Barcode asset tracking can really speed up auditing assets, as well as tracking asset movements around a business.
Of course, there are a lot of specialised asset tracking systems available, but you can also easily connect a barcode scanner to any PC and use it for scanning barcodes straight into popular software packages such as Microsoft Excel.
This means you can harness the power of barcodes without going to the expense of buying a full barcode system and learning new software – you can simply plug in a barcode scanner and get going, using the same software as you do already do for tracking all your assets!
What does this mean for my business?
Barcodes can save your business a lot of time for tasks like stock control or asset management. Instead of working through manual paperwork for tracking something, you use a barcode scanner to log an asset or stock item to a location, and then use the scanner again to log whenever the asset is moved to a new location.
If you want to do some basic stock tracking or asset management, you can create an Excel Spreadsheet to handle all the basic tasks. Alternatively, you can use the asset register functionality in your accounting package instead.
For asset tracking, the simplest way to get started is to buy a set of pre-printed asset tags containing a unique set of barcodes. It can also be a good idea to have some location labels produced as well so you can log which location a set of assets are in.
When a new asset is registered, you simply add a tag to the asset, scan the asset barcode, enter a description and scan the location label that describes where the asset is held at. When you want to carry out an audit, you simply scan your location label and then scan all the assets within that location.
A similar system can also work for stock control in a small stock-room.
Using barcodes speeds up the tracking of assets throughout your business and make sure you don’t lose track of valuable equipment.
Barcode Asset Tracking – How do barcodes work?
Barcodes contain a small amount of information – either numerical or alphanumeric – that can be read by a barcode scanner connected to a computer. For asset tracking or stock control, these barcodes tend to store between 6 and 10 digits of numeric information and is typically just an incrementing number.
It is possible to store a lot more information in a barcode, but then you are typically looking at a much more complex, bespoke system. If you want to do a simple system based around a spreadsheet or your existing accounts package, our advice would be to avoid going this route – keeping it simple is always the best approach for tracking all your assets.
Connecting a barcode scanner to your PC
When you scan a barcode using a barcode scanner, the scanner sends the information to your computer as if you had typed the number in on a keyboard. You can configure the barcode scanner to send a RETURN or a TAB at the end of the barcode to move the cursor to the next field on the screen.
Most barcode scanners connect to the PC using a USB port, and when buying a barcode scanner, we recommend that you request a USB version.
Alternatively, you can buy a barcode scanner with a ‘keyboard wedge’ connector which connects between the PC and the keyboard. However, these will only work if your PC has a PS/2 keyboard connector and many newer ones don’t.
Barcode scanners are available either corded or cordless. Cordless scanners give you much more flexibility and allow you to work up to ten metres away from your PC, but also cost considerably more.
There are four main types of barcode scanner available:
Barcode Asset Tracking – Laser Scanners
Laser scanners used to dominate the barcode scanning industry, but they are now becoming less popular, thanks to the increased performance of long-range CCD (see below).
For most tracking applications, we would recommend long-range CCD. However, laser scanners are better at scanning barcodes printed on a curved surface, or on clothing.
Prices for laser scanners range from around £120 – £250. Industrial laser scanners can cost from £300 and upwards. Cordless laser scanners start from around £400.
Long Range CCD
CCD scanners use digital cameras to photograph the barcodes. ‘Long Range’ means they can photograph barcodes from a distance of around 10-20cm, which ergonomically is the best distance to scan barcodes from.
CCD scanners are high performance, are good at scanning damaged barcodes and tend to be reasonably rugged. For most tracking applications, we would recommend Long Range CCD scanners.
Prices for Long Range CCD scanners range from around £75 – £200. Cordless versions start from around £300.
Short Range CCD/Touch CCD
Short range CCD scanners are extremely cheap barcode scanners. You need to hold the scanner on the barcode in order to scan them. Ergonomically they are not particularly good and unless you have a very good reason for using them, they are best avoided. Prices range from around £30 – £80.
Wand scanners look like a pen. You run them over the barcode to read them. Ergonomically they are not particularly good and like short range CCD, we would suggest they are best avoided. Prices range from around £30 – £80.
What about handheld computers?
The other alternative to simple barcode scanners is to use a handheld computer with built in barcode scanner. These are really beyond the scope of this article, but can be a useful addition to asset management – especially if you are constantly tracking asset movement, or tracking assets across several locations or outside.
Many handheld computers use the Microsoft ‘Windows Mobile’ operating system. This comes complete with a cut-down version of Microsoft Excel called ‘Pocket Excel’. There are a number of suppliers of handheld computers with built in barcode scanners.
Combined with Pocket Excel, this means you can log assets on your handheld computer, dock the handheld and synchronise with your PC and then access the data directly in Microsoft Excel on your PC.
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