Building a Better (and Free!) Equipment Inventory

My local SCA branch, like most branches, owns property. The group collectively owns a cargo trailer, kitchen equipment, tournament field equipment, navigation signs, and more. All that *stuff* has to be documented.

Right now, that documentation is in the form of a spreadsheet, with one sheet for each numbered box in the trailer, one sheet for items stored loose in the trailer, and one sheet for each member who is holding items for the group (because they are frequently brought to practice). It is messy and doesn’t facilitate pulling statistics (for example: the total replacement value of all items should the trailer suffer a major catastrophe). It also doesn’t currently produce nice (or uniform) hard copies.

Currently, a hard copy of each sheet is inserted into each corresponding box, allowing event staff to find items and later repack the right items into each box. Finding an item requires leafing through all pages of the full inventory and scanning down each list until the desired item description is found. Repacking works in a similar fashion – it’s chaotic. I think I can improve this process by creating a web application that is portable enough to be installed on a Raspberry Pi board and served up via wifi at a site that has no native wifi available.

Yes, commercial inventory web-apps are available. However, they cost money, are often more complicated than is necessary, and may require server environments that groups don’t have access to. This application will be written in php (and maybe some javascript) with a mySQL database. All of that software is available for free and it isn’t difficult or expensive to spin up a suitable hosting environment.

As I work through creating this application and its database backbone, I am going to use this blog to talk about features I build (or plan to build) to remind myself of those good ideas for later. I will also use it to share this information with other members of my branch.

When the application is functional, I will advertise it within the SCA – first within the East – for other groups to clone and use the base code, which will be hosted at an online git repository.

Right now, today, I am still building out the database. I’m using this as an opportunity to improve my database structuring skills. I spent a little time populating the database with some item records so that when I write my SQL queries for the app, I can test them and get real and meaningful query results.

After today’s data-entry session, I have already identified another wanted table: consumable item use reports. The property list contains consumable items – plastic storage bags, trash bags, soap, sponges, latex exam gloves, bandages, alcohol wipes – you get the idea. When a consumable item is used, a staff member can report that within the application via a button on the item’s information page. The button brings up a form, item ID, name, and description pre-filled, with new entry fields for the quantity used and comments. A later option can be a quick-fill tabular form for entering multiple reports (when the staffers keep track using a paper tally and the entry is done later).

Additionally, some of those items have expiration dates. I want to make a report that lists all items that expire, shown with their expiration dates, optionally by order of expiration date to allow timely replacement of expired consumables. This report should be short since it is composed primarily of items in the First Aid boxes, but it’s also a very important routine maintenance task.

Catch up with me later and if you haven’t seen any posts here about this recently, ping me on Twitter @cordelya.

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