The Entrepreneur's Guide to Computer Recycling: Basics for starting up a computer recycling business in emerging markets
PC Recycling Guide
Inventory Management & Traceability

Recording in and out movements

To be accountable to his clients, partners or financiers in case of dispute, the entrepreneur must be able to relate the movements of the equipment flow. Therefore he must keep a register, listing all the supplies of computer equipment (date received, provenance, quantity and weight) and all the movements of equipment, materials and components leaving the processing site. In some countries, keeping such a register is mandatory. Thus, the entrepreneur must know the national and international regulations he might be subject to, so that equipment will be properly listed during collection, transport and temporary storage.

Doing the inventory

In addition to the keeping of this register of movements, the keeping of an inventory on spreadsheets of all treated equipment is essential to a computer recycling activity. The inventory enables the entrepreneur to control stocks, to organize production more efficiently and to increase productivity. Thanks to the inventory, the entrepreneur can professionalize the relations he has with his partners and suppliers and it fosters a greater openness between them. The inventory is also very useful to keep the accounts of the company.

Producing an inventory mainly consists in identifying precisely each piece of equipment, and listing its characteristics and location. This helps to determine the provenance of equipment and its destination once it has been treated. An advanced inventory will enable a piece of equipment to be followed throughout the transformation process conducted on the treatment site.

It is important that the inventory system can be easily used by technicians and managers. This system has to meet the company’s needs as far as follow-up and production analysis is concerned. It is often more profitable for the company to computerize this system with specialised software.

Identifying equipment

In case of refurbishment, equipment can be identified on arrival: each piece of equipment is identified by its serial number and a unique identifier, set up by the company. This internal identifier will enable the piece of equipment to be followed during the whole treatment process. The choice of identifiers must respect a certain logic and structure: the technician should be able to recognise the type of equipment just by reading the identifier. For example, the identifier could be conceived as follows: manufacturer code/on-site arrival date/registration number. To help the creation, management and reading of those identifiers, the entrepreneur can invest in a barcode management system, but this may represent a substantial financial investment for the company.

Using track sheets

Product sheet

The simplest form of inventory system remains the paper sheet. The product sheet (one per piece of equipment) indicates the identifier and keeps up with the piece of equipment at every stage of its treatment process. The sheet is filled in as the recycling process goes by. The product sheet gives the main characteristics of the equipment: serial number, processor speed, hard disk capacity, RAM capacity, etc. It also records the equipment status (i.e. non-tested, tested, configured, ready for sale, etc.). It may also indicate the name of the technician in charge and the name of the final client.

Stock sheet

The stock sheet enables the quantity of equipment in stock to be known, but also the number and the location of each kind of spare part, thus making the refurbishment activity easier. The stock sheet may regularly be compared to the product sheet, in order to detect possible problems, such as fraud or the chronic shortage of a certain type of part (due to the acceptance on site of computers lacking components).

Traceability sheets for outgoing flows

When equipment is sold, the invoice is generally enough to keep up with the outgoing flow. It must indicate the transfer date, information about the equipment (serial number and description), and the buyer’s identity. In some cases, a certificate authorising transportation may be required.

When outgoing flows are dispatched to a recycling business, it is recommended that a track sheet be sent along with the batch in question. This sheet may give the following information: holder and producer of the waste, carrier transporting the waste, destination, date of shipment, means of transport, name and physical description of the waste, composition and tracking numbers, method of packing, quantities on departure and on arrival, etc. After having processed the waste, the final recycling company may send the entrepreneur a certificate testifying to the reclaiming or destruction of the pieces dispatched.

Computerizing management

To save time and improve reliability, the entrepreneur may computerize the inventory management. It suppresses the storage of paper sheets, it standardises input data, it reduces the risk of making mistakes (by automatically creating the internal identifiers) and it enables the stock condition to be known in real time. However, a qualified employee is required to manage the database.

The company can develop its own management tool, using software such as Microsoft Access® or Adobe FileMaker®. But some free computer population management tools may also be used. For instance, the free software GLPI enables a precise inventory of all existing technical, material and software resources to be kept.