Coding on packaging is a process most manufacturers aim to accomplish seamlessly but with minimal effort and attention. When trying to move product out the door, you want to avoid using coding equipment that can cause restraints, whether it’s slowing down a line changeover or having to adjust incorrect, missing or unreadable codes.
While these issues can be distracting, there are also non-trivial costs associated with scrap and rework that can add up. Coding errors that reach logistic and retail partners can result in both hard and soft costs.
Why Coding Errors Happen
Human error is the leading cause of coding mistakes. Many manufacturers still employ highly manual coding processes where various employees create and choose the print template, and key in data. Sometimes the responsibility may be put on an employee who did not work at a location in the previous week or month. According to a Videojet survey, coding errors take place once per week for 40% of manufacturers. The high costs associated with errors include:
Rework: The cost of the packaging and associated labor, often at overtime rates.
Scrap: When the product needs to be discarded because packaging rework is not feasible (for example, with ice cream).
Rejected shipment and retailer fines: When the error is not caught prior to product shipment.
Although most manufacturers have some type of manual check to look for coding errors, scrap rework can continue to build in-between those checks while errors take place.
How to Avoid Coding Errors
There are three progressive steps that use standardized data to help you avoid coding errors.
1. USE PC-BASED SOFTWARE
The first step is to employ powerful, efficient and easy-to-use print management PC-based software with drag and drop WYSIWYG tools and set-up wizards. You should work with an experienced coding and marking solution provider to identify software that puts design and distribution control within the hands of a few senior employees. In addition, establish a centralized, version-controlled template repository location, such as in the cloud, where it can be accessed by anyone with user rights and provide one source of truth.
When your centralized repository is controlled by a few senior employees, you have less opportunity for error compared to a process managed by multiple line-level employees across multiple devices.
2. AUTOMATE JOB CHANGEOVER
The second step involves adding a level of automation for job changeover combined with automated data input from a single source.
Print management software can be configured to meet the requirements of different workflows. With full automation, where the changeover is triggered from an ERP or MES system, data is auto-populated. This approach can often sync up to send similar “recipe” information to automation devices, helping to eliminate errors.
The hybrid approach is to use a person at the line to trigger the changeover, typically by scanning a barcode on a work order traveler. But in this case, the batch variable data would still be auto-populated from an external system.
Either of these approaches requires upfront planning, so a simpler transition from a manual coding process may be a semi-manual use case where an experienced employee away from the line sends the template and fills in the required data. In this approach, a job changeover can be pushed from someone at a PC when a database look-up occurs. The correct, up-to-date template is sent to the printers. This person is also responsible for data entry. Configuring more than one printer allows a single entry for a field such as lot code and eliminates the potential for a mismatch between the two devices. With PC-based print-management software, a print preview can appear, the lot codes matched, and a final check can be completed before the job is deployed to the printers.
Finally, you may consider an automated template approach on the line. Even if a line employee is responsible for inputting code information, the correct template can still be sent by someone in the office to minimize a chance for error. The templates can be designed with business rules to mistake-proof operator input and provide prompts to guide them.
Any of these three approaches can help to reduce coding errors by ensuring that you are telling the printer the right thing to print.
3. USE PACKAGING WORKFLOW SOFTWARE
The third and final step involves adding sophisticated packaging workflow software that can link to vision systems to ensure the code is present, legible and correct, and to potentially inspect other aspects of the package.
The functionality of certain workflow software can be expanded to read a 2D barcode on a label to ensure it matches the actual product you are packaging. It can also build in additional pre-run checks that operators must complete. This process protects the brand and helps with regulatory compliance through unique serialization with aggregation at the package, case and pallet level.
Flexible software packages can enable you to gain efficiency and reduce scrap and rework. Start with centralizing the design and management of print templates, expand into automating the job changeover and the population of batch-constant data, and optimize your operation with workflow software that can integrate with cameras for multiple types of packaging validation, as well as form the basis for a traceability system.