that not only must your barcode scanner be able to decode at a given length, but your operators must also be able to view the portion that they need to read. It is also important to note that the spaces are not part of the actual barcode. In this case, the bin or rack location would be defined without the spaces. This is important because it allocates more mil size for a given label width for your actual barcode. If the white spaces were included in the barcode, the mil size would have to be smaller for a given label size. That is why the only white space is positioned in the human readable portion.

Choosing the most effective label printing method.

Barcode labels that degrade quickly and become illegible are a common problem in managing warehouse inventory. The solution lies in how you print your warehouse location labels.
Always use thermal transfer printing, as direct thermal printed labels are not durable enough to retain a sharp image for prolonged scanning over a long period of time. Consider having your location labels professionally printed.

Using the right scanner.

Poor quality or inappropriate scanning devices produce unreliable, inaccurate data. Explore all of the available options for accuracy, reliability and ease of use. Be sure to test any scanner in your own environment with actual products and labels before installing it. A few of the factors to consider when choosing a scanner for your warehouse operations include:

  • Density of data on your barcodes
  • Position and distance of the operator in relation to the label
  • Frequency of use
  • Need for standalone scanner or combination with mobile computer
  • Compatibility and robustness for your inventory software

Deciding the placement of barcode labels.

In most racking systems, the bottom rack does not contain a crossbeam which means there are usually two barcode labels on the first crossbeam: one for the bottom rack position and one for the rack above. If you employ this method of bin or rack location labeling, you may want to consider including a visual arrow indicating whether the label represents the location below or the location above the crossbeam.

You will want to be as consistent as possible in how you place warehouse location labels. By using the vertical beams to define your rack locations, you can label all of your banner rack locations in a consistent manner. It is important to note, however, that this will limit the width of the label that you can use. If this is not a problem in your situation, then you may want to consider using the rightmost vertical beam for location labeling.

If you are committed to implementing the most effective way to identify the bin and rack locations in your warehouse, you need to spend the time on a front-end needs analysis as discussed above. Successful inventory management does not just happen. It requires informed planning and decision making, even for something that appears as simple as a location barcode label.