Asset Tracking: What You Need to Protect Your Business Right Now

An effective asset tracking 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 the basic asset tracking supplies you will need to get started, how to create barcode asset tags on site and how to decide which items to tag and track.

What is Asset Tracking?

Asset tracking 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.

Seventy or 80 years ago, this may have been accomplished 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 tracking system. For example, tagging items with serialized numbers, 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 to reduce errors from manual number entry.

Barcode asset tracking is simply using asset tags with barcodes as part of your asset tracking system. Barcode asset tags can be scanned to quickly and easily link an asset to a centralized record in database. Whether your data is stored on a computer system or in cloud-based storage, there’s no need for 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. The following four processes can all be optimized using barcode asset tracking tools.

1) Audit & analyze inventory

Implementing barcode asset tracking gives your team more accurate data for 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, causing costly delays, then it may make sense to purchase another unit.

Conversely, this data can also be used to reduce wasted resources and ascertain 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.

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 are 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’ inventory 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 job. 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. Tracking MRO activities on assets can be used to audit resources and analyze replace/repair value.

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

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, reliable method for collecting repair and maintenance data that can help identify when it’s time to invest in new items.

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 deterrence. Asset tracking demonstrates that the company is regularly accounting for property and holds employees responsible, as well as making it difficult to re-sell 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. Using asset tracking tags makes 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. Asset tracking tags that cannot be removed without leaving behind distinct markings that easily identify the property as stolen, make it much too risky to buy and thus harder to sell.  

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 your asset tracking needs are more nuanced, you can upgrade your system to include asset tracking software.

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 in the sheet. You can add fields for dates, locations, part/model numbers and other relevant information.

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.

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. When tagging items as a theft deterrence, it’s necessary to use asset tracking tags constructed from security films that make it more difficult to resell and/or swap items.

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, 2D and smartphones) 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. This data 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 online barcode generators typically only allow for manual entry of ID numbers one at a time. The best way to generate barcodes is with account-based online label software.

Simply sign in to your account to access helpful features like data merge which allows you to generate barcodes from an existing database. Online label software that includes design tools should also 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 information and tweak formatting before printing on the actual asset tag labels.

For more in-depth look at creating and formatting barcode labels use our step-by-step video tutorial for asset tracking tags.

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 comes 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 your workers always have the right tool for the job.

To help determine which assets you should be labeling and tracking, 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 construction, industrial and agricultural industries, heavy equipment is particularly susceptible to theft, accounting for 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, leading 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 makes it easier to present reports supporting 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.

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