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High-velocity barcoding gives new meaning to traceability
May 15, 2001
5 Min Read
The system generates barcode labels in a matter of seconds, reducing labor costs. Operators used to have to wait minutes. The labels contain all the information customers need for part validation.
As 1999 drew to a close, Nypro Inc. (Clinton, MA) raced to update its existing slow and Y2K-challenged product labeling and validation system. A new system was up and running well before the year ended, but that was hardly the end of the story. Working as one with its suppliers, Nypro Clinton concurrently engineered a custom barcoding and labeling system that has triggered a new beginning in the company's lean manufacturing activities.
Nearly 10 times faster than the system it replaced and fully loaded with redundant checks and balances, Nypro's barcoding system is a powerful tool. It can instantly segregate and identify a single part run in a specific multicavity tool. It also can validate that it came from a specific resin lot, cavity, mold, and molding press in a specific manufacturing cell attended to by a specific machine operator at a specific date and time.
Nypro's new barcoding and labeling system is as error-proof as it is fast. If, for example, a barcode label scan is missed or the same label is scanned twice, the handheld scanner beeps, signaling the error.
Nypro's health care customers need part validation. And customers in other markets like electronics and telecommunications want it, not so much to satisfy federal regulations but to ensure that their sophisticated automated assembly lines keep running smoothly. After all, part A from cavity 12 in mold one may fit best with part B from cavity four in mold 10. Such customers need to know which parts are in which bags.
Nypro programmers worked hard to soup up the speed of the system software and to ensure that it interacts with Nypro's other software platforms. It is presently conversant with the company's proprietary business planning and control system and cross-checks with its Lotus Notes-based QC software. Detailed information on a run can be obtained simply by keying in a shop order code. Fortunately, the programmers designed it so that folks on the floor see only the information they need on their GUIs.
As a result of software integration, customers can receive all the mission-critical data required for their own parts validation procedures just the way they want to see it. Some customers receive the data via secure and dedicated extranet sites Nypro has constructed. Meanwhile, Nypro itself can accurately, reliably, and quickly keep close tabs on virtually every aspect of its WIPâ€”a vital necessity in implementing lean, zero-inventory, kanban manufacturing at a manufacturer of its size.
The Need for Speed
"Our old system was 10 years old and was really only a labeling system. The labels went on a box, or on an envelope inside, or on a skid. We only used it for a couple of customers. It was so slow," recalls James J. Rogers, a business consultant at Nypro.
Stainless steel carts holding the scanning equipment were specified by Nypro for use in its cleanrooms. Its health care customers need the detailed data the system generates for regulatory compliance.
Rogers was instrumental in the implementation of the new system in Clinton, as was Angelo Sabatalo, Nypro's director of business systems. Both are now actively engaged in spreading its use throughout Nypro's global operations.
"Machine operators used to have to wait up to 5 minutes to generate a single carton label. That really adds up in wasted man-hours and production bottlenecks. And if somebody scanned the same serial number twice or scanned the wrong thing, it would take forever to get the error message," Rogers continues. "Now it all only takes seconds.
"Operators are now getting error messages in real time. But we are not focused on just tracing errors," he adds. "With the mistake-proofing checks and balances we have, we're more focused on not making mistakes in the first place."
Nypro presently has its standardized, self-contained barcoding and labeling workstations running beside about 65 of its molding presses in three divisions in Clinton. The workstations, from Intermec Technologies Corp. (www.intermec.com, Everett, WA), are equipped with an Intermec barcode label printer and a scanning device from the company wired to a computer terminal.
A hard-wired Ethernet circuit conveys data to a central server. System software is from iWork Software LLC (www.iworksoftware.com, Greensboro, NC). The cleanroom-compatible stainless steel carts for the workstations were custom-built to concurrently engineered specs by Ryzex Re-marketing Inc. (www.ryzex.com, Bellingham, WA).
Rogers estimates that a basic workstation costs less than $5000. He says the initial capital investment was substantialâ€”$100,000 in customization and programming alone. But he conservatively estimates the company achieved a 20 percent ROI after only six months, largely due to significant reductions in inventory and labor costs.
Rogers has nothing but praise for the collaborative efforts of the suppliers involved in the project, and reserves special praise for Sharon Doiron, a Nypro programming engineer. With their help Nypro came in successfully under the Y2K wire with a technology that exceeded its original expectations. But, again, that was only the beginning.
For example, Nypro Clinton intends to expand use of its technology to identify and validate all of a machine's process parameters for each shot. Plans call for barcoding all of its molds and for using the system in product assembly areas. Wireless device barcode scanning in warehousing operations will also be implemented soon. In time, Rogers and Sabatalo hope to interface the barcoding system with every single aspect of production in Clinton, with the long-term goal of bringing this technology to all Nypro facilities worldwide.
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