Approaches to Managing Job Site Inventory

Managing job site inventory is a whole lot easier these days because of new technology. This same technology is also handy for managing tools and fasteners. Here are ideas for getting control of your own job site inventory so you can cut losses and improve delivery times.

By Jessica Stark

There is no question that organization on the job site can mean the difference between efficient performance and costly errors. A simple mistake can cost a company thousands, which is why details are carefully articulated and supervisors become better scrutinizers than magazine editors. But for some reason, many companies don’t consider managing job site inventory under this same attentive category, or perhaps they don’t know about the technology available to help them do it.

Whole Inventory, Big to Small

For contractors, keeping track of every piece of material and equipment lowers losses and keeps crews busy. This is especially true for contractors in the trades who often have specialized equipment in inventory such as power supplies, HVAC “smart energy” components or inspection equipment. Once everything is accounted for, the possibility of loss is decreased and there’s a chance to evaluate the use of all materials and equipment. This can show the efficiency of allotted resources. Is there enough equipment on the site to get tasks completed? Is there a need for more? Less? Having excess equipment can sometimes prepare a crew for problem scenarios. But it can also mean the construction company is overpaying for unneeded resources. However, the only way to know is by effectively managing job site inventory. That includes all equipment and materials.

Bar Code and RFID Solutions

The popular approaches to managing job site inventory lean toward bar code and radio frequency identification (RFID), and then relying on scanner equipment and software to integrate collected data with monitored inventory. This seems simple enough. Construction companies can use appropriate bar code or RFID labels on materials and the corresponding scanner to keep track of everything. While this type of inventory management and scanner equipment is available from a wide variety of vendors, choosing a company that specializes in custom solutions can make things easier. For example, Purple Oak and ToolWatch have helped many construction companies with bar code and RFID solutions, and GAO RFID Inc. specializes in RFID systems. It’s generally much easier to work with the support staff of a company that knows the industry rather than an inventory solutions company that is only familiar with warehouses or wholesalers.

Next Generation of Scanners

The jury is still out on the use of mobile devices in inventory solutions. However, this is an avenue worth exploring. iPhones and Androids are well built devices with much better support and usage directions. They are also multi-faceted, and construction companies can use mobile devices for many more tasks than scanning alone. This makes using them a cheaper solution than purchasing scanners. The real question is not about hardware but software.

Managing Job Site Inventory With Mobile Apps

There are a lot of inventory scanner apps available on both the iTunes and Google Play markets. Some are free and others can be purchased for a few dollars. The cost is far cheaper than using an RFID service, but of course there is no real support staff. Some free apps like Inventory Scanner let users scan free but charge a small cost to export data. The software on these apps may not quite be up to par with RFID inventory solutions, but the gap is closing. Here are a few more apps.

Inventory Tracker for Android.
Inventory Tracking Sheet w Barcoding Mobile App.
Assorted Apps for Inventory

What to Choose

Bar code and RFID systems are still the best method for handling construction site inventory but certain construction companies, particularly smaller ones, might want to try out some mobile apps first. There’s nothing to lose with the free apps and it might even give a company a feel for what features they should look for if they choose to go with a bar code or an RFID system.