FAA automates inventories via handhelds

FAA automates inventories via handhelds


The Federal Aviation Administration has implemented an inventory management system using handheld computers to minimize data entry and speed access.

'Our asset management application has increased our efficiency and accuracy, and gives us the ability to conduct wall-to-wall inventories in one-third of the time,' said Jeff Lane, information technology management analyst at the FAA's Office of Acquisitions. 'That translates into a major savings in man-hours.'

Lane leads a team of technicians that inventories 1,200 pieces of hardware used by 800 employees. His team provides LAN and PC support to several FAA offices including the administrator's office.
Under the old system, a help desk technician would have to fill in an inventory form by hand before installing equipment or relocating peripherals with information such as client name, hardware type, hardware location, serial number and bar code. The information was then manually entered into the asset management database. Because the technician did not have site location access to the inventory database, the process had to be done for each install and relocate request.

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size="2" color="#FF0000">'Our asset management application . . . gives us the ability to conduct wall-to-wall inventories in one-third of the time,' FAA's Jeff Lane said.

'Using pen, paper and clipboards, a team of three or four individuals took roughly three months to conduct a full inventory,' Lane said. 'It now takes us three weeks.'

Elements of no surprise

The FAA's new system comprises several elements: SPT 1500 and SPT 1700 handheld devices from Symbol Technologies Inc. of Holtsville, N.Y.; the Palm operating system from Palm Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.; and a custom application known as Palm Asset Management developed by Impact Innovations Group Inc. of Atlanta. Using the Palm OS Hotsync function, PAM interfaces with the FAA's existing inventory database. That database supports the DK Inventory Management from DK Systems of Chicago.
Symbol Technologies' SPT 1500 is a 2M or 4M handheld device that can read and store bar codes, as well as send and receive data via infrared signals. It has a built-in bar code scanner that can provide up to 8,000 continuous scans from two AAA alkaline batteries in low light or outdoors. The six-ounce handheld has the same five-key keyboard as the Palm III and can scan about 36 bar codes per second.

The SPT 1700 is a 2M to 8M ruggedized wireless version that can withstand four-foot drops onto concrete and operate in temperatures ranging from minus 4 degrees F to 122 F.

FAA technicians scan each asset's bar code directly into the handheld. Asset information can also be entered with the use of pull-down lists and dialog boxes. The devices include enough memory to save one day's work. At the end of the shift, the collected data is uploaded from the handheld via a software module on a PC that synchronizes the DK Systems database.

Daily synchronization captures any changes. Then the data is verified by the team's configuration manager and added to the inventory management database. Invalid information is flagged and corrected.

DK Inventory Manager tracks each stage of an asset's lifecycle'from acquisition through deployment, movement and disposal. It tracks and controls cost with maintenance contracts and service histories, and cable management and problem and disaster isolation.

All user requests for service and assistance are tracked via DK Inventory Manager, as well as all client and hardware information, Lane said. PAM scans the FAA bar codes and automatically updates the inventory database for new equipment and relocation or reassignment of hardware.

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