The use of barcodes during manufacturing is not a new concept, but the efficient use of barcodes is something that is much more difficult to design for. Recently I read an article in Technology Review published by MIT. It’s author, David Rotman was questioning whether manufacturing growth is a necessity for the US economy to grow. David and other contributors argue that while design and engineering skills are the strength of the US, over time, countries providing the manufacturing to American companies will chip away at our design skills with one important advantage; knowledge of what current manufacturing technologies are capable of. The article goes on to give specific examples of how American companies are not deeply rooted in the manufacturing process level for a number of manufactured products and therefore, cannot compete. Finally, the article makes the argument that we cannot afford to continue to outsource manufacturing to other countries if we hope to regain a growing economy that fuels more employment. The jobs are no longer growing in the middle tier, but rather are growing in both low end service jobs and highly skilled labor.
When it comes to barcodes, innovation is only scratching the surface of a powerful network of empowered workers able to make real-time decisions backed up with tailor information about what is being created during manufacturing. It is the difference between using a barcode to simply capture inventory information, and a barcode that can be scanned as part of a more intelligent manufacturing automation process. Like a network of super computers, each participant in the manufacturing operation is constantly generating signals that are potentially consumed by other players all working towards an efficient use of both labor resources and materials.
Recently a client of Appolis decided to change their process from a reactive exception process to a proactive exception process when it comes to inventory outage. In the past, a final inspection would occur to double check whether all the components on the original job where properly used. Since inventory was moving very rapidly, there was always a decent chance that real-time changes to the job were made to keep production flowing. The inspection would discover that a specific component was substituted. This signaled the production manager to manually communicate to all operators to no longer use component X which was now out of inventory, but to switch to component Y. This did not affect the job within the system, but solely relied on the mental note of an operator to make the switch in order to keep things straight!
Their newly designed process makes proactive alerts and modifications to jobs when needed. By using barcodes for more than just capturing inventory information, they can help drive efficiency and at the same time take a step towards a network of operators that are making real-time decisions about how best to deal with each unique situation. If in fact, manufacturing will be an important link to the future economy of the US, then these approaches to combining barcodes with technology should become a large part of it.