Why Label Selection Is Crucial To Your Operations
Determining how to pick the right barcode label to match your printer and application can be difficult with so many options on the market. When you use thermal label printers to produce barcode labels, the last thing you want to worry about is printing issues. Surprisingly, one of the biggest reasons they occur has nothing to do with your printer. One of the most common reasons new customers come to SK&T with printing issues is that they are not using the correct labels and thermal printing supplies.
Your printer selection is important. Printing issues can occur because your hardware isn’t up to the task, you’re not keeping your printer clean enough, or your printhead is wearing out. However, common culprits in print quality issues are often because of your labels and supply choices. If you’re not matching the right products to the right labeling application and the right printer, you’ll be faced with a world of problems.
For example, the wrong label and supply combination, or the use of cheaply made solutions can lead to inconsistent print quality, problems with print darkness, smearing, fading, and even label adhesion failures.
Ultimately, your labels and supplies can make or break your print jobs, so you need to be sure you’re using the right products for your specific label application. Factors to consider are the environment, type of usage, durability needed, and compliance standards to live up to.
It’s important to match your labels to your use case. Labels are essential in so many industries today, and they need to be different to accommodate the needs of those industries. From healthcare to warehousing, to retail, distribution, or manufacturing, labels aren’t just a one size fits all.
How To Pick The Right Barcode Label – Things to Consider
In different industries and use cases, there is huge variation in labeling applications, and environmental factors such as:
- indoor/outdoor conditions
- the presence of chemicals
All factors play a role in terms of print quality, label adhesion, and durability.
Additionally, many supply chain organizations require multi-faceted labeling strategies and printing solutions designed to support different types of products that they produce or process, their palletization or tracking, customer requirements, and even the technologies they use to track and trace assets.
For example, automotive suppliers or manufacturers might need to label, tag, and track everything from pallets or raw materials to thousands of parts arriving from suppliers and finished goods. Ultimately, with so much variation in what needs to be tracked and in what applications and conditions, they may need to apply dozens of different combinations of labels and thermal printing supplies to get the right results and meet specific labeling requirements. Otherwise, labels may not be the right size for what you’re labeling, they may not adhere to the surface, they may not be readable or scannable at the right range or when you or your customers need them to be, and you could end up with downtime or non-compliance issues due to adhesion failures, label damage, and more.
It’s also important to understand that your label selection also impacts your printer performance and total cost of ownership (TCO). For example, using the right labels and supplies combinations, and investing in quality solutions will help you prevent adhesive buildup on printer parts and premature printhead failures. It will also help you reduce the frequency of label reprints, reorders, and wasteful spending.
How to Pick the Right Barcode Labels – Work With An Expert
To get the right results, you need to choose the right label with the right combination of components along with the right type of printer ribbon.
The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert in barcode labels and supplies to ensure that you’re matching the right solutions to each job. We have labeling experts at SK&T who have decades of combined experience, and they can work with you and our partners, such as Zebra, to help you find the right matches for your specific applications.
We have some great quick references and resources to help you identify these choices, including label selection guides that help you quickly find the right solutions. But we also provide complimentary consulting, recommendations, and advice, and you can even outsource the whole label and supplies selection process to our experts.
To learn more and request a label and supplies selection guide or get professional assistance, contact our team at SK&T for more expert advice and specific recommendations. We’d be glad to help!
Low-Quality Barcode Labels and Supplies
If you’re having problems with downtime in your barcode labeling, scanning, and tracking operations, there’s a good chance it’s due to low-quality barcode labels or a mismatch of the wrong supplies with your environment or application.
This is why it’s important to understand how your barcode label, printer ribbon, and other supplies can negatively impact your barcode scanning and tracking operations.
As a leading supplier of barcoding technologies and solutions, we’ve helped many companies avoid some of the common label and supply issues that can cause the following problems:
- Frequent workflow disruptions or stop-ships
- Labels falling off or becoming unreadable
- Slowdowns and waste due to re-labeling
- Premature and expensive printhead failures
- Fines or lost business due to labeling non-compliance
Avoiding these headaches starts with choosing the right barcode labels and supplies for your specific use case, label application, and environment. One of the most important things to know is buying cheap, low-quality labels and supplies will almost always lead to these problems.
Cheap, low-quality labels and printing supplies are made with substandard and inconsistent materials not matched to your specific application and usage requirements, so they cause problems with print quality, label adhesion, and label durability. The wrong labels or supply combination will wear out your printheads faster or damage your printheads and printers.
Also, while barcode labeling seems like a simple and straightforward proposition, there are thousands of different label types, materials, and supplies combinations with different matches for specific use cases and applications. The right label materials, adhesives, and other characteristics need to be matched to each job and to the right printer to ensure label adhesion, durability, and scannability in your labeling and usage environment.
The right labels will also protect your valuable printheads and help you get more life out of your printer because they’re made with high-quality materials that minimize printhead and printer wear, while cheaper and lower-quality labels are typically made with more abrasive materials that can cause a lot of wear and damage over time.
To find the right labels and supplies for your application, it’s usually a good idea to work with a certified label and supplies expert such as our team members at SK&T. This saves time and effort for your procurement, IT, or other team members because there are a lot of factors to know and consider when selecting the right solutions.
When identifying and recommending the right labels and supplies, we typically focus on a number of key factors:
1. Label Adherence
Label adhesive performance can vary based on the surface type and shape, so we take a look at these and recommend labels that are designed, pretested, and certified to adhere directly to your specific surfaces and materials. This way, you can be confident that the labels you affix to your products, packages, or pallets will remain secured for years.
2. Print and Label Durability
Each thermal label material and ribbon has different resistance levels to temperature, environment, and water or other chemicals, so it can be hard to know which label will tolerate various elements. Our experts have extensive knowledge and resources that help us confirm whether or not a label will endure exposures or contacts with certain chemicals, fluids, radiation, weather elements, and more. This allows us to recommend a proven solution that will deliver great durability under your specific conditions.
3. Printhead and Printer Protection
The hidden, long-term cost of many barcode labels is the amount of wear they cause to your printheads and your printer. The wrong labels and supplies or combination can cause excessive wear and more frequent printhead replacement or printer servicing and repair, which can quickly add up to thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs.
To minimize wear and eliminate printhead replacement costs, our experts recommend Zebra labels and supplies paired with Zebra printers and matched with your specific application. This ensures you get the best-quality and highest-performance labels and supplies, which maximizes your printhead and printer life. Also, if you use Zebra printers and sign up for Zebra’s Printhead Replacement Program, agreeing to use Zebra supplies exclusively, when your printheads eventually need routine replacement, they’ll be provided at no cost to you.
4. Label Compliance Requirements
It’s not always easy to confirm which labels are suitable for use on electronics, food and beverage items, medical devices, automobile components, and other products where ID labels are required to have special markings. Our labeling experts quickly identify which labels are compliant for your purposes, whether you need to meet UL/cUL, FDA 175.105, UID, Globally Harmonized System (GHS), Unique Device Identification (UDI), GM 14573, or other standards.
5. Label Quality and Authenticity
This isn’t broadly advertised, but many labels and printing supply manufacturers substitute materials when they produce labels, ribbons, and other components. This can severely and negatively impact the quality and performance of your labels, so ensuring consistency is another reason why we work with Zebra to provide our customers with top-quality labels and supplies. Zebra never substitutes materials or ribbon formulations once they’re specified for a given application, so you always get the exact same supplies at the exact same quality, and they’re ISO 9001:2015 certified via strict quality control processes to ensure reliable, consistent performance.
These are the core factors we typically review and consider when recommending labels and supplies to eliminate downtime and ensure smooth, uninterrupted printing, labeling, and scanning.
To learn more about how to avoid scanning and tracking downtime and to get help with finding the right labels and supplies for your needs, contact our team at SK&T for more expert advice and specific recommendations. We’d be happy to help.
Why You Need To Understand RFID Labels
Walmart announced earlier this year that they are expanding their use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to include many more product categories than previously. In September of 2022, the Walmart RFID mandate will be extended to cover thousands of suppliers who previously were only required to use conventional barcodes on their products. Basically, if you supply Walmart with home products, electronics, sporting goods, toys, or automotive batteries you’ll need to add RFID tags to your products. You can read more about the Walmart RFID mandate in our recent blog post.
Walmart has already indicated that they expect RFID usage to spread into even more categories in the future and other retailers are likely to follow. As a result, many analysts and business leaders see this as an indication that RFID technology is poised for widespread adoption across the retail industry.
Even if your business isn’t directly affected by the new Walmart RFID mandate, there’s a good chance similar changes will affect you in the future. As a result, a lot of businesses are now exploring RFID solutions.
RFID is somewhat complicated, with several variables that must be considered to craft an effective solution. But one thing that makes sense as a starting point for most applications is the RFID label itself. The label is an especially good starting point for those businesses that will add secondary labels to their product to comply with Walmart’s RFID mandate.
What Goes into RFID Labels?
Before you embark on your journey to choose RFID labels, it’s helpful to have a little background about RFID tags and labels.
At the risk of oversimplifying, an RFID tag is any combination of the following:
- RFID chip – where the data is stored
- Antenna – which sends and receives radio signals
- Substrate – the material that holds the chip and antenna together
- Facing – the covering
Together, the chip, antenna, and substrate are often referred to as an inlay. There are many different inlay designs for many different applications.
When you add a white facing and adhesive backing to an inlay, you create what is generally referred to as an RFID label. At a glance, these look like plain paper labels but look closely and you can usually see the embedded RFID tag with an antenna that looks sort of like a printed circuit. Run them through an RFID printer that both prints the label and encodes the chip, and you have a label you can use for a variety of peel-and-stick applications, like adding an RFID tag to existing product packaging to satisfy the Walmart RFID mandate.
RFID labels come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They also incorporate different inlays for different applications. For example, a larger inlay can support a longer read range, and some inlays are designed to work with specific types of handheld, fixed, or overhead readers. Plus, like common labels, RFID labels are available with a range of different materials and adhesives for different applications.
Key Factors When Choosing The Right RFID Labels
3 Main Factors:
- Label size and inlay requirements: How big can the label be and what type of inlay is required?
- Reader type: What type of RFID readers will be used to detect the label?
- Material and surface: What surface will the label be bonded to and what environmental conditions will the label encounter?
As you work through these variables, you’ll discover whether your specific application requires a general-purpose, advanced, or specialty label.
General-purpose labels typically have a paper or synthetic face and employ adhesives that adhere to non-metallic surfaces. These are often designed for use with corrugated cardboard, so they are commonly used for case, pallet, and cross-docking applications in warehouse operations.
Advanced labels typically offer a higher level of read performance, making them well-suited for use in retail and healthcare applications. Advanced labels are often designed for long-range detection, which makes them useful in manufacturing settings or other applications where long read ranges are beneficial.
Specialty labels cover a range of different applications and can include different face materials, including metal. If you need labels that can be used to tag assets with metallic surfaces, or you need durable tags for IT equipment or healthcare assets, you may find yourself looking for specialty labels.
As you can see, there are a lot of variables to consider when choosing an RFID label. The right choice will give you a tremendous advantage in asset visibility, inventory accuracy, and product tracking. Choose poorly, however, and you may be faced with underperforming adhesives, poor-quality printing, and unreliable performance that limits the return you see from your RFID investment.
And the label is just scratching the surface of RFID solutions. To truly leverage RFID technology, the best step you can take is to engage a partner like SK&T. We have 25 years of experience helping organizations navigate operational challenges. We’ll evaluate your specific requirements to help you choose the right RFID labels and help you deploy RFID solutions that improve visibility and tracking throughout your operation.
Early in 2022, Walmart announced a major expansion of its RFID program that will affect thousands of suppliers.
Under the new Walmart RFID mandate, all suppliers of home products, electronics, sporting goods, toys, and automotive batteries will need to add RFID tags to their products by September 2.
But the impact on affected suppliers is even more urgent because there’s an initial deadline of June 3 to submit sample RFID tags for approval. And the must-arrive-by-date (MABD) for products shipped into Walmart distribution centers is August 17. Miss any of those dates and you’ll be out of compliance, which is never good when you’re dealing with the world’s largest retailer.
The new RFID mandate impacts all Walmart USA Stores, including Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and .Com Merchandise and applies to all national, proprietary, supplier, and private brands. If that’s you, depending on when you’re reading this, you may have some quick work to do.
Even if this extension of Walmart’s RFID mandate doesn’t impact your business yet, it pays to give some attention to RFID applications because other products will likely be added to the mandate before long. In fact, RFID Journal reports that Shelly McDougal, Walmart’s senior director of merchandising said, “We look forward to expanding the technology into more categories to further improve inventory accuracy across the business, provide a better in-store shopping experience for customers and drive more online and pick-up-in-store capabilities.”
There’s also a distinct possibility that Walmart’s expanded RFID mandate could be a catalyst for other retailers to follow suit with their own RFID requirements. Sandeep Unni, a senior director analyst in Gartner’s retail industry research practice, told RFID Journal that “A mandate coming from [Walmart] could just be the tipping point for other retailers to further adoption.”
Contact SK&T about implementing RFID labels.
What’s Required and How to Get There
Under Walmart’s expanded RFID mandate, if you’re supplying home products, electronics, sporting goods, toys, and automotive batteries, you’ll need to add RFID tags to your products.
Ultimately, you’ll want to incorporate RFID tags into your manufacturing supply chain and tag products at the source.
In the meantime, however, you’ll need a plan for tagging products that are in transit or sitting on the shelf in distribution. The good news is that Walmart is allowing suppliers to add a secondary RFID-enabled label to their products.
There are two basic ways to approach this.
First, you can buy labels that incorporate RFID inlays and print them yourself. To do this, you’ll need RFID labels and RFID-capable printers. It will also be a good idea to have some RFID readers so, at a minimum, you can check the accuracy of the tags/labels. The good news is that Walmart-approved RFID labels and all the hardware are available from Zebra Technologies, and SK&T has all the expertise needed to get you up to speed quickly.
Your second option is to use pre-printed/encoded labels. The easiest way to accomplish this is to use Zebra’s RFID Printing and Encoding Service, which provides serialized pre-printed and encoded RFID supplies specifically to support programs like Walmart’s RFID mandate. Zebra offers a range of Walmart-approved RFID labels with the sizes and inlays required for all the product categories covered by the Walmart RFID mandate.
Exactly how you choose to proceed in the short term will be determined by the scale of your RFID requirements and the amount of time left to reach compliance. Remember, the short deadlines don’t allow much time to ramp up in-house RFID capabilities, so you’ll need to carefully consider all options.
Regardless of how you choose to proceed, there are enough complexities to RFID that just about everyone is well-advised to seek out a technology partner who can guide you through the entire process. SK&T has a quarter-century of experience helping organizations navigate operational challenges like Walmart’s RFID mandate. Working together with Zebra, we can help you implement short- and long-term plans that comply with Walmart’s requirements and help you leverage RFID technology to improve visibility and tracking throughout your own operation.
Are your printers still performing at their peak?
It’s commonplace for many businesses to use the same label printer for many years, and sometimes for well over a decade. After all, if your printer is getting the job done and it’s been a reliable workhorse, why spend money to replace it with a new one?
If you’re in that situation, then congratulations! You’ve had quite a good run with your current printer. But if you’re not getting the same label printing performance you did years ago, and you’re starting to encounter problems with your hardware, it could be time to replace your printer.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some common signs it’s time to inspect your label printer and refurbish or replace it. It’s important to know these warning signs so you can stay ahead of quality issues and keep your operations moving seamlessly.
1. Print Quality Issues
It’s always important for labels to have good print quality, so they can be read and scanned without any issues. In many situations, crisp and clear printing is also important for branding, quick visual identification, sorting, or conveying important safety information on labeled assets, products or shipments.
However, aging printers can start having issues with inconsistent, blurry, or grainy print. Sometimes this is due to a lack of proper preventative maintenance and cleaning, which can remove contaminants and accumulated material, allowing you to get back to a desired clear, crisp, and vibrant printing. However, if your printer is damaged or key components have become worn out and are beyond repair, you may need to consider upgrading your printers to newer models.
2. Printhead Problems
One of the underlying causes of print quality issues is a damaged or worn printhead. If there is buildup on your printhead and you haven’t been properly caring for it, your printhead might be damaged. A damaged printhead can cause several issues with print quality, uniformity, and consistency. To avoid this, you need to keep your printhead cleaned and well maintained.
Like anything, even a properly maintained printhead wears out with time and needs to be replaced. This can be quite expensive, so the best thing to do is stay ahead of preventive cleaning and care, and look to enroll in a program like Zebra’s Printhead Protection Program when you buy a new printer.
Zebra’s program provides guaranteed free printhead replacement as long as you’re using Zebra printers and agree to use Zebra’s labels and printing supplies exclusively.
However, if you’re not already using Zebra printers or aren’t in the program, and your printhead is giving your problems that can’t be fixed with some cleaning and maintenance, then consider investing in a new printer and signing up for the Printhead Replacement Program, so you don’t have to worry about printhead issues again.
3. Frequent Maintenance and Repairs
As we’ve already mentioned more than once, regular maintenance and servicing are critical to keeping your printers in top-performing shape. If you’ve been properly servicing your printers and are still encountering jams, print quality issues, and technical problems, your printer may be reaching its end of life, and it might be time to replace it.
An occasional need for service, calibration, or a quick repair is normal with printers that have been in use for years. But if you’re starting to need repairs more frequently and it’s disrupting your labeling operations, then start thinking about a replacement sooner rather than later.
Rather than spending money on fixes and repairs, you could be investing in a new device that will provide years of seamless printing, especially if you take proper care of it. It’s important to weigh the cost of maintenance on old printers vs. replacement printers.
4. Slow Print Speeds
Over time, some printers can become slower as they start to wear down, and some can have connectivity and other issues that can also slow down printing processes. Ultimately, lagging print speeds and performance can be rooted in many different causes, so first you should check with SK&T to check into these potential underlying problems.
If your issues can’t be fixed or fixed economically, a full replacement is in order. Realizing you need a replacement can be difficult, but it’s a better alternative to slow printing, especially if your business needs are picking up or you have large-volume labeling tasks that can overwhelm an aging device.
5. Limited Label Design Options
Sometimes your printing issues might be more about aesthetics and a failure to keep up with more sophisticated label design and quality requirements. For example, to enable better visibility of products or inventory or to improve your branding, you may want to add colors and graphics to your labels. You may need to start using labels that are better designed to resist sunlight, water, abrasion, or extreme temperatures.
However, your printer might not be able to deliver on these needs, particularly if it wasn’t built with the required printing capabilities or tools to print on specialized label materials. Many new applications can add graphics and colors with the desired characteristics, clarity, and quality. To get the results you want, it might make sense to invest in a next-generation printer that comes with all the technology you need for more sophisticated, visually attractive, and attention-grabbing label designs.
6. Outdated Capabilities
Label printers can become obsolete when business needs exceed what your hardware was built to do.
Some good examples include the need for Bluetooth communication, connectivity with the latest mobile devices and apps, and the ability to make aftermarket upgrades in the field, such as adding RFID encoding or tools such as a label rewinder or cuter to your printer.
Another big issue that many companies are having to address right now is a lack of updated printer security. Printers and other peripheral devices have become a leading target for new cyberattacks and hacking attempts, particularly since these devices haven’t been as well protected historically as networks, PCs, servers, and other pieces of hardware.
But printing is evolving all the time, and so are the methods that hackers use to compromise companies’ security, steal sensitive data, and spread malware and ransomware.
To fully protect your enterprise, you need to be looking at your printer security just as closely as your other cybersecurity. If your current label printer isn’t keeping up with your changing printing needs and especially if it’s no longer supported with security updates and the latest encryption and protection to keep your device safe, then the time to act is now.
Contact us to find out about the latest threats, the latest printing capabilities that are available to meet your business needs, and how to make the right choice to maximize the life of your next printer investment.
To learn more, contact our printer and labeling experts at SK&T. Call us at 720-851-9108 or email us through our website at www.skandt.com/contact/.
Every business wants to get the longest life and the most performance out of every piece of equipment, including the barcode label printers you use every day. Ideally, you just want your label printer to work and keep working forever, without any headaches or hassles.
Nevertheless, even the most durable and high-performance printers have a limited lifespan. Over time your printers can start to wear out or break down. Even if your printers are running strong, maybe you need more for your operations. If your business needs have grown, maybe you need faster print speeds or higher security to protect against cyber threats.
Ultimately, even if you keep your label printers serviced and well-maintained, there comes a time when they need to be replaced.
Here are six big issues you can prevent by being proactive and replacing your barcode label printers before they start to negatively impact your work.
As printers age and near the end of their life cycle, they typically start requiring more preventive maintenance, servicing, and repair. This means you have to take them offline, and they might even need to be shipped to a depot repair center for work. You could be looking at short or potentially prolonged downtime and interruptions of your labeling processes.
You can work around this to a point, however, the most efficient and cost-effective solution is to replace aging printers before they become an issue. Your printers should seamlessly work in the background of your operations. If you’re taking time and staff energy to swap out printers, send them out for repairs, and wait for their return, it might be time to consider an upgrade.
2. Workflow Disruptions
Whether your labeling operations are slowed down to send a printer for servicing or you’re having problems with reprint labels because of worsening print quality issues, there are many ways that your aging and poorly performing printers can disrupt your workflows.
Every time you have to reprint a label, it means time and money is taken away from something else. Every time a poorly printed label gets through and applied, it’s a potential problem that could lead to a failed scan or the inability to read the label.
In either case, it’s lost time. As this keeps happening, it quickly adds costs to your bottom line through wasted and unnecessary labor.
Before your aging printer starts disrupting your workflows, make sure you’ve been doing the right servicing and cleaning and keep your printheads replaced. If you’re doing all the right things but you’re still having problems, it’s time to work with us to find a long-term solution.
3. Missed Shipments
As we mentioned above, print quality can become a significant problem when using an aging barcode label printer. If a barcode or label is printed incorrectly, it may not be scannable or readable. The ability to read and scan a label correctly is crucial for avoiding missed or lost shipments.
There’s no margin for error when it comes to barcoding and tracking at a time when fast, accurate and on-time deliveries are more important than ever. To keep your shipments moving and ensure that they can be tracked and traced from end to end, you need to keep your printheads and printers in excellent shape.
If your printer isn’t keeping up anymore and is causing issues, and it’s not simply a worn or damaged printhead, then get repairs made or replace your printer to prevent similar problems from recurring.
As print quality and printer performance begin to suffer from worn-out hardware, so do your labeling operations’ efficiency and cost savings. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself having to reprint labels because of a jam, a label coming out blurred or faded or inconsistent. This quickly adds up to wasted labels and printing supplies or printer ribbons.
If you’re starting to see this kind of waste and it’s not an issue with needing to clean your printer or replace a printhead, it might be time to replace your printing device itself. If needed, reach out to SK&T for a free consultation. We’ll help you decide if a replacement is needed or if your problems can be addressed with a repair or other fix.
5. Compliance Issues
In industries and applications where clear, readable, and scannable labels are critical for meeting compliance requirements, there is no room for poor printing or other labeling issues. If a label can’t be read or scanned, You may run into the following problems:
- Unable to trace back to the manufacturer for recall
- Missing safety information
- Incorrect color-coding
- Faded or misprinted warning icons
Issues such as these can result in dangerous risks for customers and costly compliance violations for manufacturers and other entities responsible for proper labeling. To ensure compliance, address printing issues promptly. Examine whether servicing or repair might be warranted, and replace printers if they are no longer able to get the job done correctly and perfectly every time.
One common denominator in the above problems is the unnecessary costs added to your business. Sometimes the disrupted workflows can be easy to overlook, especially if you’re not regularly dealing with reprint labels or struggling with the poor print quality and scanning issues. If it’s not your workflow being disrupted, you might not be immediately aware of what’s going on.
Every bit of downtime, disruption, waste, and printer-related problems is a drain on time, resources, and costs. Sometimes costs will be quite clear and impossible to ignore, especially if a label printing problem leads to a lost or misidentified asset or shipment to a vital customer, or to a compliance failure.
Be sure to monitor your printer usage and use printer management tools to track and identify problems. Consult with the people using your printers and involved in labeling operations to find out if printing issues are getting in the way of their jobs.
The last thing you want to do is wait for problems to become so severe they cost you more than the price of a new printer. It’s better to stay on top of things, be proactive, and make a preemptive investment in a new printer when it will save you hassles, risks, and costs in the long run.
If your printers are aging and are starting to cause problems or are at the risk of creating them, connect with our team at SK&T for information on some of the latest devices, the newest features and capabilities, and how to save money by trading in your old equipment.
In fact, with the GO Zebra Trade-In Program, you can save up to $650 per device when you trade in your qualifying old equipment, including non-Zebra devices, and upgrade to Zebra’s next-generation and top-quality label printers.
To learn more, contact us now at 720.851.9108. We’d be happy to help!
The past year has been one of the most challenging we’ve ever seen in the manufacturing sector, particularly with the unique convergence of several major trends and issues that are making it harder and tougher to meet production goals and meet customer demand.
Whether it’s been dealing with plant shutdowns, disruptions, and labor shortages due to COVID-19, or struggling to keep up with surging product demand despite shortages of materials and components as well as disruptions to the supply chain, manufacturers are having to adapt to unprecedented difficulties.
But every time we’re faced with a prolonged period of historic challenges and changes, it’s always important to keep in mind that it’s also a major business opportunity.
In every economic disruption, downturn, or upheaval, there are winners and losers, and the winners seize on the chance to be smart, to innovate and change the way they do things, and come out ahead by turning a series of negatives into positives and competitive advantages.
For example, during the 2009 Great Recession, 10% of companies saw their earnings climb steadily, and 9% of them not only recovered during the three years afterward, but they outperformed their competitors by at least 10% in sales growth and profit.
What allowed them to make these gains while so many other companies were losing or fighting to recover?
According to Bain & Company, which conducted one of the studies of these downturn winners, there were a number of factors, including being better prepared, exercising financial discipline, and making good decisions. But one of the biggest factors was technology.
By deploying new technologies that helped them improve efficiency, cut costs, and increase agility at a time when other companies were struggling, the recession winners figured out ways to move faster, simplify business processes, and make positive changes as well as continuous improvements.
As Bain partners, Tom Holland and Jeff Katzin put it, “winners can deploy new technologies coupled with cost management tools such as supply chain reinvention, complexity reduction, and zero-based budgeting to change the game.”
McKinsey senior partner Katy George also endorses technology as a key tool in adapting to fast-changing circumstances and market conditions. “Technologies create much more flexibility around product changes, volume changes, as well as the movement of your supply chain,” she says.
In manufacturing, there are many ways we can use technology to create this kind of flexibility while also boosting productivity, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. In every area of plant floor and warehouse operations, there are ways to automate and optimize workflows and tasks, minimize labor requirements and costs, and create a more efficient and accurate supply chain.
For example, while most manufacturers use barcoding and/or mobile computing technologies in the warehouse to manage and track their inventory, relatively few have taken the opportunity to invest in multi-modal voice-directed mobile technologies that allow them to take their order and material picking to an entirely new level.
As an example, using voice-directed picking software running on a wrist-worn mobile computer, combined with a finger-worn ring barcode scanner and a headset, warehouse workers can pick orders and material far more efficiently, with voice and/or visual commands that cue each pick, direct them along the most efficient routes to the correct warehouse location, and then verify the correct picks with a barcode scan, all while keeping their hands free to handle inventory.
Similarly, in production operations, Zebra has launched new fixed industrial scanners and machine vision cameras that automatically track and trace components, assemblies, and finished products as they move through production processes. These devices help count, sort and route them along the right pathways, and they can check products for defects, inconsistencies, contaminants, labeling and packaging problems, or an array of other potential quality issues.
In the receiving area and for assembly lines and line-side replenishment, we’ve helped many of our manufacturing clients automate and error-proof their inbound receiving and processing, using Zebra’s RFID, barcode scanning, and mobile computing solutions.
With automated data capture and mobile workflows at key process stages like these, workers and managers can be alerted when new materials or components arrive, when incorrect materials or components are stages, or when items need to be replenished to keep production processes moving.
For example, in the receiving area, RFID and barcoding solutions can be used to quickly and accurately identify and process materials when they arrive and help automate the put-away process with intelligent and precise routing to the correct locations.
In assembly, Zebra fixed industrial scanners can scan and verify that the correct parts are loaded on a conveyor and automatically sort and route them according to the correct destination line and process. At key stages in the production process, RFID tags can be used to remotely verify that the correct parts or components have been brought and staged for a given process, and automated exception alerts can be triggered when the wrong item is detected.
These are just a few examples of the many ways that manufacturers can use technologies to boost automation, efficiency, and accuracy at a time when we need to figure out how to do more with less and how to meet changing demands and supply chain realities. By making smart investments and deploying scalable technologies that can automate more of what we do and take more of the manual labor and potential human error out of the process, we can cut time and cost while also freeing us up to retrain and redeploy our workforce in areas where they’re needed most.
Most importantly, we can get out of a purely reactive mode and into a more proactive approach that helps us turn a tough time and tough circumstances into an opportunity to actually make gains and come out a winner.
If that’s something you’d like to do in your manufacturing operations, then now is a good time to be thinking about technology. And it’s a good time to reach out to a technology provider to explore your needs in detail, identify opportunities to leverage technology to your advantage, and figure out the best strategies you should consider.
To learn more and get started, reach out to our manufacturing technology experts at SK&T, and we’d be happy to help.
SK&T Integration, Inc.
7385 Greendale Rd. Unit #105
Windsor, CO 80550