In the current age of small, portable computer devices and multi-use cell phones, the gadgets of James Bond are suddenly no longer farfetched.

IT Facts Web site reported, “Sales of Wi-Fi phones increased by more than 60 percent in 2007, according to Infonetics Research. Last year vendors sold 682,000 Wi-Fi phones worldwide, compared to 358,000 in 2006.”1 What’s more, these phones are used not only to place calls, but also to read the news, check sports scores, watch videos, listen to music and more.

This is just one example of technology used every day by most consumers. Almost everyone now owns some sort of personal handheld device — from cell-phones to iPods to PDAs to personal gaming devices.

The point? Consumers are more tech-savvy, and technology is available in just about any form or application. Now is the time to integrate these tools into the workplace.

Technology at work
The same wireless technology used to help you check sports scores can help you gain control of your chemical inventory. An ever-increasing number of technological gadgets are available to assist you with the tracking of chemical information, chemical inventories and regulatory reporting. Automating your chemical information and letting these small but powerful devices work to your advantage is easier than ever before.

Since most technology now is Wi-Fi compatible and many systems are delivered via the Internet, real-time chemical management is possible. Handheld scanners and portable computers and printers make the actual chemical inventory process much faster and more accurate. Wireless technology allows applications to “talk” and makes updating chemical management systems seamless. Instant access to the necessary chemical inventory and regulatory impact information helps reduce costs and allows for proactive compliance management. On-demand reporting lets you analyze your company’s environmental impact as well as instantly track when highly hazardous chemicals and chemicals of interest are introduced into the facility.

With onsite chemical volumes and quantities triggering many U.S. and international reporting requirements, on-demand analysis and instant notifications can make a significant difference in your compliance management process. Internet-based systems enable you to quickly get a bird’s-eye view of chemical inventories across your entire corporation, allowing you to consolidate vendors and better control associated costs.

Streamlining with technology
Compliance, accuracy and reduced manpower are among the major concerns of anyone in charge of managing chemical inventory. Barcode printers and portable scanners, both of which can be carried easily on your belt, make it possible to label and track every material container as it moves through your facility. Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) labels used in conjunction with Wi-Fi will allow you to pinpoint every container’s location in real-time.

Technological tools like handheld scanners and portable printers provide a more efficient inventory process and chemical inventory management savings. Maintaining HazCom compliance is literally a scan away. For instance, a scanning system integrated with your current vendor MSDS management system can automatically determine if an MSDS is available for the scanned materials. When scanning, alerts on your handheld device can help determine which chemicals are banned and should be disposed.

Finding the right system
When searching for a good chemical inventory management system, there are specific things to look for. Areas to pay special attention to include: ease-of-use and workflow; compatibility of required hardware with existing systems; ability to help meet compliance and continuous improvement goals; and adaptability to changing technologies like wireless or RFID.

The single most important aspect of a chemical inventory management system is the workflow of the software and hardware. Questions to ask when evaluating a system include:
  • How easy is it to simply start scanning?
  • Can you modify the configuration of the system while using the system? In other words, can you add or modify a chemical area, add new materials, and use a wide range of barcode formats while you scan?
  • Does the process make good logical sense?
  • Can you easily and intuitively gather information and then make good logical use of that data as your needs dictate?
System compatibility
Almost as important as system ease-of-use is the compatibility of required hardware between new and old systems. Handhelds, laptops, printers, scanners and more are all required for using most chemical inventory management systems. Some questions to ask when evaluating hardware include:
  • Is the hardware required by the new system compatible with existing systems?
  • Can it be configured to meet your site-specific needs?
  • Does it easily load and work with your current systems?
  • Will you be able to get replacement pieces if necessary?
  • Is it possible to lease specific pieces to keep costs and overhead low?
Meeting your goals
Your chemical inventory management system should also help you meet your secondary goals. Questions to consider include:
  • Does it integrate with your current compliance system?
  • Can it help you meet regulatory requirements like having an MSDS for every hazardous material onsite (HazCom)?
  • Does the system tabulate quantities of materials and cross-reference the qualifying constituents of those materials to regulatory lists?
  • Can your system populate regulatory reporting features to ease compliance-related tasks like SARA 311/312 or 313 reporting?
Be sure to determine that the system you choose is adaptable and designed to support changing technologies. New technologies such as handheld scanners, Wi-Fi and RFID are becoming more widely used across all industries and, when integrated with a robust compliance management tool, can help an organization meet and exceed global environmental and safety compliance goals while reducing costs.

Take time to explore these changing technologies, make sure that you evaluate them sufficiently with your specific needs and goals in mind, and then take advantage of the benefits they bring to your job, your workplace, and your entire organization.

Reference(1)“682,000 Wi-Fi phones sold in 2007.” IT Facts. March 27, 2008. 18 June 2008.