Often it is far more convenient to use a hand scanner to read barcodes and QR codes than it is to manually enter data into application fields. Given that most hand scanners are recognized by a device as a “keyboard,” it is an easy tool to adopt in most situations. It helps too that you can buy one for $35 and greatly speed up your data entry while dramatically reducing errors!
It is true that many applications, including those provided by Maximo, have a “scan,” or other function to open the camera on a mobile device to scan bar/QR codes. Whether the base device is a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, the camera function is certainly available. But built-in cameras take time to focus and can struggle in low or bright light conditions. If you are in a busy scanning environment, the camera is a less than efficient method of capturing data. Also, the scan function might not be available for all fields within the application.
Hand-held scanners do not have these limitations, are easy to connect to a “base,” device, and even the ruggedized ones are quite inexpensive. They also have built-in functionality that can be programmed to format the scanned data and even pass commands to move the receiving application to a next step or field. (Most come with a manual full of programming capabilities that are set by… you guessed it… scanning codes from the manual.)
The typical scanner can connect to the base device using Bluetooth, USB dongle, or directly with a USB cable. The method of connection is immaterial. Be sure you purchase a scanner model that reads both barcodes and QR codes. Also note that there are many different formats of these codes, and while most scanners will read most codes, some have limitations. Be sure to investigate the types of codes you have in use, and perhaps plan to use in the future. Examples of code types are:
- 1D, 2D
- UPC-A, E
- The list goes on…
Given the scanner is connected to the base device, you can open just about any application and begin capturing the data that is in the codes. Open a text editor app and start scanning away. Wherever your cursor is (in a new document or field in an app) the data scanned gets entered as if you typed it… with no errors.
Also note that the scanner itself can be programmed to insert carriage returns, line feeds, tabs, etc. to the data stream after the code is read. This goes a long way to making the receiving application move to the next step or field without any programming.
Now open your favorite “real,” application. Focus your cursor on a field by touching it on a tablet or click in it with your mouse. Then pull the trigger on the scanner to scan a code. Et viola’! Data entered with no errors! Also, if the application understands the command codes sent after the scan, it will start the search or whatever other function occurs within the application just after the scan is complete. It is far more exciting to see it in action vs. reading about it, but following are some examples of how you can use bar/QR codes to your advantage:
Here is a barcode label that was scanned from an asset to begin an inspection. After the scan, the application searches for the asset number in the database.
Here is how that same asset can be searched for in the main application. Again, focus the field, scan and the application search returns the results.
And here is an example where the receiving clerk scans the Purchase Number off the box to be received. Now they can begin the receiving process.
There are many other use cases where a hand scanner can be helpful:
- Creating new consumable item and asset records by scanning the identification code, and perhaps even serial and model number fields vs. hand typing. (Many pieces of equipment have the serial and model numbers represented as barcodes already)
- Create new service request records to identify work, scanning the asset barcode to identify the specific asset to perform work upon
- Searching for and picking items from inventory (Physical counts, issues, returns, etc.)
- Have pre-printed sheets of bar/QR codes that represent commonly entered data elements, replacing the need to type the same data repeatedly:
- Lists of charge accounts
- Labor names for time entry
- Blanket work order numbers
- Item/Asset classifications
Any field in any application that needs to have data entered can be populated by way of the scanned codes vs. manual entry. It does not matter what the application is or how it is hosted. If the field on the screen has focus, the scanner data is entered into it. (Of course, there can be situations where application/operating system/scanner issues can exist. Best to pilot the method before rolling out to a large user community.)
How to create bar and QR code labels?
If you want your users to be able to find records in your system by way of bar/QR codes, then the data in the code labels needs to be in the system. How do you extract the data from the system and then print labels?
Most systems have a method to export lists of data elements of which can then be imported into a simple label making software application. Provide these commercially available packages a list of data for each code, choose your code type, and print to a label sheet. (Or purpose-built label printer)
Another commonly used method is to create a custom “report,” in the source system that takes a single or list of data elements and prints a “report.” The report is then printed to a label sheet or purpose-built label printer. On the surface this seems like a convenient idea but building these reports and working with the needed barcode or QR code fonts can be difficult.
Another really simple way to print bar/QR codes is to copy/paste the list of data into a MS Word document and apply a bar/QR code TrueType font. Some of these fonts are free while others cost depending upon your use.
Let the scanning begin!
Given the very low cost of hand scanners, their ease of connection to almost any mobile or fixed device, and the seemingly universal compatibility with applications, they are worth exploring to support your users. In some instances, the use of a hand scanner to find records and enter data is a must. Inventory and warehousing operations are heavy users of hand scanners. Maintenance and other field activities can also benefit from the use of these inexpensive devices. No more trying to figure out if the digit is an 8 or a 3… or is it a zero? Just scan the code on the label, and let the application find it for you.