Barcodes and QR (quick response) codes don’t just serve consumer-facing products anymore.
With more physical products (e.g., books) becoming fully digital, attention to physical items sometimes seems lost in a rush to modernize workplaces.
Proper asset tagging harnesses digital technology’s power to keep track of hands-on items such as office chairs, lab equipment, and shared items such as sporting gear.
Asset tags are highly accessible and can undergo scanning with a specialized reader or any app-enabled smartphone.
Construction sites, repair depots, retail outlets, traditional office spaces, and public organizations such as libraries, are well served by asset tagging.
Understanding how asset tagging works allows management and employees to see a comprehensive picture of how physical objects are moving within their organization and take an active part in creating that picture.
In this post, we’ll describe how asset tags work, illustrate how modern workplaces use them, and provide eight best practices for deploying asset tagging in your organization.
In this article...
What is Asset Tagging?
Asset tags are small labels that display a barcode or QR code tag. Each item gets a unique tag-like a DNA marker.
When you scan the code, you get essential information about the item:
- what it is
- where it is
- where it’s been
- how it’s performing
- where it needs to go next
The asset tags themselves are affixed to an item or a specific building location and made of various materials.
Increasingly tamper-resistant and integrated asset tags mean that businesses, schools, government operations, and nonprofit organizations are using best practices for asset tagging and management.
The most obvious use for asset tagging is for tagging mobile items. These are objects circulating between departments, such as lab equipment in a drug testing facility or tools on a major construction site.
Mobile items might also refer to assets in constant motion as part of a supply chain, as in inventory flow from production to warehouse to sales floor to consumer.
However, asset tagging is also useful in locating and assessing fixed items. Fixed items that never move within a building, such as machine parts or counters in an employee break room, benefit from asset tags when you need maintenance or production information.
When the item has outlived its usefulness, asset tagging can assist in its disposal and inventory. The QR code can provide specific information about the asset’s age and maintenance schedule for resale, or provide proof of responsible handling and recycling in the case of environmentally sensitive equipment.
When an asset leaves the physical ownership of the organization, tracking can verify this movement as well.
Why Is it Important to Tag Your Assets?
A well-designed asset tagging system does much more than merely providing information about where an item is. It sets a foundation for an efficient inventory and asset management system which can quickly digitize and streamline your business.
In the case of mobile items, asset tagging lets employees immediately learn where a physical object is located, which is essential in organizations such as:
- defense operations
- institutions of higher education
- maintenance shops
- public transportation hubs
In such industries, equipment often circulates between departments or buildings across a stretched area. Asset tagging allows the possibility to know each item’s history and reveal its current location.
For industries using electronic equipment, heavy machinery, or appliances, tagging assets is tremendously helpful when warranty issues arise. Proper asset tagging can diminish or even eliminate “warranty leakage,” but it can also enable consumers and employees to track and report warranty-related challenges more accurately.
Asset tagging is also highly useful when it comes to security.
On construction sites, in museums, and throughout other vulnerable locations, asset tags can be placed in strategic locations for security staff. By manufacturing these tags with an exclusive code, employees can establish locations and facilitate patrols’ timing.
Unfortunately, theft is always a danger to valuable assets. Asset tagging acts as a significant deterrent to “misplacement” of high-value items by providing central inventory control and tracking.
When an item is tagged with your company’s unique digital identifier and your organization’s logo and name, it can be more difficult to move it in the black market, and it is easier to identify it when recovered.
Finally, asset tagging benefits companies using freelancers and outsourcing, particularly in industries that track billable hours. When an employee or client selects a physical object, scannable labels can provide an accurate and dependable method of identifying which asset was used when, by whom, and for how long.
Which Assets to Tag?
It might seem tempting to stick asset tags on every imaginable location and object. After all, more information is better, right? However, keep in mind that deciding which items to exclude from asset management is just as important as determining what to tag.
Movable assets are primary candidates for asset tagging; there’s little point to a major metropolitan library system investing in an asset labeling system if its books will circulate untagged.
But what about the temporary decorations on the information desk? Labeling these is a less efficient use of asset tagging.
All valuable movable assets requiring check-in/check out such as laptops, projectors, or maintenance tools, should be subject to a robust asset tagging program.
Usually, the more mobile, and valuable the item, the higher it should be on your asset tagging list. The exception is hard drives, thumb drives, or any other assets that might include valuable proprietary or sensitive information. If such an asset falls into the wrong hands, and you don’t want your organization’s name to be known, consider an alternate solution.
Deciding which fixed assets to tag might require more thought and planning.
Generally speaking, items which are difficult to move, but do move sometimes, should be labeled.
- surgical tools
- large technical objects, such as industrial copiers
- construction equipment
- day spa equipment
- lab and scientific items
Tagging these assets lets employees and management know where they are located and provides valuable data on how often and where they are moved. This intel can lead to better decision making on matters regarding office equipment placement or facility renovation plans.
Fixed assets that never move are also candidates for asset tagging. Although a water heater or a vending machine might stay in the same place forever, tagging these items can help provide specific locations to maintenance staff and assist in tracking regular maintenance.
If an outside contractor or warranty specialist requires technical information, the information in asset tags can provide a starting point.
Items that usually don’t require asset tagging include disposable items that are quickly consumed, particularly in-house. These typically include inexpensive holiday decorations, catering items, or informational flyers designed for individual distribution.
On the other end of this spectrum are irreplaceable works of art.
Archaeological items, antiques, and similar things cannot be labeled. Their inherent value depends on them remaining intact and unmarred-to permanently label them with strong adhesives or metal plates might destroy their historical or aesthetic worth.
Information Your Asset Tags Should Contain
Asset tags have readable information embedded in the label.
Although it can seem overwhelming to consider what numbering system to use and what information to include, making an informed decision at this stage ensures that your asset tags become a useful part of your organization.
Asset labels are small and finite.
They are only useful if you can place them easily on mobile or fixed assets, and trying to include reams of information would make an awkward and unattractive label. That’s not only a cause of frustration for employees, but it can also pose a potential protection risk.
Carefully choosing what to include in an asset label is essential.
At a minimum, the visual aspect of the asset tag should contain:
- name of the organization (non-secure items only)
- QR label
- a unique and readable numeric or alphanumeric identifier
You might be surprised to realize that an old-fashioned number code is also a vital aspect of an asset label. If your scanner doesn’t work or the information isn’t accessible for another reason, the number code provides a backup form of identification for the item. That means that you should link this number code to the other data about an asset in your asset management system.
The most important aspect of designing a numbering system is to ensure a code unique to each item within your organization.
Unique identifiers help to avoid confusion with other similar tags. It’s also best to avoid codes that begin with several zeros, as this can cause software glitches. Instead, use an alphanumeric system, or assign a specific identifier to certain groups of objects, such as labeling all bulldozers beginning with the code BUL.
The information should scan easily and quickly, so use a font easily visible to scanners and readers.
Asset Tagging Technologies
Effective asset labels contain the name of the company and are clear and scannable. What type of technology you will use for scanning asset labels depends on your company and its specific needs.
Asset tagging gave rise to different label and scanning technologies, each with its pros and cons.
Asset tagging technology forms include:
Since QR codes are smartphone-friendly, these are the fastest rising and most distinctive form of labels. They usually consist of a box contrasted against a black background.
These are the traditional horizontal identifiers that have been relied upon in retail establishments for decades. While demanding low initial costs, they can store less information than QR codes.
The acronym stands for Radio Frequency Identification, which means the labels are scannable from inside an object. They rely on an electromagnetic field to beam their data to the receiver. RFID is most appropriate for access control, vehicles, and material tracking. If your pet is microchipped, RFID technology is at work.
BTLE (Bluetooth Low Energy)
It should come as no shock that Bluetooth, rapidly becoming part of everyday life for everyone with a smartphone, is edging into asset tagging. BTLE works by beaming its transmission to the cloud.
Asset management software plays a crucial role in asset tagging technologies. The system can quickly yield many benefits when united with a well-designed and consistently applied asset tagging technology.
Type of Asset Tags to Use
There are as many forms of asset tags. Asset tags can be made for indoor office environments or rugged outdoor conditions.
Deciding on the best material for your organization’s asset tags depends on where the assets are located, how often they are used, and whether there are any security requirements.
Tamper Evident Labels
For sensitive or valuable assets, a tamper-evident label is a popular choice. They provide an added safety layer and assure that the item has not been handled by anyone other than its intended recipient.
Some tamper-evident labels take the form of self-voiding or destructible labels.
These are specially made so that a user cannot peel the sticker away and re-attach it somewhere else.
Another option is “void pattern” labels that purposely leave behind a checkerboard design or the word VOID. Both types provide a strong indication that someone tried to alter the asset tag. They act as a theft deterrent as well as a guard against privacy violations.
Two-Part Asset Labels
The best choice for mobile assets, two-part asset tags are often used in situations in which items are often re-ordered.
Two-part asset labels contain the same information on both tags. They are designed for fast-paced conditions where it’s most simple for an employee to tear away the second half of the label. These are most commonly used in inventory or health care environments.
Polyester Asset Labels
Polyester tags are best suited for situations requiring a durable asset tag. These are ideal in most office environments and are easily customized. They are affordable, permanent, flexible, hardy, and adaptable to several different situations due to the vast number of laminates that can be used for coating them.
Foil Asset Labels
Durable and well-suited for outdoor placement, as well as indoor situations in which the label might be exposed to chemicals or harsh temperature extremities, foil labels may be applied with adhesives or screws.
The most rugged members of the tag family, metal labels are ideal for equipment subject to constant outdoor weather, violent vibrations, deep corrosion, and even the vacuum of space.
These tags are usually welded or screwed to the asset.
Once you have chosen the best form of label for your assets, consider the best way to apply them. Your carefully selected label can’t take part in your inventory system if it detaches easily.
Asset Tagging Best Practices and Procedures
It’s inviting to leap in and label away at this point, but for best results, set aside enough time for this critical task. An asset tag that easily falls off, easily tears or blurs, and does not allow for quick scanning doesn’t serve its purpose.
Give your labels the time and attention they deserve, so they last the life of your asset.
Think carefully about where to label your assets. Finding the best place to affix your label means locating an area where:
- it is easy to find, but not in a place where it is subject to a lot of wear and tear—for example, the inside cover of a book is better than the front jacket
- it does not experience a great deal of direct sunlight
- it can be located quickly in an emergency (mostly for fixed items)
- a smartphone or a specialized scanner can easily read it (on a flat surface)
The most important part of placing tags on assets is to do so with patience. Each aspect of the process requires a bit of time, but it’s well worth it to set a strong foundation for your system.
Here are the best practices for applying asset tags:
- Test every type of substance to see how well the label will affix to the asset. A sofa might present different challenges than a coffee maker.
- Clean the area with rubbing alcohol or electronics cleaning wipe. Ensure there is no oil, grime, or dirt.
- Wash your hands.
- Touch as little of the label as possible while lifting it from its sheet. Use your fingernail if possible.
- Carefully smooth out air bubbles.
- Maintain room temperature and low humidity while the label is curing. Avoid using or moving the asset until the label has set.
- Most items cure within 24-48 hours. Tamper evident tag usually takes longer to fully adhere, generally up to 72 hours.
- Store labels at room temperature (72 F/ 22 C) and 50% relative humidity.
If you choose the right assets to label and follow the best practices in the labeling process, you and your organization will benefit from it.
What Are the Business Benefits of Asset Tagging?
While the most obvious benefits of tagging assets include discovering their physical location and tracking their use, asset tagging at its core is a modern data management strategy.
A good asset tagging system provides a three-dimensional, up-to-the-second profile of your organization’s inventory and how it is most effectively deployed.
Business benefits of asset tagging include:
- Ensuring control over inventory, operations, and decisions
- Improved accuracy in asset tracking, both in-house and in customer contact
- Saving time in locating often-lost movable objects
- Acting as a theft deterrent and recovery locator system
- Ability to share information to make management decisions
- Streamlining service, repair, and maintenance data and decisions
- Creating a visible, consistent form of data and object tracking
- Increasing accountability for assets
- Better productivity
- Accurate and easily accessible legal records for regulations, permits, and tax purposes
- Ease in auditing and stocking
Business Asset Tagging for Greater Efficiency
A well-developed asset tagging investment quickly pays for itself through theft deterrence, efficiency improvements, and increased resource management.
Customizing an asset tagging system invites a quick rise in productivity and security. By using materials and procedures which are best suited for your industry and facility, employees and management teams will feel empowered by this new ease in which information is processed and shared.
Through integrating physical objects with a digital database, asset tagging makes for a safer, smoother organization.
GoCodes Can Help
The GoCodes asset management system can help you keep tabs on your assets and equipment.
We use QR code tags with a unique visual code that you can scan with your smartphone. We offer a wide range of labels and allow you to create custom designs.
Our Standard service includes print-your-own labels you can print on your office laser printer using a Avery label template.
The Premium and higher services include thicker Poly labels that are water and chemical resistant and have a permanent adhesive backing.
Contact us for more information or sign up for a free asset management trial here.