Printing for success: Tracking the manufacturing process
Author: Ow Song Thiam, Product Marketing Manager - Printers, Honeywell Sensing & Productivity Solutions Asia Pacific
As customer information needs and cost pressures for manufacturers grow, so does the importance of ensuring that all aspects of a manufacturing supply chain are operating as efficiently and accurately as possible.
Manufacturers commonly use bar code systems to manage raw materials and finished goods inventory, track work in process, document the components installed and processes used to produce each product, automate quality control checks, validate orders prior to shipping and much more. However, to ensure the benefits of automated processes and systems are fully realised in manufacturing environments, the printing process and technology used for parts labels and other product identification should be a strategic consideration, not an afterthought. Printer location, print technology and whether or not to use bar codes all contribute to total operating costs because these variables impact labour time requirements, accuracy and error rates and a manufacturer’s bottom line.
Handwritten work orders, job tickets and product labels take more time for workers to produce and process, and often contain errors that can lead to production mistakes, scrap and rework. As more content is manually written or transcribed, the chances of mistakes increase significantly. Studies have found that workers usually can’t remember part numbers longer than seven digits. Once part numbers reach 15 digits, the probability of an error in writing them down is close to 100 percent. Errors create costs and inefficiency, so company competitiveness should not rely on an employee’s memory and handwriting.
Using printers to support production operations can help manufacturers save time by producing job tickets, or work-in-process tracking labels and other materials electronically instead of writing them by hand. Additionally, printing promotes quality and efficiency by reducing dependence on handwriting and enabling the use of bar coding. Bar coding provides fast, accurate identification and data collection, and it enables many processes that improve efficiency.
Automating the word order process
In a manufacturing environment, job tickets and work orders may be generated from an enterprise software application and contain information from production control, order management and ERP systems. If bar coding is used, the job ticket could be scanned at each production step to update manufacturing management and inventory systems in real time. By producing bar code tickets at the start of the process, more production steps can be recorded automatically, which increases visibility and traceability. Some manufacturers integrate bar coding with their production control systems so that scanning the job ticket at a workstation automatically programs the production machine. The scan links the work-in-process to a specific work order. The machine may use the work order information to apply a specific process (e.g. heat treatment), paint the item a specific color, or automatically route it to the next station.
Ideally the job ticket can be sent to a printer installed at the point of production, to eliminate travel time, enable just-in-time printing and reduce the chance of errors with fulfilling. By sending print jobs directly from the software system to the production line, no human intervention is needed to produce or deliver the job ticket. The process saves labour and eliminates errors that result from handwritten tickets.
Tracing parts, building accountability into internal supply chains
Manufacturers can build traceability and information into every product by using bar code labels to identify parts, components and work in process. Barcodes can be used to encode product codes, serial numbers, lot codes, configuration information and other data to support production tracking, product genealogy and other applications. Using durable labels with bar codes makes it easy to automatically collect this information and gain visibility into production processes.
When pre-printed labels are used for parts labelling there is high potential to mislabel parts, especially subassemblies that look similar but have different configurations or components. On-demand labelling at the point of use is the best practice to preserve identification integrity, and printing the information on a bar code makes it easiest to track the item throughout the production process. On-demand printing, the alternative to pre-printing, also allows variable information (e.g. time of manufacture) to be included in the label.
Avoiding mislabelling, avoiding inaccurate inventory
Manufacturers periodically retool their shop floor as the production mix requires it or as better equipment becomes available. Production printing and labelling operations also require periodic retooling, but many manufacturers maintain outdated processes. Why use handwritten job tickets that travel with work-in-process, or produce component and product identification labels on general-purpose printers, when more efficient processes are available? Using the right tool for the job leads to higher accuracy and efficiency and can avoid issues like mislabelling.
Mislabelling can have serious consequences. If it occurs to a part, component or work-in-process assembly, t final product could potentially be misconfigured. The error will either go undetected, resulting in the wrong product being delivered to the customer, or will be detected and require rework or scrap. If finished goods are mislabelled, inventory will be inaccurate and the wrong product will be shipped to a customer, which could cause a new set of problems. These range from a simple complaint that results in an order correction (with additional shipping costs), to customer refusal of the order and possibly even fines or deductions, which are common in the retail industry.
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