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Barcoding the inventory

Barcoding of vials and containers will help streamline the inventory process. Even the smallest labs can implement a barcoding system that uses only off-the-shelf supplies and the CDD Inventory readily available in existing CDD vaults.

What's needed to set up barcoding

Generating a barcode

Scanning a barcode

Using barcoding with CDD Inventory

Manual debiting

Bulk debiting

The CDD Inventory module allows you to keep track of current amounts and locations of batches of registered molecules. Whether it’s used for vaults with test compounds or reagents, the inventory module allows users to update inventory information manually (one batch at a time via the web interface) or in bulk (by uploading information from an Excel file).

A common technology that can streamline the inventory process is barcoding. While this ubiquitous technology may seem complex, it turns out it is actually quite easy and inexpensive to set up barcoding in even the smallest lab. Using barcoding with inventory is also straightforward, and eases the burden of tracking batches, and more importantly, removes opportunities for tracking errors.


What's needed to set up barcoding

You need two items: a barcode scanner and barcoded containers. The scanner is easy to source, and low-budget labs can find used scanners on e-bay and other auction sites. The key issue is to use a scanner that connects to your computer and that the computer recognizes as an input device, like a keyboard - this is actually quite common and we'll come back to that topic.

The second item, barcoded containers, often creates confusion because there are so many options. Let's look at the available options for generating a barcode:

How to generate a barcode?

Before we decide how to generate the barcode, let's talk about what is on the barcode - what does it encode?

  • Pre-printed barcode labels: At the simplest level the barcode has a unique serial number with no other information. No other information means: no compound id, no batch id, no date, no chemist name, no location information, etc. Doing it this way gives you lots of options: you can purchase pre-printed barcodes or, even better, vials or tubes that have barcodes already on them. Pre-printed barcodes are available in a huge variety of formats and sizes, and especially materials appropriate for your storage conditions (solvent-resistant, or suitable for freezers, etc.). Vials or tubes that already have barcodes on them save you the tedious step of peeling labels and getting them on your containers. You can always slap on another label for “human friendly” information. For the vast majority of CDD customers- we would recommend this simpler route!
  • Custom barcode generation: The opposing view is that the barcode should also have information on the contents of the container. This will take you down the road of needing to create your own barcode labels. This will require software, a printer and blank labels. This is all possible, but it requires a level of effort and sophistication that can be a bit challenging for a small lab. A key issue is ensuring you have the right combination of printer and label that will create printed, peel-and-stick labels that can stand up to harsh environments.

Barcode scanner

You want a handheld scanner that scans most types of barcodes, connects easily to your computer, and provides you with options for terminating the code (which means adding a carriage return or tab character after the barcode). Most scanners do these things, and do them easily. While USB is very common, wireless scanners are available (for greater cost, of course). The USB scanners are generally plug-and-play (plug them into a USB port, and in under a minute the computer recognizes them as a text-input device). You can then open any program that accepts text input (Excel, Word, Notepad, Stickies, CDD Vault, etc), and when you aim the scanner at a barcode and pull the trigger, the scanner enters the encoded information into your program. As noted previously, there are settings where you can have the scanner include a tab, newline, etc after the barcode (handy for creating lists of barcodes). Usually the scanner comes with a booklet with barcodes in it... you select and scan the appropriate barcode to change settings. For a few dollars more, many scanners come with a stand that holds the scanner, and puts it in a type of “always scan” mode. That means if you put a barcode in the scanner’s field of view, it will read the barcode without the need to pull the trigger. Again, very handy if you want to enter lots of barcodes.


Using barcoding with CDD Inventory

When you are setting up Inventory within your CDD Vault, make sure to create an additional batch field called “Barcode” or “Vial ID” or something similar. Most importantly, that field should be designated to be unique. That makes sense: you don’t want to use the same barcode for more than one batch. There will then be a one-to-one correspondence between a batch and a barcode.

How you use barcodes with CDD inventory depends on how you typically upload and update your chemical batches: manually (one at a time) using the web page, or in bulk, by creating and uploading csv files. For a refresher, see the very helpful guide at

Manual debiting

If you only create or remove material from a batch one at a time, the easiest approach is to use the CDD web page directly.

  • Create your batch: Put the batch in a vial that has your barcode label. When you enter the other batch information (such a vendor, initial amount etc), place the cursor in the field for barcodes, aim your scanner at the vial, and scan. The barcode will now be populated in the field. No typing is required! No opportunities for typos or copy and paste errors.
  • Extra credit: You can use a completely separate set of barcode labels to track locations. Use an orthogonal* set of barcodes to designate storage locations. A barcode can correspond to a box, a rack, a freezer, a room, etc. Use the same process as described above to input the barcode information.
  • Update your batch: If you are removing (debiting) material from a batch, go to the CDD search page, and put your cursor in the Keywords box. Aim your scanner at the vial, scan the barcode, then click the Search Molecules () button. Your molecule and batch will come up (that’s why we made the barcode a unique identifier). Then go to the batches tab, and click the update button of the right batch to either debit an amount, to enter a new location, or both. And don’t forget to save!

Bulk debiting

If you create or debit batches in bulk, then using barcodes can save you a great deal of time. When you create new batches of a molecule, you’re filling in a spreadsheet with other batch-level information such as Purity, Vendor, Notebook Number, etc. Because you’re using inventory, you’ll also provide an initial amount. The other important column to have on your spreadsheet is “Barcode” (or “Vial ID”, etc).

  • Create your batch: put the batches in vials that have their barcode labels. Alternatively, you can put the barcode label on just before scanning. Let’s say you have 20 vials in front of you with barcodes. Open your spreadsheet, put the cursor in the second row of the barcode column, and then scan the vial. If you’ve told the scanner to add a Carriage Return to the end of the scan, then the cursor will now be in the next row. Scan the next vial. Repeat this process till you have scanned all the barcodes. Then you can upload the spreadsheet to CDD in the usual way.
  • Update your batch: To remove (debit) material from a multiple batches, open a new spreadsheet, and set it up as shown.

Put the cursor in the second row of the barcode column, and then scan the vial. If you’ve told the scanner to add a tab to the end of the scan, then the cursor will now be in the next cell of the spreadsheet. Enter the amount debited. Tab to the next cell, and enter (or scan) the location information. Hit return and scan the next vial. Repeat this process till you have scanned all the barcodes.


*orthogonal – you’re a chemist, right? You better know what orthogonal means!