CC BY SA 2.0 by Christiaan Colen
Barcodes in Manufacturing
Years ago it seemed the only place you saw barcodes was when purchasing products at a store. But those linear barcodes aren’t the only option out there to quickly link data, like price to a product. 2D codes are routinely used in hospital bracelets for patient identification. They are also linked to patient names, allergies, and even what doses of medicine have been administered. RFID chips are now used to routinely track inventory in retail locations, providing a higher level of fidelity in inventory records without excessive manual tracking.
Barcode technologies also add value to manufacturing processes. The ability to tie large amounts of data to an object via a small code or chip allows for greater accuracy in the manufacturing process and efficiencies in tracking inventory. You might see a barcode or two on the box for your new laptop or tablet, but there were likely many barcodes that successfully got your product from parts to product. Here are a few ways that barcodes contribute to manufacturing processes.
Chances are that a material doesn’t make it into a processing plant without a barcode. If the product doesn’t have a code already, most facilities will assign it one and add it into their inventory. These barcodes can store information about materials, chemical warnings, manufacturing date, and other information. That data can then be linked within the inventory system, providing facilities with the ability to track the material and manage resources efficiently and safely. Additional information like location is also tracked via barcode, linking a shelf or bin to the material type and even the individual unit.
Just as the material was scanned to be assigned to the inventory location, it will also be scanned to leave the shelf and enter production. At this point the barcode is contributing to multiple databases, maintaining inventory records and building the record for the product that it will be used to create. The production effort will depend on barcodes to validate that the correct parts or materials are being used, and to track any components that may be unusable. As the production process combines elements to create new parts, those are also assigned their own barcode. That barcode will be used to record the components and materials used to make the part, as well as to track it as it continues in the production process to completion.
Once a product completes the manufacturing process it will be packaged -- which calls for another barcode to be placed on the package. This barcode will tie the product back to the manufacturing facility, as well as provide retailers with the ability to track and sell the product. It’s likely that an RFID chip will be part of the packaging as well, especially for electronics. The products will then be shipped, which requires another barcode linked to tracking information to verify package location.
For items that come with warranties or require future repairs, barcodes are often used to register products to owners. The barcode on the package, or one on the product itself, can be entered into a database and allow for continued maintenance of the product and tie any issues or replacements back to the original parts and manufacturing facility. If a product is subject to a recall the barcode can also be used to help consumers identify if their item is affected.
Building on Barcode Technology
Linear barcodes have been joined by 2D barcodes, RFID chips and Near Field Communication (NFC) tags. While the execution differs, each of these products meets the goal of the original barcode; tying an item to a database of information. Ultimately, this technology enables higher accuracy in tracking, more efficient audits, and speedy access to valuable information for manufacturing facilities and consumers alike.