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Technology

Open Source Inventory Control Systems? 16

RedBear writes "I work for a small non-profit (under 10 people) as the "tech" person (I deal mostly with simple computer problems and website work). The organization is focused on marine safety training and injury prevention. We have a lot of products for sale, mostly small things like bandanas, signal mirrors, first aid kits, etc. We also have a lot of training equipment that we loan out, mostly big things like PFDs (personal flotation devices), immersion suits and even huge inflatable survival rafts. Also, both for sale and loan, we have a ton of books, videos, brochures and displays (for conferences and such). Some of the training equipment for loan is only to be loaned to instructors certified by our organization. We're in the process of looking for a good inventory control system. It takes two people many hours every week keeping track of what equipment comes in and goes out, and when a bunch of orders come in at once they literally can't keep up. We do have a computerized database system but it was designed for the organization from scratch and uses FileMaker Pro. There's nothing wrong with that, but it really doesn't work well. It's confusing, and doesn't integrate with any other system, like our mailing list database or any sort of invoicing system." Ask Slashdot last touched on this subject with this article which inventory control with handhelds. While I'm sure such functionality would be appreciated, what other Open Source technologies would be necessary if you were going to implement across-the-board inventory control, and how well do they all integrate with each other and with the proprietary inventory control solutions?

"What we're looking for needs to do all of the following, if possible:

  • Loans:
    • maintain inventory of equipment owned
    • keep track of when loaned equipment is overdue

flag and automatically generate alerts about overdue items for the person(s) in charge of gear

verify whether or not an item can be loaned to the person borrowing it (are they listed in our database as a certified instructor, etc.)

tally the number of times a loan item is used over time

track length of time an item is in service

  • Sales
    • keep inventory of saleable items
    • generate invoices and purchase orders
    • tally sales and receipts
    • generate alerts when saleable item inventory is low
    • keep track of who buys what (by integrating with our contact/mailing list database, this is for internal use only)
  • General:
    • use bar codes and/or RFID tags to maintain inventory and check items in and out (both unique tags permanently attached to large items and generic tags that would be scanned for each sale of a small item from a group of identical items)
    • be able to import and export data to/from FileMaker Pro, Excel, etc.
    • incorporate Dewey Decimal system (or similar) for books and videos
    • generate reports of contacts sorted any way we want, e.g., by type and frequency of training, other groups they are associated with, etc.
    • conform to modern interoperable software standards (SQL, TCP/IP, SOAP, or whatever might be involved in a project like this)
    • work with Macs, Windows, Linux, etc. (because of the above standards)
    • have the possibility of integrating with a MySQL database on our remotely hosted website, allowing people to reserve gear or order items online (is this crazy talk?)
    • be able to incorporate current inventory numbering system (is this crazy talk too?)
Here are the Kickers: we are basically an all Mac shop (mixed OS9/OSX), and have been since about a year before I was hired (I didna' do'it, Cap'n!), so it must work with Macs...somehow. It also really needs to be robust, extendable, cross-platform and standards-oriented.

I'd rather not watch my organization walk into the trap of a big, expensive, bloated, proprietary, non-extensible system. And since I'm the 'tech' person and even I know next to nothing about databases and inventory control systems, it really needs to be fairly easy to admin and set up. We have the funds to buy such things as a dedicated server for this, but a dedicated server and a bunch of proprietary terminals is something we'd like to avoid. We've looked around town at libraries and various stores and searched the net and saw a lot of that sort of thing. A lot of specialized hardware and proprietary software.

I'm thinking of something that might be accessible through a web browser, for searches at the very least. Since it needs to incorporate some sort of bar code reading hardware, I suppose the actual computers attached to the readers will need some sort of client software beyond a web browser, but if so it would be great if that client software were available for different platforms, in case we ever do move away from the Macs. If we need to move all the OS9 computers the OSX we can do that, but replacing all the hardware is really out of the question until they reach the end of their useful lives. (It doesn't look too good though, we searched for inventory control systems on Google and got about 200,000 hits. Add the word "Mac" and it goes down to about 7.)

So how about it? Is this a pipe dream? I'm not necessarily looking for Open Source here but it would be nice. I know there are thousands of businesses and organizations out there who already incorporate this type of system for inventory control, so what do you use? Any recommendations? This is a huge project to research and we need help just getting started!"
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Open Source Inventory Control Systems?

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  • by shunnicutt ( 561059 ) on Friday April 25, 2003 @05:26PM (#5811823)
    After reviewing all your requirements, I'd recommend staying with FileMaker Pro and growing or redesigning your existing solution, barring the discovery of any already existing open source solution.

    I've been designing FileMaker solutions for over 10 years, and I believe that it has all of the connectivity that you have specified -- you simply need to find someone who can put it together for you.

    Plus, as you probably already know, each FileMaker client can share databases with other clients on the network. For a small number of concurrent users, this is perfectly adequate and saves the additional cost of a dedicated server. However, if you do require a dedicated server in the future, your solution will run on that server without modification.

    No client exists for Linux, but you can share FileMaker databases with a web interface -- either one you design yourself or with instant web publishing which will create browser layouts based upon your FileMaker layouts. FileMaker also provides connectivity via XML, JDBC, ODBC, SQL, etc.

    Don't automatically discount FileMaker based upon an unsatisfactory solution. Include the possiblity of redesigning it in your research.
  • Cross Platform? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Apreche ( 239272 ) on Friday April 25, 2003 @05:28PM (#5811840) Homepage Journal
    Well if you need it cross platform the obvious choice is java. You also want a web interface, which could be jsp or php. mysql or postgres is the database choice, because recommending anything else on /. will get you stoned. Java seems to be a good choice also because you can use it on handheld devices and such. Problem is that you're going to need to hire some software people to make your database. There might be one that exists already, but it wont be tailored to your exact needs. You can get a small software company to make it for you, or hire some contract coders to get the job done. It isn't a hard thing, people make stuff like this every day.
  • by OwnerOfWhinyCat ( 654476 ) on Friday April 25, 2003 @05:32PM (#5811867)
    I did some looking for complex beasts like that for another project, and couldn't find anything as complex as you're looking for closed or open without buying a huge accounting package which will cover most of what you mention in a cumbersome, ugly and expensive fashion.

    What you need is a fairly customized db/pos system, and it won't be a good fit out of the box. My suggestion is that you find a serious Linux geek with an interest in what your company provides to take it a peice at a time in trade for services you provide.

    He/She can start with SQL ledger, which is web-based, open source and PostgresQL (et. al.) backed and works well. Then s/he can add the features you like a piece at a time. You'll only need one Linux box in the shop for this, as all the Macs can get to it via their browsers, and it can run in parallel with your current system until it subplants it's functionality entirely.

    Just my .02. Best of luck.
  • Difficult (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Bungi ( 221687 ) <thebungi@gmail.com> on Friday April 25, 2003 @05:32PM (#5811868) Homepage
    There is a lot of software like this out there for Windows. It's all propietary and closed, because the companies that write them are into it for the money. Shocking, I know.

    So you can either buy a Windows 2000 server and the software to go alog with it, or get a consulting firm to write one for you that does what you want and runs in your platform of choice. I doubt you'll be getting a free lunch, here.

    Let's even assume there's something like this that's open source and runs on Linux (or BSD). Do you really think you're going to get everything you want, assuming the guy writing it hasn't decided to give it up to take care of his cats or something? And you've said you don't have the skills to modify it to begin with. So I fail to see what the 'open source would be great' point is about.

    • Re:Difficult (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      well, open source is great for small businesses because there's no lock-in. So that's obviously going to be the first choice for anybody with half a brain and under 10 employees.

      It would be pretty silly to move from Mac to Windows 2000, just to go from one closed-source solution to another....

      I'm not sure why you think the proprietary software will do everything he needs.. I've looked at stuff like this and there's never a "one-size-fits-all" solution.
    • not to troll on, but perhaps you could explain to me how closed source is going to help him any?
  • See subject. You need to either learn how to code such a beast (I'd make it web driven for the front end, using stored procedures on SQL to drive the backend.) or find/pay someone else to code it for you.

    No solution is going to be perfectly suited to your needs, and modifying/retrofitting an existing system might be more trouble than it's worth.
  • Actually, buidling POS terminals isn't too bad.

    For a POS system you really need a cash drawer (Indiana Cash Drawer?), receipt printer, and a barcode scanner. To display barcodes, I recommend a barcode font, or writing a control that can render them for you. It's typically easier to do it with a font.

    Cash drawers typically hang off a parallel or serial port, as barcode scanners. Though I'm not sure about for macs, as I've just started doing this for PCs.

    Cash drawers really only need a control code to e
  • Unfortunately, they were all custom jobs. The company I worked for strove to build a one product meets all needs but ended up modifying systems constantly to do what you are doing.

    For example, built a great one to monitor long term paper records. All the records were placed in a box and bar-coded. The box was placed on shelf position that was bar-coded as well. Handheld computers scanned the box and the shelf location and the computer knew where it was at all times. When a box was requested the system
  • by Anonymous Coward
    make a big text file with non-standard field delimiters like double tabs or a UTF8 character. Write some perl cgi scripts to insert, delete, and edit fields. Have no file locking, but have the cgi script interface instruct the user to scream "Ok don't nobody do nuthing for a sec !" right before he pushes "submit". Remember to put no comments in any of the code, except for single cryptic one reminding you when your girlfriend's birthday is.

    Then quit, leaving the non-profit org and whomever they hire to r
  • Here [compiere.org] is an open source ERP/CRM system. They do all this:
    * Optimize your Inventory
    * Enter Sales Orders
    * Receive Orders from the Web
    * Create Invoices and record Shipments
    * Collect Receipts (cash, credit cards) & match with Bank Statements
    * Generate or enter Purchase Orders
    * Record Supplier Receipts and Invoices
    * Pay your Suppliers
    * Enter manual Journals
    * Print reports and statements

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