They’re big, they’re bulky and they are very last century. I am referring, of course, to mobile bar code scanners like the one pictured below. Many professionals who are investigating the purchase of Fixed Asset Tracking solutions are asking if these scanners are a necessary investment given the present array of mobile devices. The answer is really driven by your business objectives and environment and is not a one-size-fits-all choice. Let’s examine the factors to consider when evaluating this aspect of the purchase.
Transaction Volume – If the number of transactions which occur during a month fewer than 100, a mobile device (I will group phones and tablets into this category) will be satisfactory. The on-board scanners on mobile devices tend to be a bit more finicky but at a low transaction volume, you will not notice. Also, the user interface and screen real estate are often limited but, again, can be overlooked if transactions are infrequent.
Number of Users – In some installations, assets are broadly distributed among a number of physical locations and the number of transactions is diluted by the number of sites. In this case, the considerations above apply.
Database Access – When using mobile devices, the best practice is to perform real time updates to the database. To do so requires that the data base be connected to the mobile device through a LAN, WAN, or Cellular connection. This may not be possible either because a network is not available (physical limit) or required access is not allowed (security limit). Check with you IT department to get a fix on this before you invest research time.
Speed – Each type of transaction has different data collection requirements. Adding assets often requires a number of data elements to be collected and is the most time consuming of any transaction. Other transactions, for example, relocates and audits require only setting defaults and scanning individual asset tags. Real time database updates have some latency as each transaction requires a round trip to the server and back to the mobile device. With add transactions, this is insignificant. With other transactions, it can be a major inconvenience. Understanding the balance of expected transactions positions you to evaluate if speed is consequential or not.
Cost – Ultimately, the big difference is cost. Traditional scanners that are appropriate to the application range from $1,500 to $3,000 each. (There are cheaper units on the market but with limited functionality and poor performance). Compared to a mobile device for which you may need only software or an inexpensive blue tooth scanner, mobile devices have a clear cost advantage especially if many units are required.
So where does this leave the buyer of asset tracking applications? Today, most first time purchasers will buy one or more traditional bar code scanners. While these units look a bit dated, they are the workhorses of the industry. They operate at rapid speeds, have high quality scanners, are as reliable as daybreak and can be programmed to specific applications and tasks. Often, traditional scanners are coupled with mobile devices or wedge scanners to adapt the installation to the user’s exact needs. A quality vender will provide guidance and insight into your specific needs without blindly recommending one specific choice.