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Barcode printing and scanning

Barcode systems provide a method of identifying products with a barcode scanner for purpose of counting them quickly and with a minimum chance of human error. In inventory management, barcode software is employed in the tasks that require counting large numbers of physical items: stock takes, receiving shipments, packing orders, and shipping orders (or transfers).

Example use-cases

Even though barcodes themselves are relatively simple -- they are just an image representing a text string -- the process of setting up your company to use barcodes involves some decisions and varies for different kinds of companies. For example, a manufacturer obviously creates and prints his own barcodes for the items it manufactures, but a wholesaler or distributor or retail shop may choose to use the barcodes already on the parts that it is reselling. Some types of products require lot numbers or serial numbers, so a company may also need to decide how to represent that information in the barcodes.

If you haven't already decided exactly how to implement a barcode system for your company, you can narrow down the options by deciding, (1) Will you use the barcodes already on the parts or print your own barcode labels? (2) What information does the barcode represent, product ID and/or lot ID and/or serial number? (3) If you are printing your own barcode labels, do you want to assign generic barcodes to products on-the-fly or make up specific barcode labels for the products including the product name or product ID on the label also?

Here are some example companies, and how they setup their barcode systems:


Use of barcodes

Castro Medical

Using serial number barcodes printed by user

Solar Tech

Using serial number barcodes already on parts from manufacturer (example video)

Monetti Productions

Doing asset tracking using barcodes printed by user (example video)

KR Granite and Tile

Using sequential barcodes assigned by user on-the-fly (example video)

KORB Mining Supplies

Using barcodes with lot ID printed by user in advance

LYI, Inc.

Using barcodes for product ID and lot ID already on parts from manufacturer

Sunshine Equipment

Using barcodes for product ID already on parts from manufacturer


Using barcodes for product ID already on parts from manufacturer with traditional cash register checkout process

Security Systems, LLC

Using mixture of barcodes for product ID already on parts from manufacturer and printed by user

Choosing a barcode scanner

From the perspective of interfacing barcode systems with inventory management systems, barcode scanners fall into three categories: (1) "standalone" scanners that scan items into a list that can be imported into an inventory management system, (2) "connected" scanners that connect via Bluetooth or cable to a laptop or mobile device as a virtual keyboard, (3) "smart" scanners that run inventory management software on the scanning device itself.

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Standalone scanner that scans to memory card

Connected scanner (wireless or cable)

Smart scanner running Windows CE

The difference between the first category and the others is that simple scanners record information that you import into your inventory management system as a second step, after scanning the items. Thus if there's a possibility of scanning a wrong item, such as an item that doesn't belong in a shipment being packed for a sale, you won't get any feedback about the discrepancy until you import the list of the scanned items into the inventory management system.

The second and third categories of barcode scanners have the possibility of providing real time feedback from the inventory management system as you scan items. The connected scanners (category 2) additionally present the possibility that laptop or mobile device can display the list being scanned on a large screen with a touch interface. Don't be thrown off by the cable in the second picture; many connected scanners have a wireless connection.

The third category actually includes two very different types of devices: (category 3a) the dedicated scanners that contain computers running a mobile operating system like Windows CE; and (category 3b) generic mobile devices like phones that are capable of scanning using their cameras. The tradeoffs between 3a and 3b are that the dedicated scanners (3a) are expensive and have small LCD screens, but they are reliable, fast, and rugged; whereas the generic mobile devices (3b) may already be owned for other purposes (e.g., a phone or a tablet), but their camera-based scanning is generally not reliable or fast enough for large scale inventory operations.

Prices of barcode scanners

From you can purchase scanners for less than $25 to more than $1000. What a range! In general the dedicated smart scanners (category 3) are the most expensive and are unnecessary for cloud-hosted inventory software like Finale Inventory. The most popular and cheapest scanners are category 2, either cabled or wireless. You can get a scanner of this type with a cable connection for $25, or with a wireless connection for $100. Cloud-hosted inventory management systems and barcode software work great with this type of scanner, so for the price they are hard to beat. However if you do not have access to a computer or laptop at the scanning location then you are best off with a category 1 scanner, for which the prices are in the middle of the range.

Examples from Finale Inventory

Here are example videos of various barcode systems use-cases with Finale Inventory.

Using serial number barcodes from the manufacturer

Assigning barcodes on-the-fly

Using barcodes for asset tracking

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