When improving warehouse picking, one of the most popular technologies that jan/san distributors employ are scanner guns — handheld devices that display the next order for the picker while sharing with the distributor’s warehouse management system.

Instead of a picking system that relies on physical pick tickets that are printed, the pick order and the location of the item are displayed on a digital window on the scanner gun that the picker carries with them. Once they pick an item, pickers use the guns to scan its bar code, sending the data to the warehouse system.

“It’s much more efficient if the system takes those pick tickets and loads them on device so the picker can just follow the instructions on the device,” says Jeff Gusdorf, a consultant at Brown Smith Wallace, a St. Louis-based public accounting firm.

Bar coding and scanner guns can be used throughout a warehouse to track items from receiving and shelving to picking and packing. As a result, creating a bar coding environment is expensive that requires a wireless infrastructure, scanner guns, label printers and bar code labels. The jan/san distributor may also experience upfront costs associated with assuring that it is using the same codes that are used by its suppliers so that it can track items throughout the entire process, says Dick Friedman, owner of General Business Consultants, Wilmette, Illinois.

“The use of bar codes doesn’t always increase accuracy or productivity,” says Friedman. “Not all warehouses are laid out in a way that allows for the efficient use of bar-code scanning. Even with bar-code scanning, you have to have proper procedures and controls or accuracy will suffer.”

One of the keys to using scanner guns is to make sure that pickers are trained to blindly follow the instructions on the device. The technology is built to create efficiencies that would be lost if picker chooses to go their own way.

“You got to tell people not to try to out-think the gun,” says Jason Bader, the owner of the Distribution Team, a consulting firm based in Portland, Oregon. “The ones that choose to blindly follow it are the ones that are the most productive.”

Brendan O’Brien is a freelance writer based in Greenfield, Wisconsin.