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Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Our theme for this issue is automatic identification and this can take many forms. The simplest and almost certainly most numerous method is by bar codes or, to a lesser more specialised extent, 2D codes such as dot codes.
Moving up the scale in sophistication we have radio frequency ID tags which can sometimes not only identify an item but also carry additional data, for example, specifying where it is to be sent or the colour of fascia that is to be applied.
Machine vision can also be used to identify the products themselves (as opposed to reading a 2D code) but this will normally only identify the type of product and not uniquely identify the individual item. Most bar coded products also fall into this category of course.
While researching material for this issue I came across an interesting application which concerned the location and tracking of tools on building sites. This must be a real nightmare for construction companies. Finding the right tool when you need it can be very frustrating and also very expensive if you cannot find it at all because it has been moved off site legitimately or otherwise. This may be an extreme example but it highlights problems that can arise in any manufacturing environment.
One argument that always comes up when discussion turns to automatically identifying parts is that it would actually be a lot better not to loose them in the first place. This is certainly an angle well worth exploring for un-tapped opportunities, but quite often it is easier to re-establish something’s identity rather than continuously track it. This approach is also arguably less error prone as it includes an element of self-correction. If something happens on your production line- and something will always happen- it is good to know that parts will be correctly identified when they eventually arrive at the next stage.
Auto ID can still be relatively expensive and so companies often only apply it because they have to. A problem is identified and Auto ID provides a solution. However, I consider that there may also be considerable, previously unexplored benefits for Auto ID, not to solve identifiable problems but to provide additional information. You may not need to track a widget as it proceeds through your production processes but it is worth considering the additional information you might obtain if you did.
If Auto ID was employed on all your products or even just a statistically useful sample, and tracked through each manufacturing operation then you could easily obtain real-time data on material flow and bottlenecks and identify the machines or people that are most productive as well as those that generate the greatest number of defects.
Information such as this is becoming increasingly important as the pressures on manufacturing industry increase. Global competition has brought many challenges and with it the realisation that “but we have always done it this way and never bothered before” is simply not good enough anymore.