Barcode Asset Tracking: What Is It & How Does It Work?
Every year, billions of dollars go down the drain due to stolen, lost, broken, or misplaced assets.
Some sources estimate the average business loses up to 5% of annual revenue due to employee theft alone.
It’s all too easy to think, “that will never happen to us.” But do you really know the location, status, and condition of all of your assets, down to the last tablet?
Asset barcoding is a simple yet powerful solution to this problem. You create a unique ID for each asset, attach a small barcode, and then track key details like condition, location, and serial number in an asset-tracking platform.
In this article, you’ll learn about the importance of asset barcoding, how asset barcodes work, and how they stack up against other forms of asset tracking.
What is barcode asset tracking?
Barcode asset tagging helps you track and manage your business's physical assets. It has three main elements, a barcode label or tag, a barcode reader, and asset tracking software, which make this solution suitable for business processes such as inventory management, lifecycle management, and asset control. Barcode tags come in many different forms with varying capabilities. Each barcode label stores data in letters and numbers, which can be scanned using a barcode scanner.
Many small businesses favor barcode asset tracking because barcodes are easily printable on-site. All you need to do is assign data to a unique barcode, print it, and attach it to a physical asset, be it a fixed asset or a current asset.
Let’s say, for example, that the warehousing team at your organization uses tablets with a mobile app to fulfill orders and manage inventory accuracy. These tablets are your assets, and you’ll want to keep track of these assets with barcodes.
Each tablet is given a sticker with a unique barcode on it that identifies that particular item. When you use a handheld scanner to scan the barcode, your asset tracking system will pull up details like:
- Asset locations
- Serial numbers
Barcode asset tracking benefits your business in several ways, which we will discuss in a later section. First, let's break down the process of barcode asset tracking.
How barcode asset tracking systems work
Several industries, including construction, education, and travel, use barcodes in one way or another. However, regardless of their application, the process behind barcode technology relies on the same elements: barcode tags, readers, and software. With these in place, the asset tagging process involves three stages.
1. Generating the barcodes
Barcodes are a series of bars and spaces that represent alphanumeric data (letters and numbers). The bars vary in size, much like the dots and dashes in Morse Code. Barcode asset tracking systems use two types of barcodes: 1D and 2D.
1D barcodes hold a maximum of 100 characters, making them suitable for retail applications, such as storing universal product codes (UPCs). 2D barcodes store up to 2000 characters and are commonly used as QR codes.
You can either print your own or buy barcode asset tags for your business's asset-tracking needs, making them a suitable option if you have a business with relatively few assets.
2. Reading the barcodes
Barcodes represent a unique pattern that is associated with each asset. A barcode reader scans a barcode, decodes it, and transmits it to a computer in the form of ones and zeros. There are different types of barcode scanners, each serving a specific purpose. They include pen-type readers, CCD Readers, laser scanners, and camera readers. Most mobile devices can scan 1D and 2D barcodes, making them an excellent alternative to barcode readers.
3. Managing the barcode information
Barcode asset tracking software generates, stores, and manages the data assigned to barcodes. Examples of such data include an asset's location, quantity, purchase date, and maintenance history. The software generates a unique code, which you print and assign to an asset. When a barcode scanner reads the barcode, it tells the system which records to open, update, or act on.
How barcode asset tracking benefits your business
Tagging software has massively improved the ability of businesses of all sizes and industries to track and manage their assets. Specifically, these software solutions play a critical role in companies that rely heavily on assets to generate revenue. Like NFC, RFID, and other tracking solutions, barcode asset tagging technology benefits small businesses in several ways.
- Improve Speed and Accuracy. Barcode asset tracking automates and accelerates essential business processes, such as inventory management, facilitating best practices for asset tracking that translate into increased revenue.
- Minimize Human Errors. Manual asset tracking processes are susceptible to human errors, which can be costly, especially when they go undetected until it's too late.
- Reduce Asset Tracking Costs. Barcode asset tracking is cheap and effective. With low upfront costs, a small business can manage large inventories.
- Easy to Use. Barcode asset tracking systems are relatively easy to use compared to other tagging technology. The barcode stickers easily attach to items. To read the barcode, you only need to point the scanner at it.
How barcodes compare to other asset tracking methods
Barcodes were the go-to solution for reading asset data accurately before the advent of battery-powered tracking tags. Today, many businesses still prefer barcode asset tracking because of the benefits mentioned in the previous section.
However, more advanced asset-tracking solutions have emerged.
Barcode vs. RFID asset tracking
Among them is RFID, which has several benefits and drawbacks compared to barcodes.
- Cost. RFID tags contain chips, which makes them cost more than barcode tags.
- Range. Barcode scanners can only read barcodes within their line of sight, whereas RFID tags require no line of sight and are effective for up to 15 meters.
- Speed. Barcode scanners read one barcode at a time, whereas an RFID system can scan multiple RFID tags simultaneously.
- Durability. RFID tags are highly resistant to damage and harsh environments, whereas barcode labels are easily damaged.
- Storage. RFID tags store up to 4 million characters, whereas 2D barcodes store up to 2000 characters.
- Universality. Barcodes are more widespread, whereas RFID tags and frequencies are more location-dependent.
Barcode vs. QR Code asset tracking
Barcodes and QR codes are very similar. Both are computer-readable codes that can be scanned by an asset scanner.
There are a few important differences, however:
- Barcodes can store up to 25 characters — QR codes can store up to 2500
- QR codes can be scanned from up to 2 feet away, whereas barcodes need to be within around 10 inches to be read by most scanning devices
- Barcodes are difficult to scan when damaged, but a QR code can still be scanned even if only 30% of the code is visible
Barcode vs. NFC asset tracking
NFC (near-field communication) is a subset of the RFID technology discussed above. It doesn’t require any kind of power source, and can transmit data simply by holding the asset and scanning it nearby.
Apple Pay is one of the most common examples of NFC in action.
Compared with using barcodes for asset tracking, NFC offers a few benefits:
- They're capable of two-way communication
- You can use a mobile device to scan NFC
- NFC is very secure
However, there are a few drawbacks. Using NFC to track business assets is a more costly approach than using barcodes, and the close range required to scan an NFC code might make high-volume asset management more clumsy.
How to decide if asset barcoding is right for your business
Unsure whether asset barcoding is the right move for your organization?
Here are a few questions to consider:
- Do your employees regularly ask if you’ve seen their tablet, cellphone, or clipboard?
- Do you waste a lot of time on spreadsheets and budget data?
- Do you spend too much time sourcing information on important assets, such as maintenance records?
- Does your employee onboarding process involve a lot of training new hires in a manual asset management process?
- Do you regularly discover errors when reviewing asset data?
If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, asset barcoding might be a suitable method for your company to implement.
Tracking made easy with RedBeam
Barcode asset tracking is an undeniably important aspect of asset inventory management and is often under-appreciated by both large and small business owners. Any one of these benefits (including even just a few) can help your business's supply chain be more efficient, which in turn will save you time and money.
RedBeam helps you track your business's valuable assets, such as equipment, computers, tools, and more, using barcode asset tracking technology. Contact us today, and let us help you keep up-to-date records and streamline your next asset inventory management.