NASA uses Fishbowl to track assets in Zero-G

Jonny Parker
December 3 2022

Fishbowl is more than the No. 1 QuickBooks inventory management software; it is also a powerful asset tracking system. Fishbowl has been the top-selling manufacturing and warehouse management solution for QuickBooks for more than a decade, so it is no small accomplishment and we do not mean to minimize its significance. The fact that Fishbowl is also an excellent asset tracking system is meaningful in many ways. Fishbowl is flexible enough to be used in a variety of ways, making it possible for everything from large organizations to small businesses to make great use of its expansive feature set.

Asset tracking vs. inventory management

Asset tracking is related to inventory management, so it makes sense that Fishbowl could be used for both. Asset tracking essentially involves monitoring the locations and quantities of assets that are used in an organization’s operations without being sold to customers. They are simply utilitarian objects that facilitate many kinds of work. Inventory management involves tracking the locations and quantities of items that are intended to be sold to customers. The essential difference is the nature of the tings they track. One type is intended for internal use, while the other is intended for external use. Now that it is clear exactly what we are referring to when we say “asset tracking” and “inventory management,” we can dig deeper into the details of how all of this works.

The need for an asset tracking system

Many organizations, such as NASA and the Mississippi State Department of Health, need a standalone asset tracking system, rather than an inventory management solution. Why is this the case? There are a number of reasons, which we will discuss at length.

As mentioned above, there is a subtle difference between asset tracking and inventory management. Asset tracking involves managing parts and products used internally, while inventory management is usually geared toward monitoring products that are sold to customers. Asset tracking is a good fit for NASA and other government entities, because they are not B2C or even necessarily B2B (which acronyms are short for business to consumer and business to business). They are not selling anything, but they are providing a service that all of their resources are dedicated to. Therefore, it makes sense that they would not need an inventory management solution at all, but they would most certainly need an asset tracking solution to get the job done.

NASA faces many unique challenges, especially with its food program. When space flights were just a few days in length back in the 1960s, they could get away with providing their astronauts with simple foods, like applesauce. Astronauts who were orbiting around the Earth a few times, or performing complex maneuvers while in orbit, could afford to live on relatively few food items. Even when astronauts were traveling on longer missions to the moon, they could survive on simple foods for the duration of their weeklong missions. But as their missions grew into months or longer, NASA expanded its food selection to include more than 180 items.

This makes sense when you consider the length of missions and the increased needs of astronauts. Many missions today involve traveling to the International Space Station and restocking it with desperately needed supplies. There are no grocery stores in orbit around the Earth, so astronauts only have what they take with them. If anyone hopes to survive for a long amount of time on a space station, they need to have not only the right kinds of food, but the right quantities of them to stay healthy and strong.

To ensure their astronauts have the right food supplies to remain healthy during space travel, NASA started using Fishbowl to track raw materials all through the cooking process to their final destination on the space shuttle and the International Space Station. Everything needs to be tracked meticulously to make sure that impurities are not allowed to fester in the food supply. Expiration dates can be used to track items in Fishbowl, so that when items are getting close to their expiration dates, NASA experts will be able to decide whether to use them quickly or discard them in favor of fresher food items.

It is a waste of time and resources to have a lot of food items spoil while waiting to be combined with other items or consumed by astronauts. That is why Fishbowl also helps NASA monitor their needs and only reorder items when they become necessary. Instead of having to guess how much food is necessary for a mission and much should be reordered when its quantity is getting too low, NASA knows both of those things with Fishbowl’s help. Fishbowl tracks the amount of assets that are reordered, as well as spoilage and usage over time, to help the experts come up with the appropriate automatic reorder points for all food items. That way, there is very little danger of spoilage, shortage, or overstock. They are all taken into account to keep asset levels in perfect balance.

Ironically, it is difficult to keep food cold in space, so NASA focuses a lot of attention on inventory turnover and food spoilage issues. Improvements in freeze drying foods to keep them as light as possible, without removing their nutritional value, have helped a great deal in reducing the amount of food that goes bad before it can be consumed. In addition, they use refrigeration and other clever means of keeping food fresh for as long as possible. As NASA continues to work hard to come up with creative solutions to its food production and storage for its brave astronauts, they will also continue to find Fishbowl’s inventory tracking system useful.

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