Mobile Applications For Inventory Management, Data Collection And Workflow


Barcode Scanning Equipment For Asset And Inventory Management

Barcode scanners vs QR code / smartphone combination vs mobile computers for inventory and asset management: overview of the Q & A session on inventory management with barcode scanning.

Our Q&A sessions on implementing inventory management with barcode scanning draw a lot of questions related to the barcode scanning equipment. Participants were interested in the differences, advantages and drawbacks of using QR codes / smartphone combination vs traditional barcode scanners vs mobile computers. Other common questions were about QR codes, labeling and data entry. We thought that these questions (and answers) are worth sharing so that others could benefit from this information. This article sums up equipment related questions. Overview of other topics will follow later.

Will QR Inventory solve your inventory management problems? Take this five-questions quiz to find out.

I want to start using QR codes to track inventory. Should I use smartphone or barcode scanner to scan inventory items in and out?

You can use either. If you want to use regular barcode scanner, you need to make sure that it is capable of reading 2D barcodes. Laser barcode scanners cannot do this, they only read 1D barcodes, such as UPC barcodes. Scanners that can read both types of barcodes are called 2D Imager. Their cost is typically starts from $300.00 per unit.

You also can use a smartphone with a special application that can read barcodes. Phone cameras will read different types of 1D and 2D barcodes, including QR codes. However, some of the older 1D barcode types cannot be read by a smartphone camera reliably, so if you want to use manufacturer’s barcodes, we recommend that you download one of the few free barcode readers and see if that specific barcode is readable.


Do I need a special software to use with a barcode scanner? With a smartphone?

Yes, you do need software to keep track of inventory and assets. Neither barcode scanner, nor a smartphone will manage assets and inventory for you just because they can scan a barcode. Barcode scanning is used for more accurate and faster data entry into the software. Instead of typing in item ID manually you can scan it in from the barcode.

If you already have inventory / asset tracking software in place, you do not need anything additional to start using barcode scanner. Most barcode scanners emulate keyboard, meaning that decoded data are fed to your computer as if you would type this information using keyboard. In practical terms, you can put cursor in the field and instead of typing data scan the same info in using barcode scanner. Information will include whatever is encoded in your barcode or QR code, usually item ID. Please, keep in mind that not all barcode scanners work like this. There are also serial (RS-232) scanners that feed data to a program that interprets them. For this types of scanners you do need additional special software.

Neither barcode scanner, nor a smartphone will manage assets and inventory for you just because they can scan a barcode. Barcode scanning is used for more accurate and faster data entry into the software. Instead of typing in item ID manually you can scan it in from the barcode.

It is, however, much more beneficial if your software is "barcode scanner aware." It will speed up your work. For example, instead of just scanning in item ID and typing the rest of the information manually, software can allow you to continuously scan multiple items, add items to transaction as they are scanned, review and submit all items as a single transaction. Software can also fetch necessary data from the database based on the item ID, or parse information encoded in QR code to fill out multiple fields for you at once.

If you are using a smartphone for scanning inventory and assets in and out, you do need an application linked to your desktop or web-based inventory and asset management software. You cannot use a "random" free barcode scanner application. These applications do not know what to do with the information you just scanned. They will just show you decoded information on the screen so that you could decide what to do with it: open the browser if it is a url, add to your contacts if this is an address, etc.

To use smartphone scanning ability with inventory / asset management software, scanning application must be integrated with the software to feed the information in a format your software expects. Some of asset / inventory management software (e.g. QR Inventory) come with integrated smartphone application capable of barcodes and QR codes scanning.

How far should I be from the computer to scan inventory or assets?

If you are using barcode scanner, not very far. Some scanners need to be physically connected to the computer. In this case you need to be at the computer to scan a QR- or barcode on your items. Cordless scanners connect to the computer via bluetooth and usually have a range of about 30 ft. There are special scanners that can give you a range of 200 - 300 ft.

Smartphones have a definite advantage here. You do not need to be anywhere close to the computer to use smartphone as a scanner. In some cases you do not even need data connection to create inventory transaction: you can add items to the transaction on your phone, save it, and submit transaction with all the items you scanned when data connection becomes available.

Why would I use a smartphone instead of barcode scanner?

There are pluses and minuses in both approaches.

Barcode scanners scan faster (no need for the camera to focus), and can be more reliable in a poorly lit areas. Therefore, if you need to scan many items in fast succession, in the vicinity of the computer, the scanner may be a better choice.

In all other situations, smartphones give you much more options. Some of the advantages are:

  1. No additional hardware cost (employees can use their own smartphones). It is especially beneficial if many people in your organization are handling assets or inventory transactions. Each person already has a scanner in his or her pocket.

  2. You can use smartphones anywhere. This makes smartphones especially valuable for tracking assets and inventory in the field, at a customer's location, away from a computer.

  3. You can do much more than scan in item: enter additional information on the transaction, fill out a form, take photos using the same smartphone application.

  4. Smartphones can automatically record and transmit GPS location of the transaction.

  5. Employee performing transaction can also look up asset details, inventory stock and location and other required information by scanning QR- or barcode.

You can read more on advantages of using smartphone for asset and inventory tracking in this article.

What about mobile computers? How are they different from barcode scanners or smartphones?

Mobile computers are much more sophisticated devices then barcode scanners. In addition to scanning capability they also have a screen to display and enter information, their own OS and internal storage, and are usually connected to a network via Wi-Fi or WAN, therefore they can be used in the field away from the office.

Mobile computers also need a software which will connect to your inventory or asset management system to exchange data.

In this regard mobile computers are very similar to the smartphones (in fact, you can consider smartphone to be a kind of mobile computer). The difference is the price: it is much more expensive to supply all your employees with the mobile computers (the price of each is $1,700.00 +). Software for mobile computers also tends to be more expensive.

Can I use barcode scanner with QR Inventory?

Originally, QR Inventory was developed to use only smartphones for processing inventory transactions, and here is the reason why.

The main ideas behind QR Inventory are:

  1. To allow fast and error free inventory and assets entry using barcode scanning, regardless of whether it needs to be done in the office or in the field.

  2. To allow any business adapt QR Inventory to its business model and workflow. QR Inventory achieves this by allowing businesses to define what they want to track, record and report.


These options are not possible when using barcode scanners. You cannot use barcode scanners in the field, away from the computer it feeds data to. You also do not have a screen to enter information on the transaction, or review inventory stock, locations and details. Therefore, QR Inventory uses smartphones for processing inventory transactions.

However, there are situations in which using a smartphone camera for barcode scanning is not a good option. For example, if you need to process high volume inventory transactions and need fast scanning, if your inventory items are labeled with the older barcodes that are not reliably readable with a smartphone camera, if you need to scan barcodes in the poorly lit areas, or if you have several barcodes close together, using barcode scanner is a much better option. In such situation you can use bluetooth barcode scanners connected to a smartphone. QR Inventory application is now natively integrated with bluetooth barcode scanners to provide fast, reliable scanning for the situations when smartphone scanning is not a reliable option.

 

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