Automating Field Data Collection: Scanning and Decoding Barcodes

06-06-2022 07:32 AM
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Part 1 Automating Field Data Collection Banner.png

Scanning and Decoding Barcodes

Part 2 of 5

By Tom DeWitte and Tom Coolidge

Our first blog of this series provided an overview of the steps a utility can take to improve the productivity of the utility field worker. If you missed it, you can access it here.

In this blog article, we will dig into the first step in automating field data collection. The first step in making life easier for the utility field worker is to deploy a configuration of ArcGIS Field Maps that minimizes the amount of manual data entry they must perform. As noted in the previous blog article, this is the first of four steps to automating field data collection.

  1. Minimize manual data entry
  2. Auto-populate what is already known
  3. Leverage sensors on your mobile device
  4. Use geography

The use of barcodes to automate data entry is one method to minimize manual data entry.


Barcodes are currently used for many purposes across utility industries. Most utility field workers will have a barcode on their employee badge. This barcode encodes the unique identification of the employee. Another common use is to barcode machinery. This barcode encodes the manufacturer information about the device. Then there is the use of barcoding assets. In the natural gas industry, barcodes are applied to the plastic pipe, plastic device, or plastic fitting by the manufacturer. In industries that do not have a barcode industry standard, there are utility companies which are placing their own barcodes onto assets as they enter the warehouse. Barcodes are on many assets today, and soon seemingly will be everywhere.

Simply having a barcode does not directly equate to productivity gains for the utility field worker. There needs to be a companion capability. This companion capability includes electronically capturing the barcode, and software to decode the barcode, then auto-populate the information directly to the asset record. Without this companion capability the utility field worker will have to manually read the 16-character case sensitive text string and without error manually enter it into the asset record.

Part 1_ServicePipe_barcode.png

Manually entering barcodes is slow, prone to error, and a frustrating experience for field workers.

Scanning the Barcode

Two predominant methods for electronically capturing a barcode are optical and infrared scanning. Optical scanners are the camera built into your mobile device. Infrared scanners are external devices which Bluetooth connect to your mobile device. ArcGIS Field Maps supports both methods. If interested in using a handheld infrared barcode scanner, the Bluetooth device needs to support the keyboard wedge method for integration with ArcGIS Field Maps.

Part 1_Barcode Scanner_Pipe.png

Regardless of barcode scanning method, when ArcGIS Field Maps electronically captures a barcode the designated text field in your form will be automatically populated. There is no manual data entry.

Part 2 Collecting Barcode.png

With the barcode now electronically captured and stored in the BARCODE field, software needs to be employed to decode the barcode value and auto-populate the appropriate data fields.

Decoding the Barcode

In many examples this decoding of the barcode can be accomplished with a small set of Arcade scripts. Each attribute which will be auto populated from the information encoded in the barcode will have an Arcade script.

Part 2 Manufacturer Barcode script.png

Deploying the Automation

The method used to embed the software capability to decode the barcode in ArcGIS Field Maps is done through configuration. The Field Maps Web Application provides the administration environment to perform this configuration.

Part 2 Field Maps Web App.png

The web application is used to define the Arcade script and the ability to apply this script to the table field. Each field to receive information from the decoded barcode values will have its own Arcade script.

Field User Experience

With these scripts now configured into the editing behavior of the layer, the automation is in place for the utility field worker to utilize.

For the utility field worker, the field data collection is very simple. Open ArcGIS Field Maps and select the web map designated for the specific data collection task. Now you are ready to collect.

The collection process with barcodes is to select the item to be collected and capture the barcode.

Part 2 Barcode Capture.png

The ArcGIS Field Maps application will automatically run the Arcade scripts immediately after the BARCODE field is populated. This allows the utility field worker to immediately be able to review the decoded content and verify it matches what was installed.

Part 2 Barcode Decoding.png

As the above screenshot shows, a total of 8 data fields were automatically populated from information embedded in the BARCODE field. Including the BARCODE field, a single barcode scan results in nine data fields being populated with no user typing.

Automating Data Entry

The use of barcodes is only one example of how ArcGIS Field Maps can be used to free your utility field workers from manual data entry. Other opportunities to improve the productivity of utility field workers include:

                -auto-population of the date/time when the collection was performed

                -auto-population of who performed the data collection

                -auto-calculation and population of a pipe’s volume and surface area

                -auto-population of the projectID based on the asset’s location intersecting a project polygon

                -auto-population of the nearest address, based on the asset’s location

These are just a few examples of how the automation capabilities in ArcGIS Field Maps can be used to improve the productivity of the utility field worker.

About This Blog Series

This blog article is the second in a series of five blog articles. Upcoming blogs will continue explaining in greater detail how to configure the Esri ArcGIS Field Maps mobile application to deploy these examples.

PLEASE NOTE: The postings on this site are our own and don’t necessarily represent Esri’s position, strategies, or opinions.

New Contributor III

Is that Arcade script just using the first 3 characters of the barcode as the manufacturer? If so, is that code setup as a List (or Domain) for populating the manufacturer name? 

I assume that the other 8 fields would be configured similarly using other slices of the barcode characters.

Esri Regular Contributor

Hi William,

The mid function used in the arcade script is starting at 0 and grabbing the next 2 alpha-numeric characters in the barcode string. This 2 character string is then written to the Manufacturer data field. To turn this 2 character abbreviation of the manufacturer name into a full manufacturer name a coded value domain is applied to the Manufacturer field.  This is the ASTM F2897 list of manufacturer codes/names that is maintained by the Plastic Pipe Institute. A copy of this list is maintained in the UPDM data model provided by Esri for the gas and pipeline industries.

Tom DeWitte

Esri Technical Lead - Natural Gas & District Energy

About the Author
Technical Lead for Natural Gas Industry at Esri