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Taking the Mystery Out of Barcode Technology

We often get calls looking to add barcodes to Dynamics GP. (It is, after all, what we do.) Sounds like a reasonable request, but what does that really mean? Here are a few tidbits of information to take some of the mystery out of barcode technology.

Many relate a barcode to UPC manufacturer number. Because of this, many think they need some special number that is the “bar code” number for their items. Instead, think of a barcode as a font or a different language. A barcode scanner is the interpreter. When a barcode is scanned, it simply translates the barcode into text.  You can barcode anything, a location name, your GP item number, a serial number, your name. There isn't a reason to create a “special” barcode number.  Just use the GP item number. Of course you may have alternate item number cross references, which would then be handled by the database.

There are a couple of different ways to create a barcode. There are barcode fonts that you can purchase to use on reports. This will allow you to barcode PO Numbers, Sales Order Numbers, anything you want to be able to scan instead of type. You can also purchase barcode design and printing software packages. These range in price starting at under $300. Depending on the software, you can print barcode labels directly from excel or a database. These software packages allow you to design labels. You can add text, images, and barcodes.  When designing an item label for our customers, we typically suggest they barcode the item number (which would be scanned), add the item description as text only, and barcode lot or serial numbers (which would also be scanned).  Typically human readable text is part of the barcode when creating it from a software package. Many think they need more information on the label such as quantity or location. Keep in mind that most likely when you are scanning a barcode there is communication to a host database. The additional information can be retrieved from that host database and doesn't need to be included on the label itself. Plus information that may change shouldn't be included on the label (location, quantity, owner, etc.)

Let’s talk a little about the scanners. There are different types of scanning devices. The most simple is a tethered scanner you would attach to a laptop or desktop. When entering data into an application on a computer, the scanner can be used instead of manual key entry of the data from the keyboard. You need to be in the application and the appropriate field on the computer. Most of these scanners can also be programmed to append an enter or tab to automatically advance to the next field. Starting cost for these types of scanners is about $200. The biggest drawback is that scanning needs to take place at the computer, not necessarily at the point the transaction happens (such as warehouse floor or customer site).

Mobile computer devices with integrated barcode scanners will provide you the ability to carry the computer and scan items, locations, assets, etc. where they are located. With a Windows Mobile operating system, these devices have pocket word and excel. Using a scanning program, barcode data can be scanned into these standard applications. However, most likely you are looking for integration to a host database to complete transactions, not to simply record scans. This will require specialized software application that will prompt for information that needs to be captured and that has the ability to communicate back to the host database for validation and for creating or updating transactions. Our Panatracker GP solutions for example, present fields that need data to be entered to create or update specific transactions for inventory, sales, or asset tracking. Barcode scanning adds the efficiency to capturing the data; but the biggest advantage is that a simple interface captures the details for the transaction at the point and time they occur and updates GP directly without additional duplicated entry. This brings me back to my point above. An application integrated with a host database can then capture a key piece of information and provide the details from the host system to the user. Scan the item number and return item description, current location, quantities, etc.  You can limit what you include on your label.

Panatrack specializes in automated data capture (i.e. barcodes) and can be a resource for you as you explore opportunities to use the technology. Watch for my follow up blog on 1D and 2D barcodes coming soon!

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