The ubiquitous labels that accompany electronics shipments are more complicated than most people imagine. Barcodes on these labels are packed with standard information such as the manufacturer of the product and part number. However, many parties along the supply chain – raw materials suppliers, component manufacturers, distributors, sub assemblers and end-customers—want unique information in barcodes as well. Although linear barcodes are adequate for this purpose, the electronics industry organization ECIA is spearheading an effort to move toward more data-intensive 2D barcodes.
Labeling today is complex; electronics manufacturers in particular are faced with a range of evolving requirements that complicate the process—and leave many companies accepting this process as the cost of doing business. But it doesn’t have to be. Labeling can make a huge difference, enabling IT and supply chain decision makers to not just overcome challenges, but provide their company with a distinct competitive advantage.
How can you leverage innovations in enterprise barcode labeling to help your electronics company succeed in a highly competitive global marketplace? Joe Longo, industry specialist with labeling solutions provider Loftware, addresses key top-of-mind challenges that companies face and provides insight into the significant gains that could be realized using the right labeling solution in this two-part Q&A.
Q: How can labeling simplify the growing complexity in the supply chain?
The electronics industry has an intricate supply chain that’s only growing more complex with a broad range of players, including raw material suppliers, warehouse and transportation managers, distributors, retailers, and end consumers. Each step requires accurate barcode labeling for faster, more accurate processing as well as precise track and trace of the product along the way.
At the same time, customer-specific requirements are increasing at a rapid rate with regional, language, branding, and other requirements needing to be added to labels. As a result, electronics companies struggle with a staggering amount of label templates, all of which must be created and maintained separately. This involves a lot of time and effort that flies in the face of trying to simplify processes and gain efficiencies in a complex global supply chain.
Which brings us to the inherent business benefits of a standardized enterprise labeling solution. By taking a holistic, integrated approach to labeling, companies can respond quickly to new and evolving requirements, while maintaining labeling consistency across the supply chain. Dynamic, data-driven capabilities allow electronics companies to easily manage mass label changes—with fewer templates—and achieve dramatic reductions in overall label maintenance and the costs associated with it.
Q: How can labeling help me deal with constant change?
The impact of change is significant to an electronics business. When it comes to labeling, constant change—be it customer-specific label changes or branding requirements for distributors in a new territory—can mean a manual, labor-intensive process. If you rely on a disparate, non-standardized solution (or solutions), this often leads to multiple label permutations created in silos which slows production and delays shipments. And because changes are not always captured earlier upstream in the process, there will be risk of errors and inconsistencies.
With dynamic enterprise labeling, electronics companies can make changes at the data source—whether it’s in the ERP, MES, or other system—and ensure that they will be reflected on the appropriate labels. Change it once, apply it many times. And when you can provide access to the same labeling solution to multiple users at different locations, you have full visibility and control across the value chain.
What was once a costly, yet generally accepted practice of using a mix of incongruous labeling solutions is replaced with a unified, streamlined approach that manages change quickly, and ultimately, helps get product in the hands of distributors and customers faster.
Q: How can labeling create efficiencies at the supplier level?
Just as you can leverage an enterprise-wide solution to deliver the right labels to regional operations and distributors, why not do the same thing with your suppliers? If you’re like most electronics manufacturers, you rely on suppliers to deliver raw materials or components in a timely manner, but you experience costly hold ups in receiving as containers often need to be re-labeled before moving on to a specific production line. You could send suppliers your own pre-printed labels, but that has its own drawbacks as you’re beholden to their process of storing and applying labels.
But now through secure, web-based access to your enterprise labeling solution—and templates you create—the supplier can simply run off your labels to their local printers. Again drawing from your data sources, the labels are already pre-populated with the information you need, so there are no delays when supplier materials arrive. They are scanned and put into production right away, saving companies thousands, even millions of dollars in inventory and warehousing costs.
Joe Longo is electronics industry specialist with Loftware and has been working with Loftware enterprise customers in the electronics industry for over seven years. His customers include some of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world: Jabil Circuits, Flextronics, Celestica, Kemet, Plexus, GE and more. Highly knowledgeable about the key issues most EMS manufacturers are facing today, he provides in-depth studies and recommendations to electronics manufacturers on solutions to their labeling requirements. Email: jlongo@loftware