The principles of ‘lean manufacturing’ are well known, and an established part of good manufacturing practice. ’Lean’ means applying an end-to-end operation that delivers the most value for money with minimal waste.
Waste can be anything from over-use of raw materials to inefficient labelling and distribution. However, it doesn’t just have to be physical—it can also be inefficiency in distribution, poor quality processing, longer lead times for customers, or even just a misuse or under-use of creativity.
For an operation to be lean, therefore, every part of the process has to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible. At the same time, it’s important to remember that lean manufacturing also has to add value for customers, so that their experience encourages them to keep coming back.
Coding And Labelling
One area that is often overlooked when prioritising lean practices is coding and marking. It is a critical element in any end-to-end manufacturing process, but is often seen as the part that delivers the least value.
Primarily, coding is driven by legislative or customer requirements for batch traceability or durability information, and can in fact decrease the value of a product by increasing product changeover times and slowing down distribution.
New methods are being devised, though, that will improve the overall efficiency of coding and labelling, as well as enhancing the customer experience.
How Can You Make Your Company ‘Lean’?
Becoming lean requires you to focus on the value of what you do for the customer, ensuring that the product is as value-rich as possible and constantly revising the production process from end-to-end. However, once a lean system is in place, ‘over-tweaking’ can tip it back into wastefulness, so it’s important to recognise when you’ve achieved your goal.
It has to be a holistic approach too, incorporating every part of the process from order generation through to delivery of the product. This enables you to identify and minimise anything that doesn’t add value and in this way deliver a number of benefits:
- The ability to be flexible and respond quickly to customer demands
- Deliver a better quality product
- Reduce costs by minimising waste
- Increase production throughput
How Coding And Marking Can Help
Rather than being simply a means to an end, coding and marking can become part of an efficient, lean process in itself. Modern coding and marking, when done correctly, delivers considerable benefits, particularly in companies that are looking to achieve a lean manufacturing process with end-user benefits. The three key areas where coding and marking can help are:
- Reducing waiting time—e.g. printers which are quick to move and set up on a line will reduce downtime between product runs
- Reducing defects—e.g. simple user interfaces will help towards error-free code setup; incorrect codes result in either rework (which increases waiting time) or reject
- Reducing processes and over-production—e.g. coders which include an output measurement feature can help you track your productivity without additional processes, which in turn ensures you only produce what you need for your next order
Factors To Consider
In choosing the right coding solution, it is important to take into account the nature of your business, and the particular requirements of your coding operation. Do you need fast changeovers, or are you operating a multiple line system? Are you doing short runs, or does your coding need to comply with specific legislative requirements?
You’ll need to consider:
- Code content—how complex is your code? Will you need additional lines of print or different orientation? You may want to consider new equipment which will enable you to react to future code requirements.
- Substrate—What are you printing onto? Ensure you test each of your substrates with the coders you are considering. Is the code legible, and what colours do you want to use for your code? One colour could be suitable for all.
- Line speed—will the coding solution you choose keep up with your line speeds at maximum output? If not then the quality of the printing could be reduced, or even worse, hold up your production rate.
- Factory environment—is the coding system you choose capable of operating flawlessly within the working environment? Are there extremes of temperature, high levels of dust or moisture? In these cases you will need to consider the IP rating of your coding equipment.
- Budget—take into account not just the initial purchase price, but overall running costs and maintenance. Rather than outright purchasing, leasing or rental may be better options, especially if you have peaks and lulls in production.
Picking The Right Coding Technology
There is a range of coding technologies available, but digital coding in particular is more likely to fit into an existing production process, without the need for rebuilding the system around the coding machine.
You can choose from:
- Provides permanent codes on most materials at high line speeds. There is no ink involved and so no drying time.
- Delivers low downtime, high-speed capability.
- No consumables are needed, which make the long-term costs of ownership lower.
- New compact and low cost designs are ideal for smaller operations.
Continuous Ink Jet (CIJ)
- Has the ability to print on almost any substrate.
- A wide range of coloured inks is available, ensuring legibility on any surface, as well as UV-readable inks for anti-counterfeiting.
- Can print at speeds of over 2600 characters per second, with printheads that can be positioned in any plane within a production line.
- More capable of being moved between lines quickly and easy to install and set up.
Large Character Marking
- Case coders are ideal for printing onto secondary packaging such as cardboard boxes. They can produce clear, easy to read and good quality print, depending on the technology used.
- A cost-effective alternative to pre-printed boxes or labels.
Thermal Inkjet Printers
- Ideal for both outer cases and primary packaging.
- Very high resolution, creating superb print quality for premium branding and packaging.
- Suited to slower production lines or where production is intermittent.
Coding equipment can play a significant role in a lean operation but to ensure you make the right choice, it’s wise to run a trial to find a system that works best for your production process. Remember too, that this is a long-term investment, so consider not just your current needs, but any possible changes in demand in the future. Digital coding allows you to future-proof your coding system, ensuring a lean manufacturing set-up that delivers higher quality printing for a better end-user experience.
Don’t just look at the printer in isolation. Examine how it will contribute to minimising waste throughout your entire operation. Compare not just initial purchase or rental costs, but running costs and consumables as well, weighing these up against the benefits to both your operation and your customers. In that way, you’ll be able to select a printer that represents a good ROI both now and in the future.