Within NASA Goddard, property inventories outside of the formal inventories had no automated method to perform quick checks of equipment location, especially during periods leading up to a formal inventory. One method that existed simply involved printing out an end-user’s equipment in a hard-copy form, and having each employee search for and annotate the results on the hard copy. These hard copies would then have to be returned to the property custodian. Information on the new whereabouts of equipment may or may not have been updated. This approach also relied on an honor system and the work styles of different individuals. Sometimes, multiple reminders needed to be sent to some employees to complete their inventory. In other cases, inventory was made more difficult because of the location of the equipment. A lot of property consists of test equipment in a lab environment. In this case, equipment is sometimes hard to access or grouped with numerous other pieces. These cases make it difficult to read off barcode numbers.

NASA property is maintained by the N-PROP system. Updating the inventory involves recording its location on a given date. Since NASA property subjected to inventory has an Equipment Control Number (ECN) signified by a barcode, a barcode scanner was selected as the principal tool. A barcode scanner enables fast, accurate, and efficient reading of barcodes. A Metrologic Scanpal2 scanner was selected because it enables a user to configure it to input key information such as the name of the person doing the scanning and the physical location (e.g. building and room number) as equipment is scanned. The Scanpal2 also has the advantage of date and time tagging each barcode that’s scanned. The Scanpal2 is packaged in a ruggedized case, and comes with rechargeable batteries, application software to configure the scanner, and a cradle that serves as a charger and interface to the PC.

For this system, the Scanpal2 was set up with a menu to allow the user to enter in their name and their location (i.e., room where equipment is to be scanned). Each piece of equipment is then scanned. As the location or user name changes, the menu option allows these changes to be made. Once all scanning is complete, the scanner data is dumped to a PC through a USB connection. The data is in a text file format that can be manipulated by Excel macros to pull out the person’s name, the building and room location, and the correspond ing barcode and date stamp.

The macro performs two key operations. First, it converts the text data into an Excel spreadsheet format. Then it transfers this data into a branch’s property database, also in an Excel spreadsheet format (an Excel dump from N-PROP provided by the property custodian). The resulting spreadsheet now has added columns whose cell entries include the scanner person’s name, the location where the scanning took place, and the date/time. This essentially gives branch management a snapshot of the current inventory.

An individual can now go through a crowded and tight lab area or multiple rooms quickly and can scan every barcode. Barcodes that are not tracked in the branch’s official inventory, such as calibration barcodes or equipment from another lab, are separated out by the macro. There is no longer a need for any paper checkoff sheets. Finally, the use of macros allows tailoring of the scanner output text data to whatever the user desires.

This work was done by Kenneth Li of Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-17055-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2015 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from the archives here.