Using RF Scanners with Pick-to-Light

9 minute read


Warehouse supply maintenance is a top priority for many companies. Missing or unaccounted items can contribute to a loss of potential profit, which makes establishing proper accountability tools essential. In such situations ,RF scanners, or radio frequency scanners, come in handy.

RF scanners are a part of a massive warehouse picking revolution. The uses of RF scanners are standard along with technology tools such as pick-to-light and put-to-light systems and warehouse management systems (WMS). In short, utilizing RF scanners in your warehouse can make managing KPIs a breeze.

This RF scanner guide will help anyone interested in streamlining their warehouse management system at their warehouse or distribution center.


What is an RF Scanner?
Types of RF Scanners
Why Use RF Scanners?
Benefits of RF Scanners
Using RF Scanners with Pick-to-Light Technology



What is an RF Scanner?

An RF scanner is a form of Radio Frequency Scanner which transfers information along with a radio frequency wireless network. An RF scanner often comes in the form of a wireless hand-held device, making it a capable portable device for warehouse management.

RF scanners are used to pick products. When it comes to logistics, the act of order picking, nicknamed pulling, is the process of obtaining products to fulfill customer orders. The act of order picking is an extensive process in its own right, but the consensus is that order picking is essential in affecting customer satisfaction levels.

An RF Scanner ensures that an Order Picker picks up the proper item and updates the management system via a scannable barcode. This process avoids ordering picking duplication and allows for smooth and efficient warehouse production.


Types of RF Scanners


RF Scanners come in a variety of sizes. There are RF scanners that can be as simple as a pen scanner, a laser scanner, or a mobile scanner.


Pen Scanners

barcode pen scanner

Pen scanners are the size of a permanent marker or small wand with a barcode reader that consists of an LED light and a photodiode on the tip. To use a pen scanner, a user merely passes the tip of the scanner over any barcode and await a “beep” for confirmation of a successful scan. 

Pen scanners are usually selected for their durability and can be inexpensive compared to other RF scanners. The biggest concern when using a pen scanner is hand-shake, which can affect what the pen scanner can read.  In most cases, this can be mitigated over time with practice.  


Laser Scanners

 laser scanner

More advanced than a pen scanner, laser scanners can perform more accurate readings of barcodes and reduce false positives or other errors. Laser scanners commonly appear in the self-checkout areas of grocery stores. A customer would use a laser to scan any heavy items in their shopping cart.

Laser scanners can be mounted with a scanning unit or as a part of a hand-held unit making the uses for a variety of diverse applications. To use a laser scanner, users aim the scanner at a barcode, press down the trigger beneath the laser, and wait for the familiar beep.


Mobile Computer Barcode Scanner

mobile computer barcode scanner

Even advanced than the laser scanner is the mobile computer scanner. Mobile computer scanners are significant assets for warehouse management because they do not need to connect to a PC, unlike laser scanners and pen scanners.  They scanner itself is a computer. 

Mobile computer scanners usually have internal memory and Wi-Fi or WAN networks, which make them more efficient in product picking. While mobile computer scanners are more efficient than laser and pen scanners, they can be more costly as they are portable computers.

When paired with a tablet or laptop, or more complex devices such as mobile units that are either hand-held or mounted in a vehicle, RF scanners are valuable assets to warehouse management. Regardless of budget, obtaining an RF scanner makes inventory management more effective.

Why Use RF Scanners?

The two biggest inefficiencies in a warehouse are the time spend picking goods and the paperwork generated. The only paper generated in a highly efficient operation is the invoice contained within the shipping box. From order generation, picking, and then packing, an efficient operation can eliminate paper waste and optimize efficient order picking. Faster picking times translate to faster order turnaround, which makes B2B or B2C clients happy.  

Additionally, sales staff might not be the first people that come to mind when thinking about using RF scanners. They should be one of the first! Any sales rep knows that a faster order turnaround time (turnaround = the period from when the order is entered to the time it arrives at the customer’s door) means more orders in a shorter time-frame.

RF scanners can offer paperless options, more accurate picking, reduce the margin of error, and update pick information in real time.


Paperless Picking


For companies invested in reducing their paper waste, an RF scanner offers that benefit by keeping all information of a picked item updated in the inventory system. Reducing the amount of paper output also means updated information is easily stored and accessible for data under review. 

In addition to reducing paper waste, RF scanners minimize the amount of time necessary to complete picking orders. The two most significant inefficiencies in a warehouse are the time spent picking goods and the paperwork generated. Efficient operation can eliminate paper waste and optimize efficient order picking. Faster picking times translate to faster order turnaround, which makes B2B or B2C clients happy.

Additionally, a more efficient distribution center or warehouse can be a great way to get the attention of sales representatives. Sales representatives know that a faster order turnaround time means more orders in a shorter time-frame. As a result, a sales representative will be more likely to keep ordering products from a warehouse or distribution center who can process orders quicker.


Increased Picking Accuracy


Picking accuracy can significantly affect the efficiency of any warehouse or distribution center. Whether it’s managing a few hundred stock keeping units or over a million, using an RF scanner can connect all products with a warehouse or distribution center’s database to ensure the quantity of product that is on hand is representative to the amount in the system.

 Combine the RF scanner with expertly trained staff and issues like cycle-count inaccuracies can be remedied immediately. Quick fixes mean the picked product can be received, and orders filled—all with a hand-held unit.


Updating Picking Information in Real-Time


Using an RF scanner allows for more accurate inventory control and status updates. When it comes to inventory management, inventory analysis can halt production if managers have to wait for complete reports, or for paper documents to be processed.

An efficient distribution center or warehouse will have inventory changes every minute, which will account for the moment a product arrives, is sent out, or quantity changes. RF scanning allows managers to have a live feed when product quantities change or are have inaccurate reporting. 

RF scanning also allows inventory management to know exactly where their product is when while in transit. Each scan, like a GPS tracker, will let inventory management to know at what location the product currently is, and where it’s heading next thus allowing the availability of all of this information to the clients and customers.

Live information is not only valuable to a warehouse or distribution center but to their clients and customers. RF scanning enables warehouse managers to provide proof that their warehousing is accurate and efficient.


Creating More Efficient Staff


Equipping employees with RF scanning capabilities can ensure every action or pick they complete is on record. Warehouse employees will know the value of accurate inventory, ensuring if a picker arrives at a location lacking a product the system says it has, they’ll know how to remedy the issue. 

RF scanners can guide warehouse workers to products that need cycle counting by a light module which is reconciled with the live inventory resulting in a more comprehensive overview of current and accurate inventory.

The more information warehouse and distribution management provide their employees, the higher the chance the employees will value that information as they do. To have RF-equipped employees in a warehouse or distribution center means everyone is on the same page, at the same time.


Benefits of RF Scanners

Real-time inventory tracking is just part of the big picture. Using RF barcode scanners can speed up cycle counts, annual or quarterly inventory, and in conjunction with a pick-to-light or put-to-light system can make the maintenance tasks much less onerous. For example, a warehouse worker is guided to the items that need cycle counting by a light module where items are scanned into a cycle count, which is then reconciled with the live inventory. The result is a much more comprehensive view of a true and accurate inventory.

Using RF scanners can simplify the receiving process, develop an efficient picking, packing, and shipping process, and assist in physical activities and cycle counts.


Receiving Process Efficiency


RF scanners can put make warehouse or distribution center receiving processes more efficient. During the receiving process, product barcodes are scanned by RF scanners. Once scanned, the products are entered into the system which will verify that the correct items and quantities have arrived at the warehouse.

During the put-away process, when a product is placed in any area within the warehouse or distribution center, warehouse staff can scan the barcode on the product and scan the barcode for the storage location. This process will update the warehouse management system, WMS, and display the updated location of the items within the inventory and where those items are currently stored within the warehouse.


 Picking, Packing and Shipping


When it’s time to pick an order to be shipped, the WMS will transmit the necessary information to an RF scanner. The RF scanner will display the proper order information such as storage location, description, item code, and quantity for each item to be picked. The barcode for each picked item is scanned as well as the barcode of the storage location it was picked from.

Scanning the item bar code and location barcode ensures that the picker is filling the order with the proper quantity of the appropriate item. The WMS will determine the picking sequence of the item and know the location of each item stored so orders can be picked efficiently without incident.

After the pick is complete, the system can generate a packing list containing the information on what was physically picked, which will go into the box of the item.


Physical Inventories and Cycle Counts


Annual inventory counts and cycle counting time using RF scanners will make identifying and counting items a quicker and more efficient process. Calculating inventory items requires scanning the barcode for each inventory item and scanning the barcode location where the product is stored.

By using RF scanners, the process is not only quicker and more accurate but drastically eliminates the amount of paper that would be required to use of paper reports. RF scanners eliminate a lot of potential for human errors such as writing down product numbers and counts before inputting those numbers down manually in a computer. A brief scan eliminates such struggles in a matter of seconds.


Using RF Scanners with Pick-to-Light


Take your RF technology to the next level with wireless Internet Of Things (IOT) pick-to-light technology.  Pick more items, in less time, with fewer errors by showing warehouse workers exactly what to pick and where to put the just-picked product.  Wireless devices can be mounted to racks, carts, shelving, totes, or just about anywhere.  Two lines of custom text can display information in a way that is useful to your organization.

Combine two potent technological inventory management solutions, and see what your KPI’s can tell you as early as your next cycle count.




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