Last updated: 15th June 2017
What do you mean by barcoding in the warehouse?
"is there a barcode solution for Microsoft Dynamics GP?", this is a common question found on Dynamics GP forums. Barcoding in a warehouse environment can span in complexity from simple data capture used to ease booking in goods or manage a stock room, to a full multi-site warehouse and logistics management system. There are solutions out there provided by software companies that cater for both ends of this spectrum and anywhere in between too. There is no Microsoft solution for this within "standard GP".
To understand the concepts, an easy way to think about it is to consider a warehouse management (WMS) system as when you grow out of barcode scanning for simple data capture to the software also being 3D space aware and managing the process flows in the warehouse, such as restocking pick faces. A WMS will usually have a geographical map of the warehouses and the spaces inside those warehouses, existing down to the size and location of each bin. This allows for automation of where products are stored within that space. This geospatial awareness also allows for efficiently routed directed picks and put aways, as well as pick face replenishment in an efficient manner with staff directed around the optimal routes for a particular walk. It may be that a WMS may support other features such as wave picking, going far beyond simple data capture whereas simple data capture may not even support inventory picking or put away.
There is a relatively new concept on the scene of voice picking, where the warehouse staff wear headsets and are vocally instructed what to pick and they must confirm back, by voice what and how many they have just picked. This keeps hands free thus preventing potential health & safety issues incurred whilst wrangling with handheld devices (or paper pick lists) and trying to lift boxes or sort through bins. Voice picking is also popular as it has been proven to increase pick accuracy and speed by a significant percentage. As this is still a specialism, those companies are listed separately below and would often integrate with a larger WMS system such as Savant.
So thinking about barcoding/voice picking, the first task is understanding what you want out of the proposed "barcoding solution", by understanding how deep into data capture and warehouse management you want to go, will help narrow down the choices when selecting an appropriate system. You also need to understand the technologies, do you need RFID tag readers, what format of barcodes need supporting (some industries have strange ones and 1D vs 2D etc). The speed hardware readers can be a real issue in the field. Cheap hardware, although tempting, can be slow to read or have a very reduced range to read barcodes. Both can be an issue in a warehouse environment, when a crate of hard one hundred drives need serial numbers scanning quickly in a batch, preferably without too much stooping over them to get close enough for a read. Too many times I know people buy cheap readers, and end up having to re-purchase for these reasons. Waiting a second or two between scans matters when trying to process any volume of product.
Think about if you have needs for support of manufacturing orders, some solutions offer special support for the slightly different needs of orders destined to fulfil the needs of internal production lines.
Handheld devices are used to enter data, these can be dedicated hardened units designed for warehouse use or normal computer tablets fitted into sleds that provide the barcode scanners/RFID readers. Think if the system needs support for portable WiFi printers clipped to the belt of staff? This can help for fast labelling and make an individual into a personal walking workstation.
Hardware is a important consideration and can vary in cost and forms a major part of the original and ongoing cost of ownership. Spares such as, batteries, rugged cases, battery chargers, clips, readers are a consideration in harsh warehouse environment. Some companies are developing solutions using pro-sumer hardware like android tablets, but beware, this may be a false economy if they scan too slowly, burning up savings with the hardware with cost in person hours. They are often slow and fragile when in use with concrete floors, but not everyone has the harsh environments, so in say stock rooms, such lower cost solutions may achieve savings without compromise.
Some vendors are making software that runs in web browsers on the handheld devices that makes them more agnostic towards platform ...so long as the device runs a modern browser, that in itself, on mobile device operating systems, may not be taken for granted!
Some of the WMS providers are really forward thinking and will host your WMS on servers in the cloud, thus taking the IT management task away. Providing the solution as a service has pros and cons. These are the same pros and cons as any other mission critical system hosted on the cloud, so not something worth covering in this blog post. Generally this will work by there being an agent (think windows service), sat monitoring your Microsoft GP for changes, syncing those changes to the cloud servers. The mobile barcode devices all also communicate with the cloud application service via WiFi.
Check the licence model. There will often by different levels of user required to run the system. Some users may be required to have higher licence costs than others. For example team leaders may require access to the application windows that allow control of the workflows and assignment of picks to pickers. Licenses are a minefield that I will let the reader investigate!
I am expecting warehouse management to go through another round of innovation with affordable software bots, virtual reality headsets, voice recognition, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IOT), improved display systems, robotics and augmented reality all having an impact as they become available to SME/SMB sized companies.
List of barcode warehouse solutions for Dynamics GP
I have complied a list of the vendors that offer products that integrate with Dynamics GP, that offer barcoding, data capture, warehouse management & voice picking. The common pain points companies are trying to address when they first consider barcoding are often around the areas of; booking in, goods receipts, put away, picking and inventory stock takes and fixed asset tracking. All of the listed solutions should address the basic needs, however many fall short of being a "full-on" warehouse management system and only offer basic data capture, so check capabilities and ease of upgrade. Some systems can be migrated from data capture to warehouse management system within the same product lineage, other would involve migrating to a new solutions when it is outgrown.
If you know of any other WMS or bar code solutions for Dynamics GP, then please feel free to contact me via the contact page and I will add them to the list.