RF barcode scanning systems in e-commerce fulfillment warehouses, like all warehouse distribution centers, are highly transactional in nature. Throughout each shift, data is constantly being transmitted back and forth between the RF barcode scanners in use by work teams throughout the facility and the warehouse management system (WMS). Any connectivity issues in the facility’s wireless network that interrupt that data flow can result in data being lost, and lost data causes errors.
Scanners are typically being used in a variety of directions and at all angles by workers on foot and in lift trucks. At times, they may need to scan barcodes on racking 20 feet or more in the air. At other time they may be scanning bar codes on floor labels, as well as using their handheld scanners at a variety of angles in between. In addition there are numerous potential obstructions such as walls, support posts that can interfere with wireless signals.
Various temperature ranges throughout the year may also attenuate the wireless signals more or less as the seasons change. In addition, the configuration of metal racking and the density and composition of goods stored in that racking changes over time within an e-commerce fulfillment warehouse and those changes will often impact the reliability and consistency of the RF coverage throughout the facility. Coverage holes may suddenly appear, then decrease or disappear altogether as the density of pallets stored in racking fluctuates as products move in and out of storage. Such sporadic losses in connectivity can seriously frustrate warehouse workers. To minimize these potential problems, the wireless implementation component of a RF barcode scanning rollout needs to include a detailed analysis of the facility design and layout so that the system designers can determine coverage needs, locate where equipment will need to be positioned, as well as factor in power and wiring requirements, so that the RF scanners used anywhere within the facility can access the wireless network. Â In addition, if the storage density in a facility increases significantly, additional wireless access points may need to be added to the network to compensate.
Another potential problem area in a RF barcode scanning system is the barcodes themselves. In a 3PL environment, it’s not just a question of the barcodes being compatible with the scanners, label printers and the WMS being used. The barcodes need to be compatible with your customers systems as well. And chances are, a given 3PL e-commerce fulfillment distribution center serves more than one customer. It’s up to the 3PL to know the barcode compliance requirements. Label printers must be cleaned and checked regularly. There are also risks if low-cost label stock and thermal print ribbon is used. Labels may not adhere properly and barcodes may not scan correctly if smudged, too light or spotty. Label placement can also be a critical issue on pallets, cases and individual products. In many instances suppliers now face steep fines if their goods fail to meet the labeling requirements of the retailers or distributors they sell to, so a 3PL must be able to meet those standards.
FW Warehousing is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri with Midwest warehouse distribution centers in Kansas City, Indianapolis and St. Louis totaling more than four million square feet. Founded in 1949 with a focus on food-grade storage, FW later broadened its services to include contract warehousing, dry storage, hazardous material and chemical storage, temperature-controlled storage, product distribution and B2B and B2C fulfillment.
FW Warehousing has more than 50 years of experience in third-party 3PL logistics and has been ranked in the top 100 Third Party Logistic Companies in the country by Inbound Logistics magazine.
For more information about FW Warehousing e-commerce fulfillment capabilities and other 3PL services, visit the FW Warehousing website.