In last month's column, I discussed some of the benefits associated with bar coding. This month, I will review the steps a company needs to take to implement a bar code system.
As with any system implementation, advance planning is critical. The more time spent planning the implementation, the less time needed to make changes later. You will see that many of these implementation steps are actually planning activities.
- Establish a team. As with any major system implementation, it is important that a team be formed and assigned the task. The team should be made up of representatives from each department working with the bar code system. It is the responsibility of all team members to bring critical issues to the table.
- Determine what you want the system to do. You must decide the type of data that the system will capture and where it will be sent. Companies handle and process much data, not all of which is suitable for bar coding. Decide what you need to capture at the outset.
- Review your present procedures for capturing data and develop a flow chart. Look at the present material and information flow and determine the key inputs and outputs of each process. During this step, you are analyzing the processes and developing ideas for improvement. Identify the most time-consuming processes, those with the highest number of mistakes, those that require the most manual effort and those that have traditionally been bottlenecks (areas where things just seem to grind to a halt). Also, look for redundancy. Considering that two of the benefits of bar coding are improved accuracy and reduced processing time, these represent ideal bar coding applications.
- Determine how you would like the procedures to operate, and develop a flow chart for those procedures. The flow chart will be a best case scenario that will result from elimination of the problems found in the previous step.
- Determine specifically what the bar code system will do and where it will interface with the existing computer system. A listing of bar code functions should be developed here. For example, the system may need to forward inventory transaction data to an existing inventory management program.
- Develop a request for quotation (RFQ) using the required bar code functions identified. The RFQ should summarize the requirements of the system with sufficient detail to allow vendors to submit proposals.
- Select a vendor. Be sure the supplier will not only be able to sell you the system, but also assist you with any problems that arise during implementation. Visiting present users of the bar code system is a good way to learn about the vendor’s product and support capabilities.
- Begin the process of bar code labeling. This can actually be done before the system is brought online. Communicate with all your vendors, and request they begin to provide products with bar codes, so that once the system is up, all products are ready to be scanned.
- Run a pilot of the bar code system in your plant for at least one week to uncover any overlooked problems. If possible, run some transactions before going live.
- Train all employees who will be using the system. Begin with an overview and follow with hands-on training.
- Go live, and start to use the system. Expect problems to surface, but keep the implementation team intact to address them.