Knowledge is power

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 1 March 2000



Loughlin, C. (2000), "Knowledge is power", Assembly Automation, Vol. 20 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Knowledge is power

Knowledge is power

Our theme for this issue is "Product marking and identification" and we examine a very wide range of different techniques that can be used to allow us to identify products automatically. Some are visible and "man readable" while others are invisible to our eyes or use radio communication.

Sometimes the need for marking is obvious and well established. For example, barcodes on foods and other products allow for fast checkout times at the point of sale and automatically keep track of stock levels. In other cases the benefit is less immediately apparent and, indeed, may not have been realised at the time the ID was applied.

For example, what benefit is there in marking an ID number on a pair of golf shoes? One reason, and probably the original motivation, is to allow any defects that appear to be tracked back to the source and time and date of manufacture. Or perhaps, as in the case of automatic lifejacket inflation devices which we have had recently in the UK, to facilitate a complete or partial product recall? No, the main benefit to arise from marking this particular set of 50,000 golf shoes was to allow marine scientists to track the movements of currents in the Pacific ocean. As each shoe changed state from flotsam to jetsam and was retrieved by an unshod beachcomber, its number could be reported and logged and this enabled the shipping container to be identified which in turn gave the approximate time and location when the container (one of 2,000 that are lost each year) was lost overboard. Apparently a pair of size nines takes on average seven years to circle the Pacific rim.

Most product marking is undertaken out of need or legislative requirements and the trend is definitely towards more and more individual products having either a unique or a batch identity. As methods of marking become more diverse, so do the opportunities for their application. Dot codes can now be printed just a few millimetres in size, so they need not be obtrusive, and paper-thin RF tags need cost no more than a few cents. Plastics can be marked with invisible tracers that allow for identification of products during manufacture and assist recycling at the end of their useful life.

One aim of this issue is to introduce our readers to many of the standard and more novel marking technologies. It is for the reader to consider the benefits of marking currently unmarked products and the most appropriate methods that could be used. The benefits, which could be substantial and far-reaching, may not be immediately apparent.

Clive Loughlin

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