CHARLES RANDON of Linx Printing Technologies explains how an effective coding system can become an important element of a lean manufacturing approach…
In retail markets, the coding of products is usually carried out for legislative requirements – for batch traceability, to provide best-before and use-by dates, or for companies’ own tracking systems. Coding is therefore usually regarded as a ‘necessity’ and something that does not add
value to the production process. However, in today’s highly competitive markets, with more and more companies implementing lean manufacturing principles that focus on maximising value and minimising waste, the latest coding equipment can make an important contribution.
A lean company constantly focuses on the value of what it does for its customers, mapping its processes across its business to incorporate everything from the initial order to the final delivery of a product. Using this method, companies are able to identify and minimise the things that do not add value to their operation – in lean terms, this is defined as ‘waste’. This approach brings a number of benefits. Companies are more flexible and better able to respond quickly to customer demands; they can achieve a higher quality of work, increase their production throughput and reduce costs. All of these are vital benefits for any company supplying into the retail sector.
Many companies may not consider themselves as a ‘lean company’, but when it comes to the production environment most will already be embracing lean principles by focusing on Overall Equipment Effectiveness. OEE aims to reduce or eliminate the six ‘big losses’ that cause inefficiency in manufacturing; these are: breakdowns; set-up and adjustment; small stops; reduced speed; start-up rejects and production rejects. It is these ‘wastes’ that lean manufacturing seeks to minimise, and where the enhancements and developments to coding equipment in recent years are playing their part in helping to improve OEE.
For example there have been innovations to reduce machine downtime. These include longer intervals between scheduled maintenance, and easier maintenance procedures such as self-servicing, mistake-proof consumables changes, and simple wash-down designs. Product changeovers have been made quicker and suffer fewer mistakes, thanks to more companies embracing variable digital coding, and to suppliers who are continually innovating to produce more effective coding technologies; for example, coders that can store multiple line settings, have increased memory storage, and allow code changes at the touch of a button.
GET THE GEAR
Code creation has become more intuitive and mistake-proof, with the introduction of touchscreen user interfaces and on-screen help and prompts. Editing capabilities can be limited for different users and set-up can be accessed and controlled remotely.
Minimal start-up procedures, the availability of one coder for several applications, and coders that can be moved easily to where they are needed, highlight the flexibility of modern coding equipment. As a result, there is less need to fit processes around the coders.
Latest models, such as our own recently-launched Linx 8900, also incorporate a range of advanced reporting functions that provide valuable production line feedback to help companies identify ways to improve productivity. Features such as real-time printer output and a batch status screensaver can help keep production on target. In addition, output information can be downloaded via a USB for reporting and analysis.
Such developments are already generating results – from our own customer base, for example, the move from labelling to digital coding at a fruit and vegetable packaging operation increased throughput from 300 to 1000 units per day; and a pet food manufacturer doubled output by using coding to apply more data to the pack, which speeded up product changeovers, reduced pack inventory and enabled the company to run on-pack promotions for even greater added value.
CODE WITH CONFIDENCE
Coding equipment can therefore play a significant role in a lean operation and help meet the demands of a busy retail supply chain. However, it is still important not to overlook the basics and to ensure you select the coding technology most appropriate for your application, which could be Continuous Ink Jet, Laser or Thermal Inkjet. For this reason, it is worth talking to experts who will be able to guide you through the pros and cons of each. And once you have selected your technology, it is wise to run a trial with the eventual coder that you choose to make sure it is able to deliver the savings you want. As part of this, do not just look at the printer in isolation – it is how it can contribute to minimising waste throughout the whole operation that counts. In the same way, judge the coder on its total cost of ownership, which will include on-going consumables and servicing costs. Another factor in this will be the reliability of the coder as breakdowns and unplanned stoppages can be extremely costly.
Value for money is a watchword for the retail sector. Coding may be a necessity in this market but making the most appropriate choice of coder can undoubtedly help to add value to your operation.