Product identification is an increasingly essential feature of logistics operations. Mark Dingley looks at how it will develop and evolve this year.
Product identification is continuously evolving. Sometimes the advances are small, sometimes they are quite obvious. Sometimes they are technology specific, and sometimes they relate to an entire production line, supply chain or industry. Here are the top five trends in product ID:
- Flexible lines, flexible ID Having agility on your lines means you can run products with different sizes and shapes. While making better use of your capital, the flexibility also allows you to be more responsive to the market and consumer trends. To do this though, you also need coding and labelling equipment that is flexible. For instance, you might need to code 50mm high now, but just a year or so down the track you might need 200mm high. Another example is a coder that adjusts the amount of solvent it uses according to what’s being coded, and yet another is a printer that can easily switch between intermittent and continuous printing modes. Such flexibility in the latest technologies opens up the market for contract packers and allows manufacturers to take advantage of consumer trends. Technology that can grow with a manufacturer’s needs also helps to ‘future proof’ them.
- Serialisation and authentication This topic has been hot in the news lately. Serialisation as a process is not new, but technologies have been developed that allow products to be authenticated by a consumer standing in the supermarket aisle on the other side of the world with their smartphone and instantly know if it is genuine. This has huge brand–protection implications for products (and entire industries) feeling the pinch from ever-more-clever fakes encroaching upon them — and of course, one of the biggest benefits here is health and safety. On top of this, the manufacturer can communicate with the end consumer in ways never before possible: they can build their brand story and engage in a relationship with that consumer, suggest recipes, or offer deals.
- Smarter technologies Technologies are becoming increasingly smart. Two great examples are self-cleaning and giving audible or visible warnings when attention is needed, such as if a service is due or fluid levels are low. Innovative ink-recirculation systems ensure no ink is wasted in print-head cleaning, while self-cleaning technology optimises uptime and ensures crisp print quality. On-board diagnostics, providing fault, warning and help messages are another way to optimise factory-floor productivity, while customisable on-screen prompts enable mistake-free editing, reducing coding errors. Other highly useful developments include simple on-screen prompts to set up new lines or messages, and being able to control multiple lines from the one unit. Smarter technologies such as these are very practical developments in coding technologies, saving manufacturers wasted time and unnecessary costs.
- Integrating ID & inspection Inspection technologies such as vision, check weigh and metal detection, are an important tool on production lines to inspect product quality in real-time. Integrating them with product identification improves the quality of products that go out the factory door. Software integration solutions give real-time data, which is vital in enabling managers and floor staff alike to make informed decisions about what is happening on the production line. Integrated ID and inspection systems help manufacturers make their packaging process leaner and more reliable, allowing them to drive a sustainable competitive advantage.
- Increased need for automation & data capture Automating processes clearly removes the possibility of human mistakes, speeds up output and can make products look more professional by being more consistently presented. Inspection is a big area where automating helps a business by vastly improving quality control. Automation also reduces costs and creates greater efficiencies, with better returns, helping manufacturers to remain competitive. Having the right data gives a business a better opportunity to make better decisions.
Capturing data both on the production line (such as the number and cause of rejects and downtime) and at the consumer end is a vital part of this. From everything we have seen, all these five trends will continue to grow in 2016.
Australian Institute of Packaging
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