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How to Choose The Best Asset Barcode Labels for Your Fixed Asset Project

Introduction

Asset tagging is a vital part of preventing theft and loss, and can sometimes help with the recovery of items which are stolen. Asset tags are placed on fixed items such as machinery or computers, and can help keep track of everything from when an employee checks out a laptop to take on a business trip to the last time a forklift's oil was changed. Tags can also help keep track of when equipment was purchased for deprecation or, in some states, tangible property tax purposes. They can prevent, for example, somebody from picking up the wrong laptop which is physically identical to the one next to it - but does not have the right files.

The system requires the use of asset labels, which come in a variety of materials and formats. Any given project is going to need different labels for different purposes. Asset tags generally have the company's name or logo and are often chosen in a color that makes them visible against the equipment. This article will go through the most common types of asset label and when they should be considered for use.

Label Specification Summary

This table summarizes the most common asset label materials along with some of their most important attributes so that you can gauge their suitability for your application.

Material
Cost/500
Durability
Graphics
Flexibility
Adhesion
Paper
(print your own)
$30
Indoor, light duty office applications
High resolution, color
Yes, 1 dimension
Poor
Poly
$400
Mostly indoor, medium duty, office and equipment
High resolution, color
Yes, 2 dimensions
Good
Foil
$650
Outdoor or indoors,  
Medium resolution, B&W
Yes, 1 dimension
Good
Metal
$650
Outdoors, heavy duty, long life
Medium resolution, B&W
No
Excellent

Label Application Guide

This table summarizes the expected performance of the most common asset label materials for the most common application types. Green is best, yellow may be adequate and Red is poor.

Material
Indoor / Paper Files / Office
Indoor / Equipment
Indoor / Outdoor Tools & Equipment
Outdoor Tools and Heavy Equipment
Paper
(print your own)
***
(lweak)
**
*
*
Poly
*****
(ideal)
****
(good)
***
**
Metal Foil
*****
*****
(ideal)
*****
(ideal)
****
Metal Tags
***
(costly)
****
(costly)
*****
(good)
*****
(ideal)

The Details

Materials:

1. Paper stickers. The cheapest kind of asset label is simply printed off using an office printer. These tags are easy to remove and tend to wear, so are not suitable for anti-theft tracking. Their primary use is for tracking last service times, especially on items which need to be serviced regularly. They are also useful if IT are doing a lot of manual software updates - they can put stickers on the computers they have already done (although modern cloud systems allow for a significant reduction in manual updates). Paper stickers also have the advantage that somebody can simply write a date or a set of initials on the sticker to indicate service times. Needless to say, paper should not be used for assets that are exposed to high humidity or commonly used outside (unless it is laminated, which makes it closer to a polyester or plastic tag in function).

2. Metal. At the other end of the durability scale are rigid metal tags with anodized text. These may resemble "dog tags" or similar. Metal tags are expensive, so are not well suited to situations where tags have to be updated frequently. However, they are hard to damage and can be designed in a way that makes them hard for all but the most determined thief to remove. Metal tags are good for theft protection and may be good for outside use. Aluminum is the most common metal used - it is light enough not to affect equipment and does not corrode when exposed to the weather. Some metal tags may have laser-scratched text rather than anodized.

3. Polyester or plastic. Although not as durable as metal, polyester or plastic tags are also waterproof. For some uses, they may consist of a polyester tag with a paper insert - this is particularly good if you are using equipment outside but still need to update tags regularly. Plastic tags also have the advantage of being easy to make in a variety of colors, which can allow people to see from a distance what tag is on a piece of equipment (this is handy for warehouse use). Polyester is the standard material used for most asset tagging as it combines price and durability. Companies sometimes provide different weights of polyester for different use (indoor versus outdoor, for example).

4. Foil. A common material used for stick-on tags that are intended to last a long time - foil tags, in fact, often outlast the asset they are attached to. They are, however, often a little too easy to remove. Foil tags are suitable for indoor and outdoor use and are a common solution for forklifts and other equipment that is moving through different environments. Their primary use is on long-lived assets that need to keep the same label through their working life.

Formats:

1. Anti-tamper. Anti-tamper tags are designed to either prevent access to equipment or to show when equipment may have been accessed. Most consumers are familiar with "Void if removed" stickers on consumer electronics - the principle is the same. Anti-tamper tags are often used to ensure that only IT opens computers. They tend to be paper or lightweight polyester stickers that can be easily removed by authorized personnel. For some uses, though, they may be a heavier device that requires a key to access.

2. Removal prevention. Removal prevention tags secure a piece of equipment in place, allowing it to be removed only by use of a tag. These are most often used on expensive equipment that is in locations readily accessed by the public (for example, public libraries may lock down their computers). This is a relatively rare use and it is more common to use a simple lock without a tag attached.

3. Self-voiding. Self-voiding labels are designed to be impossible to remove without destroying or defacing them. This prevents an asset label from being removed from one item and placed on another (which can be an indication of fraud). Some of these labels are designed to leave an imprint of the word "Void" or similar behind when removed. This makes it obvious that the item was tagged at some point. Another variant is a security label which is designed to leave a permanent mark behind when and if it is removed, which can be useful for anti-theft and also for retiring assets (some states charge annual tax on all equipment in use, so it can be handy to have proof something was taken out of service).

Techology

Finally, labels may make use of three kinds of computer technology in order to make it easier for employees to track assets, particularly in situations where assets are moved around a lot - examples include medical usage or schools that provide a large number of loaner laptops to their students. These technological solutions require the use of some kind of asset management software, but can save a lot of time - for example, it is possible to check on assets remotely and the use of technological solutions can preclude the need to manually update tags with service dates (although for some uses, manual update may be faster). Computer-readable tags may be used alongside or instead of human-readable tags (text or numbers).

1. Barcode. Barcode tags can be read using a bar code reader or a special attachment on a smart phone. Traditionally, barcodes have been the most common way of enhancing asset tags, but the requirement for special equipment has made them less popular of late. However, many companies have been using barcode-based tags for long enough that inertia and cost keep them using the system. Barcodes are generally preprinted on the tags.

2. QR code. QR codes are a more recent solution that have the advantage of being readable by all modern smartphones, with the use of an app. (Companies that use QR code tagging may use a standard QR reading app or may have their own integrated into their asset management system, depending on the number of assets they need to track). These square patterns show up everywhere and it is even possible for QR code tags to be read by total strangers (which can be useful for theft recovery - having a QR code on an asset that anyone can read in a way which identifies the owner means a much higher chance of recovering a lost or stolen item). Because QR codes need no special readers, a lot of companies have started moving to them as a cheaper, infrastructure-light way of managing assets. In some cases, though, their square shape can be less convenient than the line of a barcode. QR codes also store more information than barcodes, allowing for more data to be put on the tag itself.

3. RFID. Very few companies use RFID tagging for asset management due to the expense and infrastructure required - the chips need special readers. RFID is more useful for inventory management (the chips can be read on boxes on the bottom of the stack), but still comes up against obstacles of cost. The industry which uses RFID tracking the most is the healthcare industry (which uses RFID tags to track which beds are occupied and when the patient in the bed last received their medication) - due to the fact that the consequences of bad asset tracking are significant. RFID comes in two forms - passive (where the tag responds only to a signal from the scanner) and active (where the tag has a small power source and constantly broadcasts). The latter has larger range, but is more expensive and carries a slightly higher risk of the tag being hacked. The major advantage of RFID is that RFID tags can be hidden for invisible asset tracking. This might be useful for companies handling small but extremely high-value assets - a thief may not be able to find and remove the tag, allowing them to be tracked and the item to be recovered. However, RFID chips alone are not suitable for visual asset tracking (such as being able to quickly distinguish between two identical items or immediately know which piece of equipment was serviced more recently).

4. GPS. GPS tagging is only suitable for assets used primarily outside (as it requires line-of-sight to the sky). GPS tags are, thus, generally used on vehicles. The major advantage of GPS tagging is that it allows the company to track exactly where the asset is at any time. In some cases, companies may place a hidden GPS tag on extremely high-value assets that can be activated if the asset leaves the premises to track the thief (or the careless employee who forgot to remove it from their bag). Like RFID tagging, GPS tagging can be expensive and is often used only on high-value assets or on vehicles.

Final Notes

One of the clear take home messages is that there is no one size fits all solution for asset tags. In fact, many companies may use a combination of materials and technologies - including multiple tags on the same piece of equipment. Using the correct asset tag is a matter of looking at the size and value of the item, where it is used, how often it needs to be serviced, etc. For example, one solution for computers might be to have a QR code tag that tells IT which updates it has received and a paper, barcode-based anti-tamper tag to keep an employee's fingers out of the motherboard. A truck, on the other hand, might have an anodized aluminum barcode tag that connects to an asset management system to track when it was last serviced with a simple scan and a GPS tag to allow the fleet manager to "watch" where the truck is going. And these solutions might all be in the same company.

In other words, asset label choice is complicated, but you should always take into account the following:

1. The infrastructure you already have in place for asset management. If you already have barcode readers, then a barcode-based solution might be ideal. If not, then QR codes, which do not require special readers, are often superior.

2. The amount of data the asset tag needs to hold.

3. The life cycle of the assets you are tagging, and how frequently tags need to be updated.

4. The value of your assets, including their potential value to thieves or disgruntled ex-employees.

5. Where your assets are used, especially with regard to assets being used outside.

6. For assets being used outside all or part of the time, the climate of your area may have an impact on which materials will last the longest.

7. The number of items to be tagged and the consequences of something going wrong.

8. Your available budget.

All of these factors need to be taken into account - and may involve, again, the use of multiple label types and materials.

If you are looking for asset labels or an asset management solution, you should contact GoCodes today. We offer customized asset management solutions and provide QR-code based asset labels in a variety of materials - our standard material is polyester, but other materials can be requested as needed and we will work with you to make sure that you choose the asset labels and tags best suited to your project and your company's needs.

Sources:

http://www.securitysolutionsmagazine.biz/2014/01/31/how-asset-tagging-can-reduce-costs-and-increase-productivity/

http://health-information.advanceweb.com/Features/Articles/RFID-Asset-Tracking-in-Healthcare.aspx

https://www.itassetmanagement.net/2014/09/05/asset-tagging/

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