Patent application title: METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR CENTRAL ACCOUNTING AND BILLING SYSTEM FOR ENTERPRISE EMPLOYING MOBILE FIELD SERVICE
Atsuo Kusada (Mahwah, NJ, US)
Arthur Wagoner (Richmond, IL, US)
ALTEK SOLUTIONS, LLC
IPC8 Class: AG06Q2014FI
Class name: Data processing: financial, business practice, management, or cost/price determination automated electrical financial or business practice or management arrangement inventory management
Publication date: 2013-10-31
Patent application number: 20130290151
A central accounting and billing system for enterprises providing service
and supply operations for business machines located in a plurality of
customer locations employing a fleet of vehicles each carrying a trunk
inventory of frequently required repair parts and supplies. An ERP system
at a central location generates machine-readable identification tags
which are applied to parts and services carried in each of the trunk
inventories and are applied to the machines to be serviced. Smart
handheld devices such as cell phones contain programs which allow the
identification tags to be read and communications to be established to
the central ERP system relating to transfer of goods and supplies into
and out of the trunk inventory and to the businesses and also the time
involved in servicing particular machines at particular businesses in
order to generate bills from the central enterprise to such businesses.
1. A system for maintaining and adjusting accounting records for an
enterprise which employs a plurality of service technicians for
maintaining and servicing machines located at a plurality of customer
locations utilizing a plurality of vehicles each of which carries a trunk
inventory of parts and/or supplies for the maintenance and service
operation, comprising: a central computer based ERP system operative to
maintain records of the contents of a central inventory and the trunk
inventories in each vehicle; machine-readable identification tags
attached to the parts and/or supplies contained in the central inventory
and each trunk inventory; and cellular telephones equipped with
application programs for reading the identification tags and
automatically initiating phone messages to said ERP system relating to
transfers of the parts and/or supplies into and out of the trunk
2. The system of claim 1, wherein the machine-readable identification tags contain information identifying the parts and/or supplies bearing the identification tags and data which will automatically initiate said phone messages.
3. The system of claim 1, wherein the machine-readable identification tags constitute QR coded labels.
4. The system of claim 1, wherein said machines located at customer locations each bear machine-readable identification labels and the cellular phones, upon reading such labels, transmit information to the central computer based ERP system useful for indicating a machine being serviced and/or the destination of parts and/or supplies transferred from a trunk inventory to the business maintaining said machine.
5. The system of claim 4, wherein phone messages initiated by reading said identification tags attached to particular machines being maintained and serviced at the beginning and end of a service period are timed by the ERP system to generate billing to the business maintaining such machine for the service and maintenance.
6. The system of claim 1, wherein the cellular telephones include displays and the reading of an identification tag by the cellular phone generates a dialog window on the screen of the phone.
7. The system of claim 1, wherein the central inventory is maintained in a central location and machine-readable identification tags identifying the parts or supplies associated with the central inventory are applied to the parts and supplies when received in the central inventory location.
8. The system of claim 1, wherein said machine-readable identification tags are applied to parts and/or supplies transferred from said central inventory to said trunk inventories at the time of transfer.
9. The system of claim 1, wherein the ERP system utilizes information received from said cellular telephones to generate billing to customers for the delivery of parts and/or supplies and for service operations.
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
 This Application is a Continuation of application Ser. No. 13/411,751 filed on Mar. 5, 2012. Application Ser. No. 13/411,751 claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application 61/472,524 filed on Apr. 6, 2011.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
 This invention relates to systems for accounting and billing for organizations employing a fleet of mobile vehicles each containing an inventory of frequently required parts and supplies for service purposes and more particularly to such a system employing smart mobile device readable ID labels for the parts and services.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 Many service and repair suppliers employ a fleet of vehicles to service their customers. These vehicles, which may be automobiles regularly driven by the service personnel or trucks supplied by the employers, generally carry a so-called "trunk inventory" in the vehicle. These trunk inventories typically consist of frequently used spare parts such as PC boards, components, and kits for maintenance purposes as well as supplies which must be delivered to the serviced accounts. Each service technician will typically engage in multiple physical transactions a day involving either dispensing parts or replenishing parts in her trunk inventory, in connection with installing parts, trading parts in the field with other technicians, and replenishing the inventory from the enterprise central storage.
 The value of any trunk inventory will vary depending upon the nature of the service business, but assuming a typical technician requires at least $3,000-$5,000 in parts and supplies, with a service operation of a typical dealership having at least a dozen technicians in the field, they could easily have $500,000 in trunk inventory. The multiple transactions involving the trunk inventories make it difficult to record the transactions properly, making billing and inventory reconciliation difficult.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
 The present invention is accordingly directed toward a computer based system that automates the process of maintaining records of trunk inventories contained in a plurality of vehicles used by service personnel as well as automating customer billing for parts and services. The computer based system can perform related tasks such as generating orders to vendors to maintain the central location inventory at a desirable level and to replenish the trunk inventories as required.
 A preferred embodiment of the invention, which will subsequently be disclosed in detail, comprises an enterprise research planning (ERP) computer system at the central location. A printer associated with the ERP system generates some form of machine-readable labels, preferably QR codes, although they may be other forms of machine-readable labels such as MS tags, barcodes, or RFID transceivers.
 These machine-readable labels are physically attached to the parts and supplies, or their containers, when they are received in the central inventory from outside vendors. When a code is read, typically by a smart phone, either information within the code, as is the case with QR codes, or an application program resident on the smart phone, will initiate a wireless message to the computer system, indicating the identity and/or serial number of the part and the nature of the transaction, such as initial loading into central inventory, loading into the trunk inventory of a specified vehicle, utilized in a service transaction, etc.
 Preferably, each of the customer machines to be serviced is also identified by a machine-readable coded label so that transactions relating to utilization of inventory for a service transaction may be identified in terms of the machine being serviced. This allows billing to the customer for the service call time as well as the parts or supplies utilized in the service.
 In a preferred embodiment of the invention, each technician carries a smart phone, tablet, or the like with an application program capable of reading the ID labels. When a technician begins a service call, the technician will use the handheld device to read indicia on the machine to be serviced which will transmit a message back to the ERP system beginning the timing of a service call. Similarly, at the completion of a service call the technician again reads the indicia of the machine which triggers a wireless message to the ERP system indicating the termination of a service call. From this information the ERP system times the service call with the timing terminated when the second message is received from the service technician. The ERP system uses this information as well as the information about the parts and supplies transferred from the trunk inventory to the service customer to bill the customer. The system also automatically adjusts the record of the trunk inventory based on these wireless messages.
 The ERP system is preferably associated with a printer which can generate the necessary QR code or other product identification labels. When parts and supplies are received at the main inventory location, the system will generate a custom label for the part, containing the identification code, which will be attached to the part or its packaging. The ERP system will then augment its records of the main inventory by the parts or supplies added. The ERP system will also maintain a separate stockroom record for the trunk inventories of each of the vehicles. When a part or supply is physically transferred from the main inventory to a particular vehicle's trunk inventory, the records of both the main inventory and the specific trunk inventory will be modified. The ERP system will use the main and trunk inventory records to automatically order parts and supplies from vendors to maintain the main inventory at required levels and issue orders relative to the transfer of parts and services to the various trunk inventories. The execution of each transfer will be signaled to the ERP system by scanning the part identification codes with handheld readers as they are physically transferred.
 The identification codes on the customer's equipment may include multiple IP or web addresses. The service customers will preferably be provided with software for their own smart phones which can scan a code on the equipment to automatically connect with the dealer's customer service department to place a service call or an order for supplies.
 The systems of the present invention, which will subsequently be described in detail, have the capability of eliminating or greatly reducing inventory shrinkage both in trunk inventories and the central inventory. They will enable prompt time and billing to the customers and reduce inventory reserves and associated carrying charges.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 Other objects, advantages, and applications of the present invention will be made clear by the following detailed description of preferred embodiments of the invention. The description makes reference to the accompanying drawings in which:
 FIG. 1 is a pictorial diagram illustrating the use of a smart phone to load packages marked with machine-readable labels into the trunks of a plurality of service vehicles and a service technician moving the parts from the vehicle to a customer's machine to be serviced, which is also marked with a machine-readable code;
 FIG. 2 is a pictorial-schematic diagram of the generation of a QR coded label by a printer associated with an ERP system and communications between smart phones carried by the drivers of service vehicles with the ERP system and the customer locations;
 FIG. 3 is a block diagram illustrating the operation of the preferred embodiment of the invention in marking the part inventory with machine-readable labels and loading them into a plurality of service vehicles, with the ERP system tracking the loading of the parts and supplies into each of the vehicles to maintain trunk inventories;
 FIG. 4 is a block diagram of the part of the system of the preferred embodiment which marks the customer's equipment subject to service with machine-readable QR codes;
 FIG. 5 is a block diagram illustrating the manner in which the system of the preferred embodiment utilizes the coded labels on the machines to be serviced to provide information to the ERP system as to the timing of service; and
 FIG. 6 is a block diagram indicating the use of the preferred embodiment of the invention to transmit information to the ERP system which will maintain records of the trunk inventories and issue orders for maintaining proper levels of the trunk inventories.
Patent applications by Arthur Wagoner, Richmond, IL US
Patent applications by Atsuo Kusada, Mahwah, NJ US
Patent applications in class Inventory management
Patent applications in all subclasses Inventory management