One of the major shortcomings of a non-bar-coded warehouse is the higher amount of errors and item handling when it is compared to a warehouse that uses scanner guns or other technology.

“In a warehouse, we want to only touch items once. If we pick the right item the first time, then we don’t have put it back, we don’t have to repack …we don’t have to issue credit memos,” says Jeff Gusdorf, a consultant at Brown Smith Wallace, a St. Louis-based public accounting firm. “The cost of making an error is really high. We want to do things only once.”

Another shortcoming of a non-bar-coded warehouse is that the jan/san distributor relies too heavily on institutional knowledge to fill orders. For example, distributors in a non bar-coded environment typically truncate location and production descriptions rather than using plan English on the picking tickets, which are understandable to only an experienced picker.

"So it becomes this abbreviated nonsense. Not only does the person not know what they are looking for physically, they can't read very well what the document is telling them what to do," says Jason Bader, the owner of the Distribution Team, a consulting firm based in Portland, Oregon. “There are all kinds of problems with it.”

As a result, the training time in a non bar-coded warehouse is also typically longer and more intense than in an environment that employs scanner guns because the new picker will need to learn all of the intricacies of the warehouse’s organization, process and language.

“You can get a brand new person up within 30 minutes to an hour,” Bader says of training in a scanner gun environment. “They can be picking at a 100 percent degree of accuracy within one hour and that’s a huge save on the learning curve.”

Another disadvantage of a bar-coded warehouse compared to one that uses scanner guns, voice picking or pick-to-light technology is that it fails to realize the benefits of real-time inventory data.

When a picker removes an item from a shelf in a warehouse that is using technology such as a scanner gun that can relay information instantaneously back into the jan/san distributor’s management systems, it allows the entire enterprise to know what is exactly is on its shelves at any given time, leading to better inventory controls, cash flow and customer service.

“The biggest return on investment is moving from a manual pick system to scanner warehouse management package,” says Bader. “The leaps and bounds you are going to gain from that, not only in the picking process, but your receiving process becomes more accurate and your cycle counting becomes easier. All of these things will make your return on investment great.”

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