Efficient Inventory Management With QR Codes and a Smartphone

A Bit of History: QR Codes Were Created For Inventory Management

It may be hard to believe now, but QR Codes were originally invented not for marketing, not so that advertisers could put them on every possible product, business cards or banner. They were invented specifically for inventory management. By the early 1990s, Toyota Company found out that barcode system they used to track parts was running out of capacity: the number components the company used was about to exceed the maximum number of items they could encode in a standard barcode. To solve this problem,

in 1994 Toyota’s subsidiary, Denso Wave invented two-dimensional graphical code system they called Quick Response, or QR code system. It was designed to allow high-speed component scanning during manufacturing process.

How QR Codes And Smartphones Help With Inventory Management?

Even if you do not deal with very high number of components, exceeding regular barcode capacity, your inventory management process will benefit from incorporating QR Codes. Why? Because of the new part of equation - smartphones. Instead of using traditional scanners, your employees can use smartphones (that most of them have in their pockets already) to track inventory items.

It means that you no longer need to purchase scanners in order to be able to record inventory transactions efficiently and eliminate mistakes associated with the manual data entry. Even if you do not mind the cost of extra hardware, think of how much more convenient it is to use the a smartphone instead of a scanner.

Scanners need to be either physically connected to a computer, or be in close vicinity, while most inventory management operations happen in the warehouse, on the shop floor or in the field -- far from the office computer. Smartphones work in any location, can easily fit in the pocket (unlike a bulky scanner), and in fact are already in the pockets of the most of your employees. No matter how many employees in your organization handle inventory, they can record inventory transactions as they happen - and send data to the central database in real time, meaning you always have current inventory status.

These "physical" advantages - convenient shape and size, ability to work without a nearby host computer, being readily available for employees who handle inventory are only a part of the story. Smartphones are also much more "capable" than regular barcode scanners.

Smartphones are not limited to reading a number from the barcode and sending it to the nearby host computer for completing the transaction. Smartphone application can allow the person who manages inventory to identify transaction (sale, restocking, taken for a project, etc.), and select / enter other relevant information (lot number, bin, what project the item was taken for, client, location - everything that is relevant for your business).

QR Codes Versus UPC Bacrcodes For Smartphone Scanning

Often when people think about using smartphones for scanning inventory items, they automatically link this process to QR codes. This is not entirely correct - UPC barcodes can also be scanned with the smartphones, and smartphone application can bring all required information from the server. Of course, QR codes can include much more information - but if your inventory items are already labeled with UPC barcodes, and it is not practical to re-label them - that's not a problem. You can still take advantage of the new technology and optimize your inventory management process by using smartphones as scanners.


Addition To Your Current Inventory Management System

If you are currently not using any inventory management system (especially if the reason for it is high cost and complexity of traditional inventory management systems), here is your opportunity to jump in. Modern inventory management software tends to be more affordable, less complex, has web-based interface, and will allow you to use QR Codes / smartphones for inventory management.

Already have inventory management system in place? Great! Smartphone-based scanning applications can be used as a supplement to your system. You still can give employees an opportunity to use their smartphones to record and track inventory, or be able to look up current inventory status at any location. In this case smartphone application can be integrated into existing inventory management software, so that all inventory transactions recorded on the smartphones go straight into your system. No matter what software you are using, it probably has an API to allow integration, and at least some vendors of modern inventory management systems can do the integration for you.

Putting It All Together

What can you do to start using QR Codes / smartphones for inventory management and / or asset tracking? There are several parts to that question:

  1. A smartphone client application that can scan barcode or QR code and send recorded information back to the server. Notice, this is not a generic barcode scanning application! Generic app will simply show you what is encoded in a QR code. These applications can also recognize encoded url and redirect you to a website, or recognize a contact information and add it to your list of contacts. However, to handle inventory transactions, you need an application specifically designed for this purpose. This application should have web-based backend, and/or be integrated directly into your current inventory management system.


  2. A central database where all inventory data is recorded, and web based interface that will allow you to review current inventory information and run reports. Web-based part should also allow you to generate and print QR codes for your products. Although there are plenty of sites that will allow you to generate QR codes, they won't work well for your purpose, unless you know *exactly* what smartphone application expects to be encoded in the QR code. Normally, web part will work together with a smartphone application and generate QR codes that smartphone application can read. This way you should not worry what information and in what format should be encoded.


  3. Alternatively, smartphone application can be integrated directly into your current inventory system via API. In this situation, you still need an interface to generate and print QR codes, unless you plan to use regular UPC barcodes and they are already on your products, or you have a utility to generate and print them.

 

Inventory Software That Will Help You Get There

If you want to start using mobile and QR code technologies for inventory management or asset tracking, QR Inventory software will work well for you. It is designed for small and medium sized businesses with non-retail business model, and allows you to track assets and inventory in multiple out-of-the-office locations in real time using QR codes and smartphone. Take QR Inventory tour to see how QR Inventory can help you get assets and inventory under control, make the process simple, affordable and easy to adjust to your business workflow.

 

Beyond Inventory Management: Mobile Data Collection & Business Operations Tracking With QR Codes

Inventory and assets management is not an isolated process, it is usually connected to the other business operations and procedures that require data collection, documentation and reporting. For example, if you are tracking assets such as equipment and work tools, you will want to document equipment maintenance, service and repairs. If you are a manufacturer, along with the tracking inventory you may need to manage production process: monitor progress, record details of each step and fill out quality control forms. You may need to track custom projects through the stages and record what was done on each stage. Traceability requirements include tracing ingredients and components to their origin, and tracking / documenting a production process. Property management companies need to track tools, materials and supplies, as well as document property repairs and maintenance. There are plenty of situations when assets and inventory tracking goes hand in hand with the need to collect data in the field or on site when you are away from the computers. Inspections, audits, service and maintenance, tasks checklists, reporting asset conditions or damage, requesting services, projects tracking - the list goes on and on.

Traditionally, either paper forms or mobile computers were used for collecting information in the field. Needless to say, paper forms are not a perfect solution. They are not flexible (you change something in your process, and you need to reprint all forms), can be easily damaged, misplaced or lost, there are no built-in checks to make sure the forms are filled out correctly, hand-writing can be ineligible. Your employees will need to do double work by re-entering all collected information into the computer, spending extra time and introducing more possibilities for mistakes. The information flow within the company is slow and inadequate. There is a long gap between the time information is collected and the time it is accessable to the other team members who need it. With the paper-based system employees cannot readily get access to the information they need to do their job in the field, and often need to spend time calling office or other field technicians and wait for a response before they can continue with their job.

Mobile computers solve many of the paper forms problems, but the systems with mobile computers in the field and centralized storage in the office are very expensive, and usually are out of reach for the small businesses.

Modern field data collection and access solutions use regular smartphones as barcode scanners, data collection and access tools, and centralized cloud location for the data storage. This setup is much more affordable, especially if employees are using their own smartphones for data collection and access, and eliminates all paper forms problems:

  • You can create and update data collection forms via a web inteface. All changes are dispatched to employees smartphones, so they always have up-to-date forms to fill out.
  • Entered information is auto saved on the user smartphone, no information is misplaced or lost.
  • Mobile forms have built-in checks to ensure that everything is filled out correctly.
  • In addition to filling out mobile forms, employees can use the smartphones to take images, capture signatures and transmit GPS location of the data collection to the server.
  • All collected information is sent to the centralized cloud location, and is available to all authorized users in real time. This is especially important for the information that needs to be acted upon quickly, such as damage reports and service requests.
  • Data are stored in a secure cloud, can be searched by multiple parameters to quickly find required records and information.
  • Employees can access critical information in the field on their smartphones.

QR Mobile Data software works together with QR Inventory to make your field data collection tasks efficient, fast and error-free. The same system of QR codes that you created for tracking assets and inventory will allow your field employees to collect and access data. The scan of a QR code label with a smartphone identifies an asset - and everything related to this asset: information, past records, forms and checklists to complete is immediately available.

 
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