Since the very first consumer barcode was scanned in 1974, the use of barcodes for tracking assets has been revolutionary in helping businesses to improve data accuracy and accelerate inventory management.
With advancements in asset tagging technology and cloud-based asset tracking tools, the use of barcode labels and scanners in businesses has grown. In fact, barcodes have become so widely adopted in both consumer and business markets that GS1 estimates more than 5 billion barcodes are scanned on a daily basis.
Although other tagging options come with more bells and whistles, it’s the low running costs and ease of use that attract businesses to adopt barcode asset tracking tools. Setting it apart from other asset tracking solutions.
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What Is Barcode Asset Tracking?
Barcode asset tracking is an easy to use and cost-effective way for businesses of all sizes to manage and track their physical assets. Whether being used for inventory and stock control or lifecycle management, there are two elements that make barcode asset tracking possible; a barcode label and a reader.
Barcode labels are available in a variety of 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. This data is represented by different numbers and letters, which is then decoded by a reader typically in the form of a barcode scanner or mobile device.
A key factor that makes barcode asset tracking particularly 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 an asset. Whether that be a business’s fixed assets, their IT assets such as monitors and keyboards, or their current assets such as stock and inventory.
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
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:
- A barcode scanner
- Asset Tracking Software
Once the right tools and equipment are in place, the process of barcode asset tracking can be broken down into three stages:
- Data is stored on a unique barcode that is printed and assigned to a specific asset
- The barcode is scanned using a scanner or mobile device that extracts the data
- The data is sent to a computer in binary form which is then decoded and stored in an Asset Tracking Software database
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.
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.
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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
|Cost||Cheap to print or purchase||Cheap 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|
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.