Track and Trace with Smartphones and Tablets

Track and Trace with Smartphones and Tablets

Barcodes are often used to track and trace the flow of goods and materials inventory from origin to destination – and sometimes back again.

Why use smartphones and tablets to scan?

Because they are relatively inexpensive, scan barcodes very quickly and are well understood by app users. Perhaps most important, a lot of companies have already deployed iOS and Android OS devices to their employees – or the employees can use their own.

Tracking Options



Is there a one “best practice” for a track and trace workflow? Probably not, but here are two options we know to be successful.

A. Track (scan) the item’s serial number at each step.

B. Track (scan) any unique barcode already on the package or attach a new, unique barcode label.

The track and trace workflow throughout the supply chain is basically the same for each option. However, for option B if you attach a new barcode to the item you will need to add one step to the process. The very first step before any transfer would be to scan the alternate barcode and then scan the serial number to create an associative scan record.

Why is this association necessary?

Because the serial number is often used by the vendor for documenting the item’s origin, manufacturing date, and other characteristics. Therefore, if throughout the supply chain the alternate barcode is scanned, then there needs to be a link to the original serial number.

Serial Number vs. Alternate Barcode

Why scan an alternate barcode instead of the serial number? Because some cases the barcode embedding the serial number is small and surrounded by other barcodes. This can make it difficult to scan at every step – even with special scanning settings. Also, the serial number can sometimes be printed in a location difficult to scan.

A larger, more easily scanned barcode – whether already on the packaging or added to it – could make the scanning process faster.

Track and Trace Workflow

Regardless which barcode you scan, it would need to be scanned at each transfer point. Let’s use an installation company as an example.

Cartoon pamphlet, bottles, barcode and jar

Here are the transfer points:
1. Receipt by company from vender
2. Transfer to stock location
3. Transfer to vehicle
4. Transfer to site
5. Transfer to technician
6. Transfer to site’s owner or manager

Optional transfer scanning:
7. Transfer from site to vehicle
8. Receipt back at company
9. Transfer to segregated stock
10. Return to vendor

At each transfer point the data captured should include the transferee, the transferor, the transfer location (dropdown input or GPS), the action taken and a timestamp. Optional would be a signature and comments, if needed.

All scan records should be viewable in real-time. For reporting purposes, all scan records should be filtered and exportable, ideally with tools for automating the upload of those records (e.g. FTP/SFTP, Postback URL, etc.).

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Guest post by Richard Eicher Sr., Director, Business Development for

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