Asset Tracking: What You Need to Get Started Right Now

Three images showcasing different applications of asset tags, such as a microscope, a laptop, and a tablet.

What is asset tracking

Asset tracking (or asset management) is the practice of following the movement and/or status of your company’s valuable and vital physical items. This can include tracking equipment, machinery and tools that are checked out by individual employees, sent off-site, moved between departments within your facility, or are unavailable due to maintenance.

To do this, asset tracking tags with unique identification (ID) numbers (and/or barcodes) are attached to the items designated for tracking. Any time an item is moved, broken, changes hands, or is otherwise affected, the ID number is used to record that data in a centralized database.

An effective asset management system protects your bottom line by increasing efficiency, reducing redundancy and reducing costs incurred from loss or theft of company equipment. New innovations in asset tag materials have made it easier than ever before to get started with asset tracking in any size facility.

This article will cover a brief overview of asset tracking in business and how to use barcode asset tags in your facility. You’ll also learn about the basic asset tracking supplies you will need to get started, how to create barcode asset tags onsite, and how to decide which items to tag and track.

Get started now by shopping for asset tags you can customize and print right from your desktop, or get custom printed and check out our favorite asset management software.

What is barcode asset tracking and why is it important

Barcode asset tracking is simply using asset tags with barcodes as part of your asset management system. Barcode asset tags can be scanned to quickly and easily link an asset to a centralized record in a database. Whether your data is stored on a computer system or in cloud-based storage, there’s no need for manual number entry.

Seventy or 80 years ago, assets would be tracked by tying tags to equipment, engraving numbers on metal tools, or simply painting numbers on the side of heavy machinery. The information would be handwritten in ledger books that would then be collected for storage in a physical location.

As computers have become a necessity in everyday life, most modern facilities incorporate some sort of computer-based asset management system. For example, tagging items with serialized numbers and then manually typing in that number to access a corresponding digital file where information can be added or updated.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with a manual solution if it works for you—any system that solves a problem is a win. Yet, you’re probably already thinking of the one major drawback to manually entering numbers in your asset tracking system: human error. The most effective asset tracking and management systems today use barcode asset tracking. This reduces errors from manual number entry.

How to Use Barcode Asset Tracking Tags in Your Facility

Asset tracking helps workers audit, track, repair, and protect assets more efficiently, saving your business time and money. You can optimize the following four processes using barcode asset tracking tools.

1) Audit & analyze inventory

Implementing barcode asset tracking gives your team more accurate data for decision-making. For example, determining available resources when fulfilling job requests, planning projects, and meeting daily output requirements. Additionally, this data can be compiled into meaningful reports to help streamline equipment expenditures.

Analyzing reliable asset tracking data can help identify situations in which investing in additional tools or equipment could boost productivity. For example, if you see that an asset is constantly being moved from one site to another, thus causing costly delays, then it may make sense to purchase another unit.

Conversely, this data can also be used to reduce wasted resources and determine whether specific equipment or tools have outlived their usefulness. Consider “ghost assets”—assets that aren’t being used at all but are still costing the company money to store and maintain. These are items that can and should be liquidated.

Two images Avery asset tags shown in use for tracking equipment assets. One image shows a professional heat press with Avery asset tag 60538, the other image shows a close up of lab equipment labeled with Avery asset tag 60537.
Create and print your own customized asset tags right from your desktop. Print using a standard desktop or office printer.

2) Locate tools & equipment

Items that frequently change hands between departments and/or locations have a greater chance of being lost or misplaced. Digital asset tracking systems provide a complete overview of all company assets so that missing items can be easily identified and located.

No matter what type of asset tracking tags you use, tracking assets digitally helps combat the “out of sight, out of mind” effect. Off-site equipment is less likely to be “absorbed” into other locations’ inventories if there’s a clear record indicating where it belongs.

Asset tracking also saves time and money spent on employees hunting for the tools they need to do their jobs. Not only are misplaced and lost items damaging to productivity, but they can also lead to frustration and low morale among employees.

3) Support MRO activities

Use asset tracking tags to digitally record and update maintenance, repairs, and operations (MRO) records for equipment, tools, and machinery. Data from tracking MRO activities can be used to audit resources and analyze the replace or repair value of assets.

Knowing when equipment, tools, and machinery are unavailable is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to assigning resources. Using an asset tracking system allows you to allocate resources more efficiently because you can more easily access lists of items scheduled for maintenance or unfit for use.

Additionally, asset tracking allows you to identify usage trends so you can schedule maintenance during periods when the asset is used less frequently. For example, if your busy season lies ahead, you may want to schedule maintenance before things ramp up.

Asset tracking can also help identify where repeated repairs are wasting resources. Equipment that continually breaks slows down productivity and drains funds that would be better spent replacing the item instead. Digitally tracking MRO actions is an efficient and reliable method for collecting repair and maintenance data that can help identify when it’s time to invest in new items.

Two images showing security tags on electronics. The first is a close up Avery destructible tag 60529 falling to pieces as someone tries to remove it and the second is a close up of Avery tamper-evident tag 60528 being peeled from a laptop, there is a checkerboard pattern left behind.
Security asset tags make it more difficult for would-be thieves to swap items or resell them.

4) Discourage theft & protect valuable items

While it’s true that an asset tag can’t physically stop an employee from walking away with company property, a diligent asset tracking system and the right asset tags can be an effective theft deterrent. Asset tracking demonstrates that the company is regularly accounting for property and holds employees responsible, as well as making it difficult to resell stolen items.

If tools, equipment, and other valuable items are regularly misplaced and unaccounted for, it’s extremely easy for stolen equipment to go unnoticed and/or unreported. Asset tracking tags make it easy to identify missing items faster and trace them back to the last person responsible for the item.

One way thieves attempt to get around asset tracking is by removing asset tags from company equipment and re-applying them to cheaper versions. As long as the asset tag is still present, it’s hard to identify the equipment as missing. Asset tracking tags that self-destruct or break apart upon removal make it impossible to use this switching tactic.

In the U.S., it’s illegal to buy or sell stolen goods—especially if the sellers and/or buyers know the items are stolen. It's much harder to sell items that have distinct asset tag markings because it's too easy to identify them as stolen. This in turn makes the item too risky to steal.

Asset Tracking and Management System Supplies

Setting up an asset tracking system that uses barcode asset tags is easier than you might think. All you need to get started are the asset tags themselves, a digital database (such as a spreadsheet), and barcode scanners. As your business grows or you find that your asset tracking needs are more nuanced, you may upgrade to using asset tracking software as well.

1) Asset tracking data & software

You can begin tracking assets with a database as simple as an Excel or Google spreadsheet. Unique ID numbers are issued to each item and recorded on the sheet. You can add fields for dates, locations, part or model numbers, and other relevant information.

However, asset tracking software provides additional benefits for users and managers in facilities that require more robust business asset tracking. Basic features to look for when considering software options include selective user access, customizable configurations, and the ability to manage multiple locations and transfer quantities between locations, departments, and warehouses.

Additional software features that can enhance your asset tracking system include the following: depreciation tracking, the ability to attach images and other files to asset IDs, and calendar reminders for maintenance or warranty expiration.

2) Asset tracking tags

Asset tracking tags with the ID numbers printed on them, encoded in a barcode, or both, are applied to each item to be tracked. The most affordable and effective asset tracking solution is to use printable asset tags that can easily be updated using the information from your database. In fact, we wrote about how to know when you're spending too much on asset tags by breaking down the cost comparison.

When ordering printable asset tracking tags, it’s important to consider the quality of the material. For durability, look for asset tags constructed with PET film and strengthened with aluminum, like these ones that are water, chemical, and abrasion resistant.  When tagging items as a theft deterrent, it’s necessary to use asset tracking tags constructed from security films that make it more difficult to resell and/or swap items. For example, these ones that break apart if you try to remove them, and these ones that leave behind telltale markings.

3) Barcode scanners for asset tracking systems

There are basically two categories of barcode scanners for asset tracking systems: laser and image. Laser scanners work by illuminating the barcode on your asset tracking tag with light that’s reflected back to the scanner for decoding. Image scanners (including linear and 2D scanners as well as smartphone cameras) capture and analyze the image of the barcode.

When choosing barcode scanners for your asset tracking system, it’s important to consider durability, range, ease of use, and the type of barcodes that will need to be scanned. Smartphones are extremely easy to implement, while dedicated handheld scanners designed for industrial use are generally sturdier and operate at farther ranges.

Linear image asset tracking scanners are best for reading linear barcodes, but do have limitations regarding the size of your barcodes. 2D image scanners can read any type and size of barcode, but generally tend to be the most expensive type of asset tracking scanner.

How to Create Asset Tracking Tags with Barcodes

With modern innovations in printable labels, creating barcode asset tags in your own facility is easier than ever before. First, you’ll begin with a list of ID numbers for the items you want to tag and track, which can be exported from a simple spreadsheet or from your asset tracking software.

Next, you’ll import your ID numbers into barcode generating software. Free barcode generators typically only allow for the manual entry of ID numbers one at a time. The best way to generate barcodes is with account-based online label software, such as Avery Design and Print Online.

Simply sign in to your Avery account to access helpful features like data merge, which allows you to generate barcodes from an existing database. In fact, our online label software includes design tools that allow you to format and customize your asset tracking tags with graphics, logos, colors, and more. 

Once you’ve generated your barcodes and formatted your asset tracking tags, print a test sheet on regular paper. Use your barcode scanner of choice to test the barcodes you’ve created. If the ID numbers don’t match the scan results or the scan produces an error message, this is your opportunity to review the information and tweak the formatting before printing on the actual asset tag labels.

How to Decide What Items Get Tagged & Tracked

When most people hear the phrase “asset tracking,” it’s likely IT asset tracking systems are what come to mind (for keeping track of computers and other expensive electronic devices). When deciding what assets you should tag and track, your IT department is a great place to start.

However, equipment and tool asset tracking practices are just as valuable and necessary to protect your business from lost time, money, and resources. In fact, in construction, asset tracking is key to ensuring workers always have the right tool for the job.

In order to determine what items in your facility should get tagged and tracked, ask yourself the three simple questions below.

1) Which items have a greater risk of theft or misplacement?

Valuable items at risk for theft vary between industries, however, some vulnerable items are common sense and generally high-risk across all industries. For example, electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets.

In the construction, industrial, and agricultural industries, heavy equipment is particularly susceptible to theft. Especially shocking are the data reports on construction theft, which include up to $400 million in annual losses from material costs alone. This excludes additional indirect losses from business interruption.

2) Which items are used the most?

Expensive, yet high-demand items may require sharing between several teams or individuals. Competing for equipment can be frustrating for workers and employers alike. This often leads to decreased productivity and low morale.

Asset tracking tags make it easier to create and implement efficient equipment checkout procedures and a cooperative schedule for shared use. Additionally, tracking these types of assets better supports requests for purchasing additional equipment.

3) Which items are likely to move between departments/locations?

Asset tracking tags should be used on any item that moves between locations, either within company premises or outside, to avoid the risk of being lost in transit or misplaced. Coordinating and referencing items across one or more separate physical locations is much simpler when transit, delivery, and location information can be easily accessed in a centralized database.

Why and how to get started with asset tracking right now

First, let’s sum up why asset tracking (especially with barcodes) is good for your business. For one thing, it makes it easier to audit and analyze inventory. Secondly, asset tracking makes it easier to locate tools and equipment across departments and at off-site job locations. Thirdly, it supports MRO activities to help you more efficiently track equipment that is out for repairs or needs to be replaced. Lastly, asset tracking helps protect valuable items by discouraging theft.

In order to get started, you only need a few supplies. You can even get started with just asset tag labels, a spreadsheet, and a scanner. However, asset tracking software has myriad benefits that can help you manage assets much more efficiently. Fortunately, creating and printing your own asset tags with barcodes is incredibly easy with Avery tools. You can print on our asset tags using a standard desktop or office printer, and our online software has a free barcode generator built in. As far as deciding which items to tag, there are three easy categories.

  1. Items that have the greatest risk of theft or misplacement
  2. Items used the most or shared between multiple locations or departments
  3. Items that frequently move between locations and/or departments

Have you noticed problems tracking tools and equipment at work? Share this article and pin our infographic for future reference.