Take control of your processes

Published:  08 July, 2011

Mark Beauchamp, European Marketing Manager for Citizen Systems Europe, explores the benefits of the latest generation of barcode and label printing technologies particularly in production engineering applications.


Labels and barcodes provide an efficient method of identifying the products and components manufactured in engineering production lines as they pass through the supply chain. In most cases, these barcodes, together with other product specific information and branding elements, are printed onto labels of various sizes and media, and applied to products, using offline labelling technology. However, the typical production engineering environment presents a number of challenges for such printing systems, including demanding conditions, such as high temperatures and widespread contamination, combined with the need for reliable operation over extended periods of time, with minimal maintenance. 

In many factories producing a few hundred items per hour, production and plant engineers have often specified conventional desktop label printers that are able to handle this relatively low volume requirement. While this may true, the harsh manufacturing environment means that these standard machines can easily be damaged due to their all plastic construction.

In particular, contamination is a big concern, with dust, dirt and moisture resulting from factory processes entering the printer casing, reducing print quality and eventually leading to printer failures or returned goods due to poorly printed barcodes that cannot be read. Health and safety issues can also arise on the factory floor, from the trailing power cables and ethernet connections that are required for conventional printers to operate.

Furthermore, with printer media being notoriously difficult to change in these machines, not only is valuable resource and production time wasted but human error is needlessly introduced, as staff struggle to install labels and ribbons correctly, and make compromises under pressure.

Collectively, these problems commonly led users to believe that they needed to upgrade to costly heavy duty printers, but these devices were often over specified for this specific purpose. In answer to the problem, a new generation of specialised desktop label printers has been introduced to offer high levels of performance and reliability in order to overcome the challenges of the engineering environment, with none of the previous limitations of conventional desktop printers.

In addition, many of the latest printers are compatible with a wide range of media and able to accommodate labels of between 12.5mm and 118mm, while supporting many different formats including polyester and metallic labels, which are now widely used for serial numbers, rating plates and logo marking on electronic equipment.

Perhaps most importantly, it is vital that production and plant engineers have a good understanding of the ways in which the printing of barcodes for product labelling can be simplified in order to significantly increase productivity and profitability, while simultaneously cutting production costs.

In particular, difficult to load printers can cause a number of problems in production processes. Aside from the valuable resource wasted while staff struggle with label rolls and ribbons, the risk of error in loading media can have serious repercussions. With mounting pressure to meet production targets, attention to detail often suffers, ultimately leading to the rejection of products by clients; in some cases, entire bulk orders. As these rejections increase, even greater pressure is placed on staff as labels have to be reprinted, and the problem escalates.

Similarly, if printers are complicated to use, time and money needs to be spent training staff, and while operations managers are taken out of the loop to be involved in training programmes, quality checks can often suffer with errors going unnoticed. Again, this can lead to rejected products and added costs for manufacturers.

To overcome these problems, it is important to select printers that are simple to both operate and load, preferably with a user-friendly design so that media changes can be made in seconds. Many new machines also feature easy-access side loading for ribbons, eliminating the need to feed the media through a complicated path, often leading to stressed staff members with handfuls of tangled ribbon. Additionally, by using printers with standardised functionality and design, operation and maintenance are simplified considerably, enabling staff to become experts with the minimum amount of training, reducing human error still further.

As well as choosing printers that are simple to use, another way to reduce human error and streamline the printing process, is to introduce an inline validation system.  This technology automatically checks and validates all printed barcodes for accuracy and possible degradation. In this way, quality control and compliance with standards can be achieved as soon as the label is produced.

With inline validation, an alarm is automatically raised if print quality drops, due to, for example, contamination entering a printer’s casing and obstructing the print head. Likewise, if the print head needs replacing, staff are made aware sooner rather than later, allowing a production line to keep running.

The latest validation systems can also detect if the media type in the printer has been changed to an unsuitable brand. This could happen, for instance, if the purchasing department have sourced a different type of label from that which the printer was configured for, perhaps from another supplier due to lower costs, without informing the print department. Rather than this having significant implications with entire orders being returned due to unacceptable levels of print quality on the labels, measures can quickly be taken to remedy the problem.

Implementing the latest desktop label printing technology into an engineering production line can help manufacturers to take control of their processes, ultimately reducing costs considerably. By simplifying processes with user friendly technology, that is both easy to use and maintain, the risk of errors can be effectively minimised, while increasing the efficiency of the printing process, which will inevitably have a positive impact on productivity and profitability.


For further information please visit: http://www.citizen-europe.com/

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