Breaking the Code: How improving the coding process can optimize baked goods manufacturing productivity by Matt Perkins

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Consumers, business partners and the regulatory authorities demand ever more accurate on-pack coding and information. Improved legibility, more variable data, better chosen print locations, faster production lines and more problematic packaging formats are all putting coding under the microscope.

Coding errors affect product quality and drive unacceptable costs throughout the enterprise due to scrap, rework, regulatory fines, damage to the brand reputation and more. In order to effectively “repair” the coding process, we must first identify the root cause. According to a Videojet survey, up to 70 percent of coding errors are caused by operator error, with approximately half of these caused by mistakes in code entry and job selection. In addition, it was discovered that coding errors are not the deviation, but the norm. Nearly half of manufacturers participating in the survey revealed that coding errors occur at least weekly, while 25 percent of respondents reported them as a daily occurrence. The unfortunate fact is that coding errors have become commonplace, but they do not have to be.

 

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While manufacturers would typically put additional checks in place during packaging to address coding errors, this does not necessarily handle the issue effectively or efficiently. Working with an experienced printing partner with extensive printer capabilities and system design know-how, manufacturers can create and implement a coding process with built-in code assurance elements that limit the potential for user error. Simplifying the process of message selection and entry through the use of automation and software tools can greatly prevent coding errors, increasing productivity, reducing waste, and minimizing operational costs and risk.

Automated Code Assurance

“Poka-yoke” is a Japanese term that has its origins in the Toyota Production System and can be translated as “mistake-proofing”. When applied to manufacturing operations, a poka-yoke is any measure put into place during the manufacturing process designed to prevent human errors before they occur. The right printing partner can help a manufacturer of baked goods design a comprehensive system that implements various poka-yoke principles through advances in printing technology, virtually eliminating coding and marking errors.

Intelligent User Interface

Using an operator interface designed with existing code assurance tools can simplify message selection, restrict operator input and automate messages. For example, the printer’s user interface can include features such as separate user authorization for code creation and job selection, restricted and pre-approved coding parameters, and job storage under intuitive names that speak directly to the product being coded. In addition, the user-friendly interface allows calendar selection for dates to eliminate erroneous formats due to regional or product differences, and link product dates that automatically use the “Sell By” date to determine the “Use By” date. Other simplified options can include, setting calendar rules to prevent the selection of certain dates like weekends or holidays, data selection drop down menus that eliminate incorrect key strokes, confirmation of data to allow a print job to proceed, and confirmation of data prior to every job change to ensure the correct job has been selected. These design options should be an integral part of new generation thermal transfer printers, as well as ink jet coders, large character marking, laser marking systems and thermal ink jet product lines.

Software and Network Message Control

Implementing windows-based software can provide additional support, removing code design from the production floor and eliminating the need to load individual messages onto each printer interface. This PC-based message creation and management tool serves to remove human error from the coding equation.

In addition, network controls can further reduce operator input, pulling from authoritative data sources, making sure the right codes go to the right printers. These network-based coding messages can be distributed to multiple coding and labeling devices across a facility, or even several facilities. Using automated systems to simplify message creation and management greatly reduces the potential for human error.

As part of a broader quality assurance system, these controls could be synched with existing Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), factory networks, Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. Open data base connectivity (ODBC) allows coding messages to be created and stored in SQL, Access, Excel and generic databases. This comprehensive connectivity will allow job information access from any enabled coding or labeling system, ensuring efficiency, as well as protection against operator error.

Regulatory Concerns

Various regulations require bakeries around the world to include expiration and manufacturing information on their products. In addition to the costs associated with rework and scrap, coding mistakes that hit store shelves can result in significant costs for failure to comply with food safety regulations such as fines and even product recall.

According to the Videojet survey of manufacturers, coding errors on product packaging take place on a regular basis, resulting in lost; time, resources and brand integrity. While some might consider this the cost of doing business, it no longer has to be. The primary cause of most coding mishaps is human error. By working with an experienced printing partner to design a coding process with built-in code assurance elements (also known as poka-yoke principles), manufacturers can eliminate errors before the code is even applied to the product. Utilizing the latest in manufacturing automation and software tools to simplify the process of message selection can prevent coding errors, increasing productivity, reducing waste, and minimizing operational costs.

Every application is different and has its unique set of requirements. It is therefore important to work closely with the coding equipment manufacturer for guidance on the best solution for your line.

About the Author:

Matt Perkins, Baked Goods Industry Manager, Videojet Technologies

Matt Perkins is a Baked Goods Industry Manager for Videojet Technologies where he specializes in the baked goods, salty snacks and tobacco industries globally. Through his work, he visits baked goods, salty snacks and tobacco manufacturers to better understand their processing and coding challenges and improve marking and coding solutions for those industries.  Prior to Videojet, he was an Associate at A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm. He holds a BSE in Systems Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

About Videojet Technologies:

Videojet Technologies is a world-leader in the product identification market, providing in-line printing, coding, and marking products, application specific fluids, and product life cycle services. Our goal is to partner with our customers in the consumer packaged goods, pharmaceutical, and industrial goods

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