Tout The Efficiency Gains Of Bar Codes
A VAR installs a $25,000 bar code printing solution for a manufacturer’s seven production facilities.
Business Solutions, August 2009
TPI’s customer manufactures paper shopping bags for retailers and fast-food chains. The VAR did previous work for the manufacturer in the form of a site survey, wireless network install, and selling some wireless handheld computers. Within the past couple years, the manufacturer purchased another company and inherited six additional plants. All seven plants were using a combination of paper and Excel spreadsheets to track production.
Recently, the manufacturer was approached by a couple of its customers and told it would have to begin complying with new labeling mandates. Specifically, the two companies require pallet-level bar code labels for their orders. According to Mark Stone, Cincinnati sales manager of TPI, up to that point, there was nothing but human readable text on the pallets.
Use Bar Code Solutions To Meet Vendor Mandates
In addition to compliance requirements, the customer was facing internal problems that a bar-coding application could solve. Specifically, the manufacturer was mis-shipping and misplacing orders often. “At the plants, there are large rolls of paper of various sizes and types and pallets of shrink-wrapped products,” says Stone. “Everything looks the same. With seven plants, it became obvious quickly that they needed to make sure they were correctly shipping products.” Mis-shipped products were increasing their number of quality complaints, resulting in returned or replaced product and additional transportation costs.
To solve its problem, the manufacturer reached out to TPI for a new bar coding solution to be installed at each plant. “We sat down with the customer to determine what the requirements were and what kind of integration was needed,” says Stone. The resulting solution is relatively simple. Under the new process, bar codes are produced and placed on cases of goods for internal usage. As the cases are palletized and sent out the door for delivery, the bar code on the cases is scanned and a printer then produces a label for the entire pallet. There is no data entry required by the end user. The labels include a production date, purchase order, lot number, and number of cases per pallet.
At each of the seven locations, TPI used Printronix SL4M bar code printers, Seagull Scientific BarTender labeling software, and Motorola LS 3478 handheld bar code scanners. At the time of install, the customer had no enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with which to integrate the bar coding solution. Therefore, TPI installed the Pro version of the BarTender software which can interface with the Excel spreadsheets the manufacturer used. Stone says in the future, the customer plans on upgrading to an ERP system which will require an upgrade to the Enterprise version of BarTender. The total cost of the initial implementation was about $25,000.
According to Stone, the initial programming, testing, and training took approximately 40 hours. Training took place at the local plant for half a day, and the remote locations were trained over the Internet. Stone says one of the reasons TPI uses BarTender is the software’s ability to let customers create their own labels. “Oftentimes when we work with an IT department, we create the first label for them and BarTender is simple enough for them to create additional labels,” he says. Additionally, Stone says BarTender can work with a variety of printers. “There are printer drivers for all the most common printers,” says Stone. “That’s convenient if multiple locations for a customer use different printers.”
As a result of the bar-coding installation, the manufacturer has nearly eliminated the mis-shipment of products. Additionally, the manufacturer now is avoiding costly quality complaints from its customers. Stone foresees each plant having multiple printer stations to tag incoming paper rolls and track their location within the plant. With ERP integration, the manufacturer will be able to track specific jobs throughout the entire production process. Doing so will provide new levels of visibility, knowing how long a job takes, how much it costs them, where it is in the process, and where the finished product is stored. Also in the future, Stone expects the customer to have to cope with RFID (radio frequency identification) mandates from another customer. Fortunately, the Printronix printers already installed allow for field-installable RFID upgrades.