Your Definitive Guide to Asset Labeling

CHEQROOM’s mission is all about helping you manage and keep track of your valuable assets. A big part of doing that is knowing how to label your assets properly.

TL;DR? watch this video!

Here are all the right questions to ask, and we’ll help you understand the whole thing:

What is asset labeling?

Let’s start with what is an asset tag.

Now, what is asset labeling? To be brief asset labeling is the process of giving a unique digital identity to each piece of your equipment through assigning it a specific code or number. This is done by affixing a label to the equipment that bears the number.

“Asset labeling is the process of giving a unique digital identity to each piece of your equipment”

This helps your operations, and allows you to locate the right equipment at the right time in the easiest way possible, especially if they’re all indexed in an asset management system.

Why is asset labeling important?

There are a number of reasons why you would put asset tags on your equipment.

  • Make assets easier to identify, quickly and easily
  • Indicate that equipment belongs to you and your organization
  • Make it possible to run audits on equipment
  • Save countless hours by scanning asset tags with mobile apps or barcode scanners
  • Avoid confusion when communicating about equipment
  • It’s a key enabler of any asset management system

Asset labeling is crucial to maintaining your equipment and keeping it in good working order.

What to label and what not to label?

One decision you’ll need to make when doing labeling, is consider which items really need it. You’ll probably not going to label everything, so a good place to start are higher value pieces.

What needs an asset label:

  • Movable assets

    You should consider which items often get moved around a lot, or used by outside people, like freelancers. And it doesn’t stop with labeling individual pieces of equipment, it often makes sense to label kits or bags in which equipment travels; e.g. flight cases or camera bags.

    It really starts to get interesting when you add an equipment check-out software that works on top of your asset labels to keep your team accountable when equipment doesn’t come back.

  • Fixed assets

    While movable assets are the most obvious pieces to label, you may also want to label some immovable, or hard-to-move equipment, to help with inspection, maintenance or repair schedules, too.

  • Prone to theft

    And alternatively, which items might be more likely to be stolen? More expensive items are probably better candidates to be labeled, and your “Property of” asset label will help as a theft deterrent.

    Just think through the implications before you start labeling e.g. unencrypted hard drives with sensitive information.

Sometimes, for security reasons, organizations choose to leave off information that might attract unwanted attention for the assets

What does NOT need an asset label:

  • Consumable items, since you typically don’t have any long term plans for these anyways.
  • Items that lose value due to the fact you placed an asset label; e.g. art or antiques. If you do label these, be careful about the placement and material you use.

What information should you include on an asset label?

Deciding what information to include – and what to exclude – is an important decision for your labeling.

Asset labels have only so much space, so you’ll have to be selective in deciding what to fill your limited space with.

Of course you’ll need one or more of these:

  • your numbering, in a human readable way
  • a scannable code, so you can use mobile apps or barcode scanners
  • the name of the item and maybe some basic specs
  • and maybe also “Property of” with your organization’s name

But after this, you get into questions that are specific to your organization and your database system, so make sure you give it good thought before filling up your asset labels!

Asset Labels In The Wild

We’ve analyzed hundreds of asset labels in the wild at NAB 2018,
and these were our findings on what goes on the asset label.

What numbering system should you use?

The most obvious way to number your assets is using a sequential numbering system, e.g. a simple “Plus One” list of numbers.

Avoid using leading zeroes (000001 for example) for your incremental numbering system, because a lot of spreadsheet software drops leading zeroes.

Some organizations like to make it a little more specific by including letters, and an alphanumeric structure, like A00123 or C00456. Of course these work, but remember that you can do whatever you want with your system – It’s yours!

So to help you identify and understand your assets more easily, you could assign maybe CA for cameras, and MI for Microphones, or something like that, followed by a numbering system. But if you’re using barcodes, remember that sometimes they may be totally unique, and different from your ideas, so you’ll have to reconcile them.

Watch out with certain fonts — Some fonts can be confusing, so be sure you choose a typeface that distinguishes between 0 (zero) and O (letter o), as well as l (lowercase L) and I (uppercase i)

Why it’s not a good idea to rely on the tags from the manufacturer?

It may seem like a simple, easy thing to do to use the labels a manufacturer provides. But this often has shortfalls.

For instance:

  • Uniqueness

    They’re not guaranteed to be unique, either to the piece, or especially to you and your organization.

  • Scannability

    They might not be readable to your barcode scanner, or compatible with your equipment management apps.

  • Placement

    They can be put in places that might make sense when manufacturing something, but not while using or scanning it.

Better not to risk it with the manufacturer’s labels.

What are the right barcodes for asset labels?

The barcode is usually the most useful part of an asset tag. The scannable part can be made up for different “symbologies” that decide how data is encoded and decoded in a scannable bar code.

The most common two kinds of barcode symbologies for asset management are called Code 39 and Code 128. These are different from the EAN or UPC barcodes you’ll on all retail products.

“1D” Barcodes

One-dimensional, or 1D barcodes, systematically represent data by varying the widths and spacings of parallel lines, and may be referred to as linear or one-dimensional. The plain old barcode everyone knows is an example of this.

  • Code 39

    The most common industrial symbology system is Code 39 Barcodes. This system uses alphanumeric characters, and the seven special characters, though letters can be only uppercase.

  • Code 128

    Code 128, on the other hand, supports all 128 ASCII characters. As such, it’s more concise and space-efficient, and less subject to problems when scanned. However, it uses four different widths, so requires a good quality printer to get right

“2D” Barcodes

Two-dimensional, or 2D barcodes, systematically represent data using two-dimensional symbols and shapes. They are similar to a linear (1-dimensional) barcode, but can represent more data per unit area.

The 3 main advantages of 2D barcodes are:

  1. their compact size
  2. can store more data
  3. can be read from any direction

These are the most common 2D barcodes used for asset labeling:

  • QR codes

    QR codes (abbreviated from Quick Response Code) are probably the most common form of 2-dimensional barcode. They consist of tiny black and white modules arranged across a square space, and can carry far more information than a simple barcode. They can also be scanned easily using the camera on an ordinary smartphone.

  • Data Matrix codes

    These are similar to QR codes, using black and while “cells” across a small square area. One Data Matrix code can store as many as 2,335 alphanumeric characters, and are favored by the US Department of Defense for much of their internal system monitoring.

Asset Labels In The Wild

We’ve analyzed hundreds of asset labels in the wild at NAB 2018,
and these were our findings on barcode symbologies.

Other types of tags

If you want to try something a little “smarter” or more “advanced” than simple barcodes, there are some options for you.

Do note, however, that CHEQROOM does not support these types of tags (yet).

  • Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

    One is RFID; these labels transmit their information using an electromagnetic field, so they can be scanned even when they can’t be seen, or if mounted inside a piece of equipment, if that makes more sense for the piece.

  • Near-Field Communication (NFC)

    Also possible are NFC tags, which can be read by applications on both Android and iOS. Although technically a specialized subcategory within RFID tags, NFC operates at a slightly different frequency and at a higher security level.

  • Bluetooth LE (BTLE)

    Bluetooth LE tags are another option. On the market since 2011, these tags send out a beacon to announce themselves, and can be automatically scanned when placed back in storage if set up properly. This can save you lots of time.

  • Global Positioning System (GPS)

    GPS asset tags are probably the most advanced asset tagging, as they can keep track of an asset’s location in real time. This gives you the most possible oversight on your equipment, but can also be expensive and complicated to set up. So you’ll need to consider where and how you might need to employ it.

What’s the best place to put my asset labels?

Choosing where to put your asset labels is always a compromise. You need to make sure not to impede the functioning of the device, but also make it easy to reach for scanning when you need to. A place that makes sense for one piece of equipment won’t make sense for another, necessarily. You need to make the decision each time.

Which material to use?

Which material to use for the label depends on how the equipment gets used, and where it gets used. If it’s outdoors and in the field a lot, you’ll need something more durable.

  • Paper

    Paper is obviously the easiest and cheapest, but works only under very controlled situations. Manufacturers like Avery or Dymo even have some more durable paper-based ones.

  • Polypropylene or vinyl

    These are often more durabled and work well indoors or outdoors under moderate conditions and usually have an average outdoor durability of around 2 years.

  • Anodized aluminum

    These asset labels are designed with extreme durability in mind and are aimed to withstand the harshest environments. For some use cases they are rivited to the equipment instead of attached via adhesives.

Again, as with all labeling decisions, you’ll need to consider the equipment being labeled and the situations it will be in.

Asset Labels In The Wild

We’ve analyzed hundreds of asset labels in the wild at NAB 2018,
and these were our findings on what material is used.

Security features

It’s also a good idea, whenever possible, to use tamper-evident labels. These can add some upfront cost in acquisition and in affixing, but you will save it over time in greater equipment security and theft prevention.

If you want ideas about how to use your barcode labels, just hit us up for questions! We’re happy to help!

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