Barcode Tracking – The Step-by-Step Secret to an Accurate Chemical Inventory

Tracking chemicals in the laboratory is a time-consuming task. Most laboratories use a combination of manually produced paper documents and spreadsheets in order to track inventory location and quantity. Unfortunately, the information using these methods is not always as accurate as is required by safety regulators or financial reporting purposes, as paper documents are easy to misplace and may be recorded incorrectly. Ultimately, tracking chemical inventory manually is a tedious process that leaves a large potential for error.

Barcode tracking can be used to create more accurate inventory.
Unless you have a barcode label, are you absolutely sure of what chemical you are using?
Image source: Patrick L. Heil via

The solution to this conundrum is to deploy a digital chemical inventory management system with barcode tracking. Barcode tracking increases the accuracy of inventory management by reducing the number of manual errors and ensuring that everything is recorded directly into the system. To help understand the benefits of barcode tracking, what follows is a basic outline of how it would work:

Order Receiving

When laboratory supplies are received, the receiver begins by first entering the purchase order number into the digital chemical inventory management system. The system then returns enough information from the PO to enable the receiver to confirm the material and quantity ordered.

Upon completion of the receiving process, the system then produces individual barcode labels for each container. Each barcode is unique and assigned to its respective container. It is linked to the database record within the digital chemical inventory management system. The link allows the receiver to scan the Safety Data Sheet and certificates of authentication on an image scanner, and electronically attach these documents to the record within the digital chemical inventory management system. These documents can then be accessed digitally through the barcode using a scanner.

Once receiving is complete, and the barcode is printed and attached, the chemicals are ready to be placed in their respective inventory locations.

Chemical Inventory Placement

An effective barcode tracking system not only assigns a barcode to each container, but also to each of the storage cabinets that house the chemicals. To assign a chemical to a container, simply scan the barcode on the container and then scan the barcode on the storage cabinet with a handheld scanner. This assigns the chemical to that storage location, quickly and easily.

The use of barcodes in inventory placement is the key to reducing the number of errors that occur with a paper system. By barcoding both the storage container and the chemicals, there is no need to enter anything manually. The system manages everything without human intervention.

Taking Chemical Inventory

Once a barcode tracking system is in place, the entire chemical management process should be reassessed, including the physical inventory count. With a paper-based system, most laboratories are forced to take a physical inventory anywhere from once a month to twice a year. However, with barcode tracking, the regular physical inventory can be replaced with a cycle count.

A cycle count is where an employee validates inventory a few times a year by scanning every item in the cabinet and ensuring that the digital chemical inventory management system is accurate. However, rather than verifying every chemical in a single night like a physical inventory, the employee validates a few cabinets every week. This is quickly done with a handheld scanner and can be performed multiple times within a year.

Cycle counts help to improve the accuracy of chemical inventory while at the same time reducing the need for labor intensive physical counts.

Final Thoughts

A chemical inventory management system with barcode tracking capabilities can significantly improve the accuracy of chemical inventory by reducing the number of manual errors common in a paper-based inventory system. In addition, it provides lab personnel with more access to key chemical information like SDS and certificates of authentication. Ultimately, it reduces the amount of time spent on tracking chemicals in the laboratory.

The Accelrys digital chemical inventory management system, Accelrys CISPro, is equipped with barcode tracking functionality which can help laboratories improve chemical inventory accuracy. For more information, please visit our website today.

One thought on “Barcode Tracking – The Step-by-Step Secret to an Accurate Chemical Inventory

  1. Cycle counting instead of full inventory checking would definitely speed things up in a laboratory setting. This would have made things much easier in my college laboratory as there was lots of missing equipment and chemicals that we needed for our labs.

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