Start with Inventory Basics

Although the upgrade to inventory software or implementing a new system might seem overwhelming, this guide will help make the process a breeze. We have gathered the best practices from thought leaders, customers, research, and our own experiences, to provide you with useful information for managing inventory and evaluating tracking solutions.

Types of Inventory Systems

From a capabilities standpoint as well as budgeting, you’ll need to know what kind of system you actually need. At a high level there are dozens of inventory systems that appear to be the same, but in fact are completely different. Yes, they deal with management of inventory and are software based, but the functionalities and modules that make up the system vary.

WMS

Defined loosely, a warehouse management system helps you control and oversee complex warehouse, order, and distribution business processes. Terms that characterize this type of system are direct put away, purchase orders, order releasing, and picking.

MRP

This robust system is for companies focusing on improving manufacturing operations, production scheduling and forecasting, and supplies coordination. Inventory control is a core functionality of the system, but tasks performed in MRP systems focus on raw material deliveries and assembly/sub-assembly processes at the enterprise level.

IMS

This type of system is more basically and narrowly defined, as it deals with the tracking and tracing of inventory quantities and locations (or bins). They typically support purchase orders, receiving, sales orders, and shipping of tangible goods, but may not support raw material manufacturing.

Know What Inventory You Have

It is imperative you can describe your inventory when implementing an inventory system. The ability to track serialized products or items with expiration dates is not going to be a problem. However, not knowing whether or not these abilities should be a system requirement for your business prior to implementation is. Same goes for functionalities such as batch control or lot tracking. You need to do your homework and target systems that specifically perform the inventory tracking that matches what you have. Additionally, including these sort of functionalities in a system can add unnecessary complexity and cost if the solution doesn’t really need them.

Using SKU Numbers and UPC Codes

If you’re focused on keeping track of inventory in storage within your company, you’ll want to track SKU numbers. These are the barcodes you see on products when you’re shopping. SKU numbers contain critical information such as manufacturer, description, material, size, color, packaging, warranty terms and much more.

You can use SKU numbers for both tangible and intangible goods. Examples of tangible goods include stock inventory or raw materials. Examples of intangible items include anything billing related, such as project duration or warranty length.

SKU numbers can be four to eight alphanumeric characters. They should begin with an abbreviation related to your product (e.g. FRU for fruit). Never start a SKU with a 0 because this will cause errors in many database and spreadsheet programs. You should also avoid using special characters and numbers that look similar to letters (e.g. O, I, and L) to minimize confusion and data processing errors.

SKU Numbers and UPC Barcodes

UPC codes are similar to SKUs but they’re used by manufacturers when they’re creating products from scratch. The steep licensing costs associated with UPC codes limit their use to companies without large budgets.

Evaluate Barcode Scanning Hardware

Depending on your needs, you might want a barcode scanner for your business. Although this is an optional part of inventory management, these devices allow you to eliminate data entry errors, and process inventory information in real-time.

Aside from range, the biggest difference between the two barcode scanning technologies is cost. CCD scanners cost less than laser scanners, however as mentioned earlier, there’s a tradeoff between cost and range.

Mobility

Whether you’re working in a fast paced environment, outdoors, or in a large warehouse, having a rugged barcode scanner is essential for your success. The primary differences between standard and rugged scanners is that the former are built with complete seals to protect against dust and moisture. They also have no-slip grips and often have four to six foot drop-resistance.

Durability

Whether you’re working in a fast paced environment, outdoors, or in a large warehouse, having a rugged barcode scanner is essential for your success. The primary differences between standard and rugged scanners is that the former are built with complete seals to protect against dust and moisture. They also have no-slip grips and often have four to six foot drop-resistance.

Technology

The two primary barcode scanner technologies on the market are are charged couple device (CCD) and laser scanners. The former is designed for environments where employees are near the inventory. The latter is better suited for situations where inventory is hard to reach.

Determine Units of Measure

Determine Units of Measure

Before logging inventory data, you’ll need to know the units of measure to be used for your data. Following your industry's’ standard units are essential for inventory management as you want to make sure vendors and buyers are on the same page as you .

The most common units of measurement across industries are piece (“PC”) or each item (“EA”). These can be worded as box, carton, case, etc. You can use other units of measurement such as pounds (lbs.), feet (ft.), gallons (gal.) and more. For those times when a vendor or customer uses different measurements, you can always use conversion factors adjust the units accordingly.

When logging inventory data, remember to use uniform styles throughout your records. For example if you use ‘pc’ once in your records, then you shouldn’t write ‘Pc’, or ‘PC’ afterwards. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to keep abbreviations as lowercase text.

UOM = Box of 12

UOM = Box of 6

Unit of Measure Class = Quantity

Determine Units of Measure

Base UOM = Each

Classify Your Inventory Locations

Organization is Key

Before implementing your inventory management system, you need to establish organized procedures on storing inventory so you can get the most from your system. Below are descriptions of the most common location-based inventory tracking methods:

Informal Method

Many companies fall under this category because they use paper and pen rather than barcodes for data tracking. Informal methods are best described as a filing cabinet. When an item is put away, it’s up to the employee to remember where the goods are stored and the quantity of the SKU. Informal inventory tracking systems are sufficient for small companies with minimal stock and one person managing the inventory, but for larger projects you’ll need something more organized.

Inventory System Location Classifications

Fixed Locations

Fixed location systems are an improved method as they provide more precision than other methods. This involves putting every SKU in its own section of the warehouse.The biggest shortcomings of this method is that it’s difficult to determine where stock inventory should be stored. As the resources are used, you can’t fill the empty space because mixing inventory isn’t practical.

Part Numbers

Storing items by part number provides the organization of fixed location systems without the inefficiencies. This system consists of assigning locations based on the sequence of part numbers (i.e. A123 goes before B123).

The best example of this method are department stores which use barcoded price labels. Aside from tracking price, these tags also can show inventory location making re-stocking easier. In general you just need to understand that part number inventory management allows you to have granular control over which items stock is assigned to and where it’s located within each building. Despite the advantages of this system, the biggest drawback is that part number inventory systems are more complex than the previously mentioned systems.

Use Reports to Gain Insights

Making Sense of Operations

It’s one thing to keep track of your inventory but it’s another to actually make sense of that information. Before implementing inventory software you need to ensure that you have clear objectives on what you want to get from inventory management. Ask yourself:

  • How do I measure performance across my business?
  • Am I able to see all inventory quantity and cost information from a central location?
  • Are staff able to locate inventory when it’s needed?

Although most inventory management systems have reporting capabilities built in, many off the shelf solutions set limits on the numbers and types of reports you can generate. If you can’t get the insights you need about your business, then the software isn’t a good fit for you.

Inventory Reports

The backbone of any inventory management system is the inventory valuation report, which is a summary of your inventories value.

In these reports you should track the: item name, description, unit price, quantity on hand, average cost, stock value, percent of total inventory value, and sales price.

History reports are essential to inventory management because they show the quantity sold, sales amounts, and gross profit dollar amount of your stock. These reports should contain: history date, customer code, inventory ID number, stock description, part number, location, quantity change, and the customer name.

Physical inventory reports are essential for your business as they play a significant role in tax reporting. These reports should contain inventory location names, the number of stock and supplies counted, inventory ID numbers, stock descriptions, stock item numbers, physical inventory dates, and physical inventory location codes.

Facing Your Challenges

Your business isn’t like any other, so why limit yourself to using cookie cutter reports? The ability to customize reports for your exact needs is essential to successful inventory management. Even if you don’t have complex projects at the moment , you should always be prepared for rapid growth.

Inventory Management Reporting Insights

Choose the Right Inventory Management System

It’s impossible to keep accurate records by hand. Digital inventory management systems enable you to make the most of limited storage space while still meeting customer demands.

Barcodes aren’t limited to the peel and stick style that you’re probably familiar with. If your inventory is subject to harsh environments, you can use hard plastic and metal tags to ensure you can track supplies regardless of where they are.

Evaluating inventory management software can be overwhelming due to the variety of products. Although we’re a little biased, we feel you’ll choose Passport as our software can handle any challenge you throw at it. Whether you you’re doing straightforward inventory or tracing specialized stock, you can do it all with Passport.

Take a tour of Passport to see how it can fit your needs!
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