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Using Vendor Applied Barcodes for Tracking

A guest post by Peter Green of BellHawk Systems.

I am a big proponent of “license-plate” tracking (which is the global standard) whereby an item or container has a unique tracking barcode attached, just like the license plate on a car or truck, and then all the other information is stored or transmitted electronically. One big benefit of license-plate tracking is that one dimensional barcodes can be used, which require much less expensive scanning equipment than 2D barcodes.

One statement I hear frequently is “My vendors put barcodes on the boxes that they send me. So I can scan one of those barcodes as the tracking number, right?” The answer, in most cases, is unfortunately no. These vendor applied barcodes may be UPS codes or part number or lot number barcodes but they do not uniquely identify each container from all the other containers received from all vendors or even that vendor.

So, how do you uniquely identify materials coming from a Vendor. Some of the ways are:

  1. Attach a license-plate tracking barcode, from a pre-printed roll of serialized barcodes, to the item or container after receipt.
  2. Print out a label with a tracking barcode and human readable information, such as part number and lot number, when a container is received and attach it to the container.
  3. Have vendors apply labels with the license plate tracking barcode and other information, such as the PO number and line number, quantity and lot number, encoded in other 1D barcodes or a single 2D barcode, so these can be scanned upon receipt.
  4. Have your vendors apply labels with a tracking barcode and human readable information. Then they can send all the information about the contents of the containers electronically in formats ranging from an Excel spreadsheet to an EDI Advanced Shipment Notice (ASN).

The benefit of the last option is that a description of nested containers, such as barcoded cartons on a barcoded pallet, can be sent electronically by your Vendor. Then only the pallet tracking barcode need be scanned to received the whole pallet with one scan, which can dramatically reduce the cost and increase the speed of receiving.

Typically only those 20% of your vendors that represent 80% of your supplier volume will agree to provide materials with license-plate tracking barcodes. So, in practice, our clients use a combination of these methods to handle vendors who range from mom-and-pop operations to international conglomerates.

Dr. Peter Green, an expert in using barcodes for tracking and traceability, is Chief Technology Officer of BellHawk Systems. He can be contacted at 508-865-8070

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