Efficient Inventory Management With QR Codes / Barcodes 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 a smartphone instead of a scanner.

Scanners need to be either physically connected to a computer, or be in the close vicinity. At the same time, most inventory management operations happen in the warehouse, on the shop floor or in the field -- far from the office computers. Smartphones work in any location, can easily fit in the pocket (unlike a bulky scanner), and in fact are already in the pockets of most 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. It means that you always have an accurate inventory count in all locations, including locations such as job sites or service trucks.

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).

Check what business problems you can solve with smartphone / QR code based inventory software.

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.

New Inventory Software Or Addition To Your Current Inventory Management System?

If you are currently not using any inventory management system (especially if the reason for it is a high cost and complexity of the traditional inventory management systems), now it is a good time to jump in. Modern inventory management software tends to be more affordable, less complex, and is offered as a service (you do not have to invest in your own IT infrastructure of keep qualified IT personnel on staff). It is usually cloud based, so that all employees have an immediate access to the same up to date information, and will allow you to use mobile devices to work with inventory in the field.

What if you already have inventory management system in place, but it does not support barcode scanning / mobile devices use / real time inventory processing? Smartphone application that allows for the barcode scanning and field inventory tracking can be used in conjunction with your system. This combination will give your field employees an opportunity to use their smartphones to record and track inventory, or be able to look up current inventory status at any location.

Smartphone application can be integrated into the 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 real time integration, and at least some mobile inventory software vendors will be able to do the integration for you.

Check how you can use QR codes for inventory management and asset tracking.

Putting It All Together

So what do you need to start using QR Codes / smartphones for inventory management and / or asset tracking? You will need sevearl components working together:

  • A smartphone client application that can scan barcode or QR code and send recorded information back to the server. Please note - it is not a generic barcode scanning application! Generic application 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 cloud backend, and/or be integrated directly into your current inventory management system.

  • A cloud server with the central database where inventory data are stored, and web based interface that will allow you to manage inventory data and run reports. Web interface should also allow you to generate and print QR codes for your products. Although there are plenty of sites that let you generate QR codes, they might not work well for your purpose, unless you know *exactly* what smartphone application expects to be encoded in the QR code. Normally, web interface should work together with a smartphone application and generate QR codes that smartphone application can read. This way you do not have to worry what information and in what format should be encoded in QR codes.

  • 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 specifically designed for businesses who needs to track inventory in multiple out-of-office locations (jib sites, service trucks, client sites, etc.). Field employees can use their own smartphones or tablets (or company issued mobile devices) to track inventory in the field using barcode / QR code scanning, access inventory information and stock in all locations. Office employees have full visibility into the inventory stock, transactions and usage via reports.

Check out what QR Inventory software can do for your business.


Update: 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 step. Traceability requirements include tracing ingredients and components to their origin, and also 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 mobile forms for data collection 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's 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.
  • You can link mobile forms to the specific steps in your business workflow.

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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QR Inventory and QR Mobile Data are brand names of inventory management and mobile forms software by AHG -- a provider of mobile and cloud-based applications for business. Our unified mobile platform improves business operations efficiency by eliminating manual tasks and physical paperwork, while providing a secure cloud storage for the business records, real time access to business data for all stakeholders, comprehensive data reporting and analytics. Headquartered in beautiful Boise, Idaho, AHG software is used to manage hundreds of millions of dollars annually in inventory and assets.

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