Uses of Barcodes at Every Step of the Manufacturing Process
Barcodes and their ability to carry complete information about a product have made them an essential prerequisite in businesses. They aid the manufacturing process at every step, starting with the identification of the numerous components and ingredients needed in the production process, the inventory, for finished goods and shipping packages. Their multiple advantages in supply chain and materials management, and production control have made many regulatory bodies ask for compliance labeling involving RFID tags or barcodes. Research in this field has made linear barcodes a thing of the past and these are now replaced by 2D barcodes and RFID tags, since they are able to store more information in smaller spaces, and prove to be very useful in space scarce applications like name tags in healthcare, as identification labels on electronic spares that are very small in size. In security-sensitive industries like aerospace and defense, traceability of all parts and components is mandatory, due to security issues involved. Here again, barcodes facilitate the tracking process.
The following are the various stages at which barcodes facilitate the manufacturing
• Barcodes are first seen on the raw material packages arriving at the manufacturing unit. This is often a prerequisite in materials management, and if the packages do not already carry the barcode labels, many production centers generate their own barcodes and attach to very package entering the premises. It is only after the barcode identification is complete that the material can be moved to the inventory location.
• The materials moved to the inventory location then have to be linked with the barcode labels of the shelves in which they are placed. The labels of the shelves can be scanned from distances of even 30ft by forklifts bringing in the raw material packages. This makes the system even more accurate since the operator is able to store complete information about the material and its storage location.
• The next step takes place with the movement of the material for use in the production process. Therefore it will have to be lifted from the inventory shelves and taken to the factory floor. Here again, the package is scanned and the records updated at the production level. Automatic updates of the inventory location and replacements etc start as a chain reaction taking place automatically. This is also the stage at which damaged barcode labels can be easily replaced.
• It is now time for the items picked and brought to the factory floor to be used in the production as part of the assembly. First the parts and their quantities are verified from their barcode labels, and their tracking is important especially if the component has to be put aside for being damaged or incorrect. The labels ensure tracking through out the assembly process. Once it reaches the assembly stage a new barcode is generated, and the newly produced product is then identified by that new label.
• The new product identification is increasingly printed with the use of thermal transfer barcode printers, with these printers can print on demand in compliance with the UL/CSA regulatory content. Synthetic labels last longer since they are durable.
• After the individual products have been barcoded, the next step is to package the products in lots and batches, which again need to have barcodes generated. These are essential for shipping the products to various destinations and to ensure that they can be tracked at every stage till they reach the shop floor, or even the final consumer. At this stage barcode label ruggedness is critical since their exposure to the elements etc can easily damage them. Damaged barcodes can be scanned by certain specific scanners.
At every stage barcode labels must be in compliance with the mandatory regulations for labeling of packages.