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The business case for bar codes in the aftermarket

Friday, February 17, 2017 - 08:00
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Bar code technology is a well-established way to improve inventory accuracy. Bar codes are used up and down the auto parts supply chain, from manufacturing applications to point of sale. However, there are some smaller distributors and jobbers that have not yet leveraged bar codes to manage their internal inventories.

They are likely impeding their own efficiency. “The only way to achieve the type of accuracy that auto parts distributors require is through bar code scanning and verification,” says Mark Wheeler, director of warehouse solutions at Zebra Technologies, a leading manufacturer of bar code scanners and printers. “If you’ve got 50 different types of brake discs on a shelf, the only way to accurately distinguish one SKU from the next is by using a bar code.”

Using bar code scanning can increase efficiency and accuracy. That can be particularly important, given that not every supplier sends 100 percent accurate shipment information. “Those are vendors that you have to double check physically using the bar code information,” says Tom Wood, senior product marketing manager for Epicor’s automotive division.

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In 2016 Zebra released the results of its Warehouse Vision Study, which found that executives expect an increase in inbound items that will be bar coded in the next five years, from 66 percent of respondents in 2015 to 82 percent in 2020.

By 2020, 68 percent of respondents also planned to make investments in bar code scanning technology. Half of surveyed IT and operations managers planned to move to a more modern warehouse management system (WMS) in 2015, while 75 percent planned to do so in 2020.

Those technology investments are being driven by the need to reduce delivery times (40 percent of respondents said shorter delivery times were a key measure requiring warehouse investment).

According to Wood, having bar coding in the receiving area is the fastest way to gain such efficiency benefits. Previously, distributors or jobbers might get multiple paper invoices with a shipment, which complicated put away. “Now you can receive item, scan them and put them on the shelf accurately,” Wood says. “You don’t have to put it up in order based on the paperwork. You can pick up any item and put it away using the scanner.”

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