Global Fastener News

1994 FIN – What to Do When Your Best Customer Requires You to Use Bar Coding

May 03
00:00 2011


March 17, 1994 FIN – The day is coming when your best customer will deliver “a big brown envelope stating that in 90 days no shipment will be accepted without bar coding,” Andy Cohn of Huntington Park, California-based Duncan Bolt told the Western Association of Fastener Distributors spring conference.
The envelope will contain the details of their coding requirements. The primary reason fastener firms adopt bar coding is because of customers. “It is not a drive for internal accuracy or efficiency that precipitates bar coding,” Cohn said. “It will be a service you are performing for a customer.”
That is just what happened to Carson, California-based Porteous Fastener Company. Porteous, an importer and master distributor instituted bar coding six years ago and is now using it for 1,300 orders per day.
Porteous vice president Scott MacMeekin said the company now doesn’t know how they would operate the Carson facility without bar coding. Porteous receives 35 ocean containers per day with as many as five or more on the loading dock at one time.
Though Porteous has used bar coding only at the Carson facility, MacMeekin said there are plans to institute it within the next year at the company’s eight other locations throughout the nation, which range in size from 15,000 sq ft to 200,000 sq ft.


Jack Cook, bar code product manager for LaJolla, California-based Western Pacific Data Systems (WPDS), predicted that “without investigating in automated systems, your company will not prosper in the next 10 years simply because the effort needed to track material through our plant or warehouse will require additional paperwork and probably more employees.”
Bar coding is just plain more accurate than keyboard entry, Cook said “Studies have shown that keyboard data entry yields an error rate of one character for every 300 entered. Reading data from bar code labels is extremely accurate: if the label scans the data it will be correct.
Bar coding also provides the inventory control and lot traceability. The traceability function facilities meeting manufacturer’s certification and test report requirements, Cook added.
A bar code is simply a symbol of a pattern of differing width black bars and white spaces. As a beam of light from a scanner passes over, the black bars don’t reflect as much light as the white spaces.
Cook said he receives at least two calls a week from Western Pacific customers wanting to begin bar coding. Cook’s first question is, “What can’t you do with bar coding?”
“If it’s a customer label, you must have detailed specifications from your customer,” Cook explained. “If it’s a project for internal use, you must carefully define what you want to do and then put it in a plan. This is an area where you may want to seek our professional help.”
When to Start Bar Coding

Aside from meeting customer requirements, what are the signals that a distributor should institute bar coding? “When you are adding paperwork and employees,” Cook responded.
The obvious other force is when a competitor is doing it, Cook noted.
Becky O’Brien of Downey, California based Circa, advised distributors to prepare in advance by investing in printers and equipment, which are capable of bar coding when they need it.


The Cost of Bar Coding

Bar coding printers start at about $2,300 and tracking devices at $1,800 making the minimum investment for a lo tech system under $5,000.
“That doesn’t mean you can’t spend a lot more,” Cohn quipped. Add transmitters and extras such as portable scanners and a basic system can easily go over $10,000.
MacMeekin said it is difficult to determine the pay back period for bar coding. “There are too many unknowns,” he explained. “We took an educated guess that three or four activities would cost justify the majority of the system?”
It is difficult to determine the returns because bar coding “doesn’t improve value of the product,” MacMeekin noted.
Citing the example of supplying a rural Oregon contractor with fasteners from the Los Angeles office that are not in the inventory in Portland, “What is the cost of letting down a customer?” MacMeekin asked.
Porteous has been able to eliminate the cost of four outbound checking jobs, MacMeekin said.
Time is not a problem. Cook said distributors using Western Pacific’s FASPAC software can be coding within a week. “The label is already set up in the system,” Cook said. “It is very easy to modify.”


Stumbling Blocks

Fear of bar coding and fear of computers in general are the most frequent hurdles for distributors, Western Pacific vice president Mike Cookman said.
The second most common problem for introducing bar coding is “a lack of commitment from the top down,” Cookman said. “You can’t designate one person without support from the management.


Need for Standards

WAFD speakers were unanimous on what is the biggest current problem with bar coding: “It is like the ‘Tower of Babel'” Cook said. “Everybody puts out their own standards or uses a customer’s standards.”
MacMeekin said having to take pallets apart and label everything is expensive. “We want to work together with others in the industry to come up with standards.”
O’Brien suggested customers and vendors begin working together on standards “to generate some.”  ©1994/2011 Fastener Industry News

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