Benefits of Inventory Serial Number Tracking
Regular readers will know that we’re big fans of using barcodes and handheld readers for inventory management. But did you know that you can also enjoy all the benefits and advantages of managing your internal stock with barcodes? We’ll show you when you should use serial numbers and when you should adopt barcodes in your business.
First up, we’ll cover the difference between barcodes and serial numbers for practical purposes. Next, we’ll examine the benefits of using serial number tracking for inventory. When should you use barcodes? And when should serial numbers be used?
Finally, we’ll see how you can implement serial number inventory management in your business using an order, purchase, and inventory management app such as EMERGE App.
What’s the Difference Between Barcodes and Serial Numbers?
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s really no difference between inventory serial numbers and barcodes. After all, aren’t barcode made up of serial numbers themselves? Well, there’s actually a subtle and slight difference between the two besides the fact that they are made up of numbers.
Firstly, a serial number is a unique identifier. You assign them incrementally or sequentially to an item to uniquely identify them. This means one serial number is linked to one product. This means that every raw material, semi-finished product, or product has a serial number attached to it. No two products will share the same serial number.
Barcodes, in contrast, are applied to an entire line of products in one classification or category. Say you’re a t-shirt manufacturer. You’re not going to have a unique serial number generated for each t-shirt. You make them in the hundreds and thousands. And there’s no advantage for you to track individual products. So you apply a general barcode to it, for example, navy blue t-shirt in large size.
Secondly, a serial number does not have to be numerical only. They may contain letters, symbols, or even a character string. So, alphanumeric serial numbers are nothing new. On the other hand, barcodes can only be made up of numbers and even a set number of digits. An EAN barcode contains 13 digits only while UPC barcodes consist of 12 numbers. You want to adhere to barcode standards if you want to trade domestically and internationally.
When Should I Use Serial Numbers?
Still confused? Let’s cover some applications of serial numbers and you’ll see how they differ further from barcodes. Remember how serial numbers uniquely identify otherwise identical products? You want to do this because you want a deterrence against counterfeit or stolen products. That’s why it’s worthwhile to keep a central register of high-value items such as cars, bank notes, luxury goods, and electronics.
Since each product has a unique serial number, it’s a simple matter to check the product’s serial number with that of a secure, central registry. A manufacturer of high-value goods will typically keep a database of all the products it has produced. Data such as the date of manufacture, color, or configuration will help to identify the product as genuine.
Also, you want to use serial numbers where you want to track your inventory for internal purposes only. This means that you generate SKU that don’t conform to any barcode standard. But you’re still able to use them in the unfortunate event of a product recall or contamination. They are unique to your business and you have records behind every serial number.
Finally, serial numbers are popularly used in asset tracking. This is the management of assets used in the business. They do not form part of a saleable stock or the inventory of the business. Hence, each asset such as laptops and projectors, are tracked using a central register. This records who is using the asset and for how long. Do note that asset management is completely different from inventory management.
When Should I Use Barcodes?
We think the biggest reason to use barcodes is to expedite your workflows with handheld barcode readers. Confusingly, serial numbers can also be expressed as barcodes!
So, let’s say we are talking about those labels with seemingly random vertical lines. We want to use those barcode stickers because they save time and effort in entering them into inventory management software such as EMERGE App.
When you receive stock at the unloading dock in your warehouse, you unpack them and carefully inspect them. Pre-printed barcode labels are then stuck on each product or their packing box. The items are then stored in pre-determined locations in the warehouse. When they are sold they are picked, scanned and a packing list is generated for each shipment.
This stock receipt and sales fulfillment workflows are easily expedited with barcode labels and handheld scanners. It would be very troublesome and time-consuming to enter lengthy numeric codes every time you wanted to register the product’s movement in a system such as EMERGE App. Plus manual data entry throws up even more disadvantages from mistakes and carelessness.
As mentioned earlier, you also really want to use barcodes when you’re actively trading in products or exporting them to international markets. By adopting a barcode standard you can be assured of your goods moving along a national or global supply chain without hiccups. UPC-A barcodes used in the United States whereas EAN-13 barcodes are for all other countries.
How Do I Implement Serial Numbers in My Business?
Going forward, how do you merge the advantages of both serial numbers and barcodes in your business? First up, I’m assuming you want to use unique serial numbers for all the benefits that they provide. So, the best way forward is to generate unique serial numbers and then generate barcode labels from them. Notice how I didn’t say barcode numbers?
1. Get Your Barcode Stuff In Order First
Basically, you want to generate individual serial numbers using a barcode printer and software solution. We’ve covered the use of barcode hardware and software in a previous blog post. The choice of a barcode printer and software is beyond the scope of this post! But you want to pick one that provides good support in your local market and features regular software updates.
Remember, picking a barcode printing and scanning solution is no different from picking a laser or inkjet printer for your business. Pick one that works for you. Be wary of all-in-one barcoding printing and scanning solutions that claim to do inventory management. What they really mean is asset management or asset tracking. This is not inventory management of the saleable stock in your business.
Also, some are warehouse management systems. These are specialized software solutions that help you with the day-to-day operations of warehouses and distribution centers. The bundled software along with a printer and handheld scanner is focused on achieving operational efficiency inside your warehouses. They generally don’t help with the movement of goods through your business as you ship and fulfill sales orders.
We won’t bother assuming that your stocks will come with pre-assigned serial numbers and barcode labels. Serial numbers, probably. Barcode labels, no. What if you’re dealing with spices, grains, and liquids? They come in large wholesale packaging and you probably want to break them down into smaller sizes. You’ll want to generate serial numbers and enter them as SKUs in your inventory management software.
2. Apply Barcode Labels to New Stock
Once your list of unique serial number labels is ready, along with machine-readable barcodes, you simply apply them to incoming stock when they arrive at your warehouse. For most businesses, you attach them to the packaging that the products arrive in, whether it be cardboard boxes, bags, or bottles. You then store them in pre-allocated racks and shelves in your warehouse.
This is as labor intensive as it can get in your serial number barcode workflow. Someone still needs to inspect the goods and apply the correct labels to them. Once done, these labels stay with the product until they are shipped out. So, it pays to minimize mistakes here. It’s far better to do it right the first time than to resolve it later downstream in the workflow.
Also, the serial numbers generated for your barcode labels are your product’s SKU. In this case, each product will have a unique SKU so that individual items can be tracked during fulfillment, returns, exchanges, or product recalls. And the beauty with EMERGE App is that a lot more information can be attached to each SKU now. Batch numbers, expiry dates, and even tasks and notes.
Once you have set up, printed and applied all your nice barcode labels, let’s see how barcode scanning works in practice in your business. Barcode scanning is simply more than replacing manual entry of lengthy serial numbers. You can combine it with an efficient operational workflow to save time and avoid mistakes.
3. Use a Handheld Scanner to Speed Up Workflow
The fun part happens when sales orders come in. In EMERGE App you simply pick up the handheld scanner and start scanning the barcode labels that you created. This automatically creates a new sales order. And the scanned items are added as new line items. Elsewhere, stock transfers can be done using barcode scanning as well. This sure beats entering the serial number manually every time!
Barcode scanning appears in your workflow in other areas. You can dispatch items in the order using a handheld barcode scanner. This workflow will confirm whether the shipment contains all the products as ordered, or whether it differs from the sales order. You should promptly resolve any differences inside the shipment. This makes for far happier customers!
Firstly, pick a shipment and click on the Dispatch button. A pop-up window will appear with a message saying “Start scanning now!”. This is the fun part. Grab your barcode scanner and start scanning your products.
The quantity will increase by one if the barcode matches the product. Otherwise, if you search for a product or manually adjust the quantity, then the prompt will change to “Click here to start scanning products”. Once done, just click on the prompt to continue the barcode scanning process.
However, if you’ve made a mistake or if you just want to start over again, then just click on the Rescan button to start from scratch. When done, click on the Dispatch button to finish the dispatch process. Finally, click on the Deliver button to deliver your products and to adjust the in-stock quantity in your warehouse.
If you need unique serial numbers for the products in your business, it can be tricky getting your head around serial numbers, SKU and barcode labels. However, implementing serial number inventory tracking is straightforward with EMERGE App.
Generate your serial numbers and barcode labels using a barcode printing solution. Then use those serial numbers as SKUs for your products. Finally, scan those barcode labels when you’re ready to sell or move stock around in your business.