Supply chains and the solutions used for managing them have become increasingly important as businesses become more global and interconnected. Globalization and digital technologies are changing business, especially as companies look to accelerate growth and expand into new markets. To do this, companies must create efficiencies in their supply chain and be able to address complex and ever-changing supply chain dynamics. This includes creating efficiencies in labeling with comprehensive Enterprise Labeling Solutions to optimize supply chain activities.
More businesses are investing in technology to augment or replace existing practices to improve supply chain operations, which is resulting in increased efficiencies and cost savings. When it comes to digitalization, labeling is at the forefront because it offers a key source for curating digital information, with the physical representation of digital information often being encoded in the label. Most companies are using barcodes to help in traceability, this is why it’s clear that labels offer a gateway to digital information. It’s important to note that labeling is the heart of it all, as it becomes more commonplace to scan a label or a barcode to obtain vast amounts of information about the product and its journey through the supply chain. This is why labeling is becoming more and more critical as traceability, especially as IoT and blockchain are moving from theory to reality.
Traceability for Better Risk Management
As companies expand their supply chain to include new partners and regions, they need better visibility to ensure quality and faster reaction to events — from fake or falsified goods to counterfeit parts to faulty products that impact customer safety (which is especially critical when it comes to food and beverage). To manage these concerns, companies need to be able to track and trace a product’s travel through the supply chain. This means being able to track a product throughout its lifecycle by leveraging the label as a vehicle to capture and record relevant data along the way.
The label provides that essential link so that companies can capture specific product information, which may include certificates of origin, PO numbers, lot numbers — all of which can be used to link back to the source. Enterprise Labeling is an enabler to traceability that provides a full audit trail of a product from its parts/materials/ingredients to its manufacturing and distribution to the end user or customer. With proper traceability and labeling, companies can respond quickly to costly disruptions of all kinds across their supply chain to manage risk and expedite any necessary recalls.
Labeling Meets the Internet of Things
A growing trend across multiple industries, the Internet of Things (IoT) impacts how businesses communicate and connect. The opportunity to monitor and manage an entire network of devices and other ‘things’ provides untapped opportunity for a wide range of solutions including labeling. In prior years, shipping information would simply be included on a barcode. Today with IoT, there are a range of opportunities to provide vast amounts of information including temperature, time passage, weight, location and navigational path all captured through intelligent device sensors and stored in enterprise applications. The capture of this information requires the integration of data from more sources than ever before — often in real time — and the label is the passport for connecting all of that information to a product, which can be tracked throughout the supply chain. That’s why labeling is considered an important component as businesses evaluate their IoT strategy. As companies are implementing their IoT initiatives they are also looking for their labeling solutions to leverage IoT to more proactively manage global printer networks, update device settings, send print requests and monitor status so they can know more about the state of their printers before printing even occurs.
Blockchain Transforming the Supply Chain
Interest in blockchain is on the rise and it is becoming apparent that there is potential for it to become a game-changer for supply chain management. But what is blockchain and how will it impact labeling and your supply chain operations? Essentially, blockchain is an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way. An online ledger shows exactly what has happened to a specific package so users can easily see the chain of custody. Every time a product changes hands, the transaction could be documented, creating a permanent history of a product, from manufacture to sale to consumption. This means that potentially anyone can see and know where and how a product traveled to its ultimate destination. The label of course is the identifier for each product and the vehicle for providing this information every step along the way, providing the physical representation that enables the traceability required for blockchain to work. The beauty of this new technology is that it provides complete transparency with a full record or history of transactions. This provides obvious advantages for industries like food & beverage where the trend of ‘farm to fork’ is becoming more important as food safety and recalls have become areas of focus. There is also potential to dramatically reduce time delays, added costs and human error that often plague supply chain transactions today. While widespread adoption of blockchain may be years from now, it offers the promise of enhanced transparency and more security while eliminating manual processes, speeding up transaction times and increasing efficiencies.
Automating to Control Labeling Content
Companies today understand that managing control of content used in labeling is critical to ensuring compliance and enforcing brand consistency. However, they struggle to manage control of content — including data, images and phrases. The challenge is that this content used in labeling comes from multiple systems and, in some cases, various labeling applications which makes it almost impossible to manage. This is why it’s essential for companies to drive content from their sources of truth for label data and to have centralized content management to help ensure they have both the correct content and the latest version of a label. Enabling companies to rely on centralized content management allows them to eliminate extraneous spreadsheets and databases and manage this critical labeling data in an easily accessible, central location. By eliminating multiple, disparate sources of data, companies are able to gain more control and eliminate risk of error. Having content stored, managed and accessed easily though one single repository available for use across a global enterprise, provides auditability regarding who changed what and when and creates time and cost efficiencies while improving label consistency.
Challenges Around Content Control
As the amount of content (data, translations, images, etc.) and content versions required for labeling continues to increase, companies struggle with how to manage this content, which is often sourced from a wide range of systems. The challenge always is around finding where all the content currently resides and that the right content finds its way onto the label. Although best practice is integrating labeling to your ERP, WMS, SCM and PLM applications, there are frequently other elements that are used specifically for labels that resides outside of these systems. There also are additional elements that might not be present in the appropriate system, resulting in many companies struggling to manage content in separate databases, spreadsheets or file systems. With all of this different data in so many different places it becomes difficult to ensure that all of these elements have been appropriately reviewed and approved for use, since these systems are not part of the formal labeling process and are most often not properly integrated with existing labeling solutions. At the end of the day, whether organization’s content is in an external system or in an Enterprise Labeling system, it is key to ensure that approved content is optimized for real time labeling printing. This helps mitigate risk, improve control and compliance, and reduce the overall labeling process complexity.
Collaboration Is Key
When it comes to content management, collaboration is key. With so many stakeholders involved in the process it’s important to ensure that content used for labeling can be accessed from both sources of truth, as well as in centralized content management. By leveraging advanced, configurable workflow and content management, different stakeholders and locations can review and manage relevant labeling data, images and templates. This removes the potential of duplication of data and ensures the right people have access to label content at the right time. Each team of stakeholders has its own interests and requirements that must be appropriately represented on the label. For this to happen, individual departments need to collaborate across the enterprise to ensure accuracy, create efficiencies and streamline mass label changes.
Labeling Takes on New Forms
Labeling today is being represented in both physical and digital forms. For instance, electronic or e-labeling is becoming more commonplace, especially in industries such as food and beverage, consumer products and life sciences. That’s because e-labels can easily provide more information and more up-to-date information to consumers than is currently conveyed on a printed label. With e-labeling you’re not limited to the real estate on the physical label and to having the content be fixed or immutable. Companies can scan a label to obtain incremental information about how a product was sourced and about its journey through the supply chain. This technology enables manufacturers to offer electronic Information For Use (IFU) pamphlets in the cases where they can’t fit all of the information on a printed label. As the base content for e-labels needs to be the same content that was first delivered on the printed label, it only makes sense that Enterprise Labeling is an enabling technology. Between integrated data and content managed centrally, Enterprise Labeling solutions can source data needed as the foundation for e-labeling.
Loftware is the global market leader in Enterprise Labeling and Artwork Management Solutions with more than 5,000 customers in over 100 countries. Offering the industry’s most comprehensive digital platform, with SaaS, cloud-based and on-premise solutions, Loftware redefines how enterprises create, manage and print complex labeling and packaging artwork and scale across its operations. Visit loftware.com for more information.