MRO Magazine

Timesaving Tricks

We've come a long way over the past year with our Software Solutions column that is dedicated solely to CMMS systems. If you've been following along you know that we've built a functional CMMS system (previous columns are posted online at <a href=...

November 1, 2004 | By Peter Phillips

We’ve come a long way over the past year with our Software Solutions column that is dedicated solely to CMMS systems. If you’ve been following along you know that we’ve built a functional CMMS system (previous columns are posted online at At this point we might be ready for some timesaving devices that will help us manage the system.

So what kind of add-ons can be incorporated into your CMMS? They may vary depending upon the abilities of your software.

Devices you can add to help manage a system include PDAs (personal digital assistants like hand-held Palm devices) that allow work orders to be carried out to the shop floor; interfaces that allow communication with your CMMS and other software; add-on programs that will allow work orders to be submitted via the web or your LAN (local area network); and other programs that track vehicle maintenance, tool locations, labour updates, etc.

In this article I’m going to concentrate on one of the most popular add-ons, barcoding devices.


Barcode scanning is certainly nothing new; we’ve seen it used for years at our local grocery store checkout. CMMS barcoding has also been around for a while. Early DOS-based systems allowed the scanning of inventory parts, work orders, equipment meter information and so on. Newer Microsoft Windows-based PDAs with built in scanners allow you to do all the above plus electronically carry work orders out to the plant floor, thus creating a paperless system. Technicians can use the alphanumeric keyboard to update work order information and then download it into the CMMS.

One of the most common applications of barcoding is in the parts storeroom. Storeroom bin locations that are barcode-labelled allow storekeepers or technicians to scan parts placed in or taken out of stores. Storekeepers can also perform regular cycle counts to update current stock levels.

Handy barcoding tips

There are a few tips I’ll give to help you implement a barcoding system. First, contact your CMMS supplier to find out which devices it recommends and that will integrate easily with your software. You may need to upgrade your software to incorporate barcoding.

As mentioned earlier, barcode scanners vary in levels of technology. Older DOS-based scanners are still available and are still very functional. New CMMS software applications use Microsoft Windows-based PDAs that incorporate advanced functionally.

The costs of these systems vary from $2,000 or $3,000 and up. So before you make a purchase, make a firm decision on what your present and future needs will be and how the unit can help manage your system.

Next, lets look at the labels you’ll be using with your scanner. It’s important to choose a label type that fits your plant’s environment.

In relatively clean areas where dust, dirt and grease are not an issue, you can use standard self-sticking labels. In facilities that by their nature of manufacturing are dirty and where people’s hands are generally greasy, you’ll need to use labels that are water and chemical resistant. Thermally printed vinyl labels are also available for such applications and are almost indestructible, lasting for years. There is an extra cost for this durability, however, as thermal printers for the labels can cost up to $1,000.

Self-sticking labels will be used on inventory parts, storeroom bin locations, assets, etc., and can be applied in several different ways. Labels may be applied directly to the item and only used once — a new label is applied to the new item when inventory restocking occurs.

Labels can also be applied to index cards that can be tied to the inventory item and reused. Labels used on storeroom bin locations can be applied to magnetic strips so they can be rearranged easily when you need to reorganize storeroom shelves.

Inventory cycle counting is a popular use for scanners. It allows very quick item counts. Just scan the code, enter the quantity on hand and move on to the next bin. After downloading the data, you can print off adjustment reports and update inventory records.

Work orders

Another use is to scan work orders. Barcodes are printed directly on the work order, which enables users to add inventory items, labour information, work order comments and a host of other details. This can simplify work order management as the information scanned into the unit can be easily downloaded into the CMMS.

In organizations that are heavy into planning and scheduling of work orders, scanners add another key element in staging parts, tools and materials for a job. When the work order is created, parts, tools and materials can be easily added by the storekeeper simply by scanning the work order barcode, then scanning the barcodes on the parts, tools and materials. When the scanner data is downloaded to the CMMS, the work orders are updated in the software.

Yet another use of barcode scanners on the shop floor is gathering equipment meter readings. Tracking equipment meter readings can be made easier and quicker using a scanner.

Equipment barcodes are applied directly on the machine. When the technician performs plant meter reading rounds, barcodes can be scanned and readings keyed into the unit. Once the round is completed, readings can be downloaded to the CMMS, automatically updating equipment records.

The use of scanners for these types of operations is definitely a timesaver for the maintenance department. There is no question that downloading information is much faster than manual entry into the CMMS software.

Of course, some training will need to be done regarding the functions and use of the unit. The training required is usually minimal. The newest software makes navigating the scanner program very simple, so basic training can be done in an hour.

One of the historical problems with spare part storerooms has been getting technicians to sign out items, which is usually done on sheets of paper posted in the storeroom.

Some managers wonder if the same technicians will bother using the scanner any more frequently than they used the paper signout sheets. It’s been my experience that they do indeed use the scanner more often.

Barcode scanners are another maintenance tool. Because they are simple to use — and a new technology — technicians are more than eager to use them, I’ve noticed. Some old hands may need a little more help at first, but they soon catch on.

This just goes to show that old dogs can learn new tricks and barcode scanners are a worthy trick to learn.

Peter Phillips of Trailwalk Holdings, a CMMS consulting and training company based in Nova Scotia, can be reached at 902-798-3601 or by e-mail at The next column will discuss some unique software add-ons. Your questions on specific CMMS issues or problems are always welcome.


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