Barcode Asset Tracking: How Does It Work & What Are the Best Systems

Use our sophisticated comparison tool to find a barcode asset tracking system that matches your requirements for tracking equipment, inventory, tools, and other assets.

What Type of Assets Do You Want to Track?

What Is Barcode Asset Tracking?

Barcode asset tracking is an easy-to-use and cost-effective way for businesses to manage and track their physical assets. Since the first consumer barcode was scanned in 1974, using barcodes for tracking assets has been revolutionary in helping improve data accuracy and accelerate inventory management.

Two elements make barcode asset tracking possible; a barcode label and a reader.

Barcode labels are available in different forms, from 1D barcodes such as Code 39 and Code 128 to 2D barcodes such as Data Matrix and Quick Response (QR) codes. Although their capabilities vary, each type of barcode label is used to store data. The data is represented by numbers and letters which are decoded by a reader, typically a barcode scanner or mobile device.

What makes barcode asset tracking appealing to smaller businesses is the ability to print barcodes on-site. Once data has been assigned to a unique barcode, it is printed and affixed to the corresponding physical asset.

As well as being an inexpensive replacement for time-consuming manual tracking methods such as pen and paper, barcode asset tracking offers a wide range of benefits such as:

  • Increased inventory accuracy
  • Speeding up asset data collection
  • Lowering asset tracking costs
  • Reducing errors
  • Simplifying record-keeping
  • Requiring almost no employee training

Although other tagging options have more bells and whistles, the low running costs attract businesses to adopt a barcode tracking system, setting it apart from other asset tracking solutions.

How Does Barcode Asset Tracking Work?

As well as being used to track business assets, barcodes can be found in different industries that provide a variety of processes such as travel, entertainment, advertising, and games. But, no matter what each barcode system is being used for, the process is always the same.

As opposed to an RFID tracking solution, barcodes require less hardware to operate. In fact, all that’s needed to set up a successful barcode asset tracking system is:

  • Barcodes
  • A barcode scanner
  • Asset Tracking Software

How Does Barcode Asset Tracking Work

Once the right tools and equipment are in place, the process of barcode asset tracking can be broken down into three stages:

  1. Data is stored on a unique barcode that is printed and assigned to a specific asset
  2. The barcode is scanned using a scanner or mobile device that extracts the data
  3. The data is sent to a computer in binary form which is then decoded and stored in an Asset Tracking Software database

Generating Barcodes

The first step to managing inventory and tracking assets is to build the foundation; a barcode. Barcodes consist of various sized bars and spaces that represent numbers and letters, which dates back to the use of dots and dashes in morse code.

There are two types of barcodes that businesses need to be aware of when deploying a barcode asset tracking system; 1D barcodes (linear) and 2D barcodes. 1D barcodes can hold up to 100 characters of data and can be found affixed to most retail products in the form of UPCs (Universal Product Codes). Whereas 2D barcodes can hold up to 2000 characters of data and can be found in magazines or on advertising leaflets in the form of QR codes.

When it comes to generating barcodes for asset tracking purposes, businesses have the option of purchasing them from a distributor or printing them themselves. This allows for greater accessibility, making barcode asset tracking particularly appealing to small businesses that only have a limited number of assets.

Getting the Right Hardware

Each barcode has a unique pattern that is assigned to a specific asset and is readable by a machine. In this case, a barcode scanner. Once a reader scans the barcode by reflecting light off each black and white section, it decodes the data into 1s and 0s and transmits it to a computer.

Although a barcode scanner may seem a straight forward purchase, there are various types available for different purposes. These include:

  • CCD Readers
  • Pen-type Readers
  • Camera Readers
  • Laser Scanners

Another smart alternative to purchasing a barcode scanner is using a smartphone. Most modern mobile devices have the ability to scan both 1D and 2D barcodes.

Using Tracking Software

In order to access the data of a barcoded asset, it must already be stored on a system. For instance, data such as quantity, location, maintenance history, and purchase date will all be assigned in a database to a specific asset. The asset is then given a unique code that is generated into a barcode and attached.

This means when a barcode is scanned, the scanner is telling a computer to open a specific record where the data of that asset is stored. From there, asset data can be viewed, updated, and actioned.

Best Asset Tracking Software Products With Barcode Tagging Options



The Product

A simple solution for tagging and tracking any asset.

Ideal For

Individuals, teams and departments looking for a self-service asset tracking and management solution

Industry Fit

Engineering, Entertainment, Healthcare, Charities, and Domestic Services


From £21 per month



The Product

Real-time/live asset tracking with self-service implementation.

Ideal For

Organisations with real-time asset tracking requirements

Industry Fit

Manufacturing, Engineering, Buildings & Facilities, and Industrial Machinery


From £4 per user, per month



The Product

An asset tracking and management solution that streamlines asset check-in/check-out and provides ready-made, self-service reporting.

Ideal For

Organisations with 250+ assets or items allocated internally to different user groups and locations

Industry Fit

Manufacturing, Healthcare, Education, IT, Engineering, and Entertainment


From £31 per month for 250 assets or items

Vision Pro

Vision Pro

The Product

An integrated asset, audit and risk compliance management solution that supports site- and portfolio-level processes.

Ideal For

Organisations looking to enhance operations with live asset, audit and risk compliance data

Industry Fit

Manufacturing, Education, Retail, and Energy


From £295 per month


TracLogik asset tracking system

The Product

A tailored solution for real-time tracking of movable assets and personnel across any location.

Ideal For

Organisations looking to track movable assets in real-time

Industry Fit

Manufacturing, Engineering, Healthcare, Retail, Aerospace, Marine, and Storage


From £100 per month, plus initial hardware costs

The Benefits of Tracking Assets with Barcodes

With the rise of tagging technology and software solutions, the ability to track and manage assets has never been so widely available to all business types and sizes. And, particularly for asset-intensive businesses who rely on their assets to generate revenue, deploying an asset tracking system is essential.

Similar to other tracking solutions such as RFID and NFC, barcode tracking tools can provide a wide range of benefits for businesses needed to manage their assets.

Cost-Effective Asset tracking

Whether businesses choose to print their own barcodes on-site or purchase them from a distributor, barcodes are a cheap and effective tracking solution. The low up-front costs of barcodes make them extremely attractive to businesses that have warehouses packed full of valuable inventory. As well as being a desirable form of tracking for low-value items and equipment.

Increase Speed and Accuracy

Barcode asset tracking can also be a manual process, where barcode numbers are entered by hand. But, this can be a painstakingly slow process that can end up costing businesses valuable time and money. Instead, barcode scanners and asset tracking systems can accelerate the workflow. So much so that the process of scanning a barcode and retrieving an asset’s data in a matter of seconds can be as much as 5-7 times faster than manual entry.

Manual data entry can also be the root cause of wrong information, leaving the door open for human error. With inaccurate inventory contributing 8.7% of lost sales in the UK, accuracy is essential for asset-intensive businesses.

Requires Minimal Training

One major advantage that a barcode asset tracking system has over other tagging solutions is its ease of use. Barcodes are self-adhesive and can be easily attached to items throughout the workplace. Then it’s a simple case of pointing a reader at the label and scanning it. From there, a computer and an asset management system do the rest.

Reduce Human Errors

The issue with manual asset tracking processes is the number of human errors that go unnoticed until it’s too late. In fact, the failure of barcode accuracy due to human error is estimated to cost the UK somewhere between £500 million and £1 billion per year.

Whether using spreadsheets or pen and paper, the typical error rate for manual data entry is 1 per 300 characters. Whereas, the error rate of a barcode scanner can be as accurate as 1 error in 36 trillion characters.

Find the Best Barcode Asset Tracking Systems That Match Your Requirements

Get Started

What Type of Assets Do You Want to Track?

Barcode vs. QR Code: Which Is Best?

While barcode and QR code asset tracking solutions are both cost-effective, reliable, and easy to use, there are some clear differences that may appeal to the way businesses deploy them for tracking assets.

Durability and Accuracy

Whereas slight damage to a barcode, such as a small tear or crease, can cause it to fail completely, a QR code can still operate as normal even with substantial damage. In fact, only 30% of a QR code needs to be intact for a scan to be successful.

Not only this, but they can be read by a scanner at various angles. Whereas a linear barcode needs to be scanned face on.

Before choosing between a barcode or QR code asset tracking solution, it’s important that businesses consider their environment. For instance, in environments where labels can be easily damaged such as warehouses, stock rooms, or in transit, QR codes may seem a more suitable option.

Advantages of Using Barcodes

Allowing scanners to read data both vertically and horizontally, as opposed to a single linear strip, means QR codes can store significantly more numerical data than a 1D barcode. Whereas barcodes can typically store up to 25 characters, a QR code can store up to 2500 numerical characters.

Having the ability to store more data enables QR codes to be used for various scenarios that benefit a business’s asset tracking processes, such as:

  • Tracking asset locations
  • Viewing asset maintenance and repair history
  • Managing the asset lifecycle from procurement to disposal
  • Building asset check-in and check-out systems

Side by Side Differences Between Barcode and QR Code

 Barcode QR Code
 CostCheap to print or purchaseCheap to print or purchase
 Range Within 10 inches of the line of sight Within 2 feet of the line of sight for standard sizes
 Durability Can be easily damaged Needs just 30% of the label to be scanned
 Storage Space Up to 20-25 characters Up to 2500 numerical characters

Barcodes vs. RFID: What’s the Difference?

Before the rise of battery-powered tracking tags, barcodes where one of the only ways that businesses could get an accurate reading of their asset data. A reduction in errors, an increase in accurate inventory management, and cheap running costs made barcodes a perfect asset management solution.

But, in the last 20 years, other asset tagging solutions have provided users with more advanced options for tracking business assets. One asset tagging solution that has superseded barcodes is RFID. Although more expensive and time-consuming to deploy, an RFID system can offer more variety for businesses when compared side-by-side with barcode asset tracking tools.

 Barcode Labels RFID Tags
 Cost Labels start at just 5p each The chips inside RFID tags make them a pricey option
 Range Within the line of sight Up to 15 meters and no line of sight required
 Speed of Scanning Can scan only one label at a time Can scan multiple RFID tags at once
 Durability Can be easily damaged when placed on the outside of an asset Difficult to damage and designed for adverse environments
 Storage Space Up to 2000 characters (2D barcodes) Up to 4 million characters
 Universality Barcodes are used globally RFID frequencies and tag types depend on location

Barcodes vs. RFID: What’s the Difference?

Other Asset Tracking Solutions to Consider

As well as RFID and barcodes, there are other tagging and tracking solutions for asset-intensive businesses to consider when deploying an asset tracking system.

Tracking Assets with GPS

The use of GPS (Global Positioning System) trackers allows users to actively track assets while in transit. By communicating with satellites, a GPS tracker is able to gain accurate real-time location data.

Although GPS tagging is expensive and ineffective for indoor tracking, location trackers are a popular choice for fleet management, logistics, and transport organisations.

Tracking Assets with NFC

NFC (Near field communication) is a popular technology that can be found in smartphones for the use of making payments. In fact, it’s this worldwide recognition that has made NFC asset tracking tools so efficient. By being accessible on mobile devices, there is no need for specific tag readers or additional training for staff.

Like QR codes, NFC tags enable users to register data in real-time and streamline the access of information from their asset tracking system. Although NFC asset tags can be expensive, they can provide better capabilities for use outside and in adverse weather conditions.