Making A Big Impact By SellingTiny Bar Codes
Systems integrator Identco made a name for itself by selling bar code label solutions exclusively to the electronics industry.
"My war cry is ‘focus, focus, focus,'" Lucas says. "I recognized that we had the ability to respond quickly to serve the customer by doing whatever it takes. Of all our customers, we noticed that the electronic companies we were working with really saw a value in the way we do business."
Identco works with electronic original equipment manufacturers (EOEMs), which Lucas says are the fastest growing segment of the electronics industry. "Companies like Cisco and Dell outsource the manufacturing and service of their products," he explains. Identco comes into play by providing labels and labeling systems, which are most often used to track work-in-process through the EOEM. These labels can be as small as .25 inches square. Identco solutions include the actual labels, printers, ribbons, data collection equipment, software, and technical support that go along with the system.
Tiny Bar Codes At Work
"We completed an interesting installation with Siemens," comments Lucas. "The company wanted to put a bar code label onto a cell phone board, and track that board throughout the assembly process. It sounds routine, but the company wanted to use its pick-and-place machines to apply the labels a job that is usually completed by a person."
"We designed a way to print the bar code labels and put them on a reel that allows them to apply the label automatically," he explains. "This was unique because the label on the reel is applied to a computer chip board that has not been through the oven yet, which essentially means the label is placed onto wet paste. Our solution allowed Siemens to apply labels without increasing the size of the circuit board to accommodate the label."
If there is a typical customer for Identco, it would be a company like Hewlett-Packard or Compaq, but Identco will work with smaller businesses if they appear to have a future in the electronics industry. "It's much easier to introduce technology to a growing company if it is positioned to be a player in our industry," Lucas says. With as fast as the electronics industry is growing, Identco would be shooting itself in the foot if it didn't look for up-and-coming businesses that could be potential customers.
The Rise Of 2-D Bar Codes
Bar codes are used for work-in-process to increase efficiency. They can track where electronic components, such as motherboards, are in the manufacturing process. The more information the bar code tags can give, the more valuable the bar code solution will be. Two-dimensional bar codes act like a mobile database. The codes can hold more information than a standard linear bar code. For example, while a linear bar code may contain a number that identifies an electronics component, a 2-D code may give the part number, plus the day and time when the product was produced.
In the overall marketplace, 2-D bar codes are not as popular as linear bar codes, says Lucas but that may not last for long. "Two-dimensional bar codes will be the dominant bar code language for the electronics marketplace," he says. "The need for the labeling system came from the need for manufacturers to put more information into a small space. We talked to everyone from executives to engineers to qualify this need."
"As a label provider, it is our job to educate our customers and have successful implementations of the technology before 2-D will really take off," Lucas continues. "There is a need for more information to be contained in a smaller area. Acceptance has been slowed by prohibitive and costly scanning methods, but new scanning methods with macrobuses as drivers are helping to move the use of the technology forward."
To stay abreast of technology trends, Lucas meets with customers and reads anything that he can get his hands on. "I keep a finger on the pulse of the electronics industry by talking with customers, reading about trends, reading about the industry, and attending trade shows," he explains. "Nepcon West in Anaheim, CA is the mothership of electronics and manufacturing shows. We frequently visit sites, interacting with multiple levels of these customers, from top management to all areas of the organization. We want to know what the needs are in the electronics industry today and what they will be in the long run."
Lucas takes this information and shares it with Kerry Winans, marketing director. Lucas and Winans present the macrotrends in the industry to Identco employees. "In reality," says Lucas, "we are focused on making more money for our customers by making their businesses run more efficiently. We have to know what's going on with the cutting edge of technology to accomplish this. This is not a mature industry. To remain successful, we send our employees out to customer sites to see firsthand what is going on in the industry. We also hire employees who thrive on the excitement of working in a technology that is constantly changing."
Training Is Ongoing
Lucas keeps employees up to speed on the technology in part by offering Identco University – a special area of the company devoted entirely to the training and continuing education of employees (see related sidebar). "We wanted to create a place where employees would step back from the demands of the business and get training on what we see as important trends in electronics or bar code labeling," Lucas explains. "Our goal is to hire employees who embrace the constantly changing technology. Continuing education is an integral part of our entire business process."