Case Printing

Scenario

This CPG customer used a manual process to print critical information on cases before palletizing.

How do you create a custom-printed label for each batch of a product, before palletizing? Turns out, in 4 different ways at 4 different sites. The goal was to automate, to reduce the number of misprints and expedite changeovers.

Problem

The main problem was manual. Each time a line would switch to a new work order, one technician had to create a printing template for each product and line, and another was called in to manually configure the printer and validate the setup. Delays were frequent. Plus, when an operator forgot to ask for a product change, incorrect information was printed on thousands of cases.

A second problem was inconsistency. While all sites were using the same concept of re-configuring the printers for every new work order, everything else was different. One was using a database to store the printing templates data; the others weren’t. One was validating that the printed data was readable. Another was validating if it matched what was required.

The third problem was duplicate data; identical templates were created multiple times.

Solution

To start, we synchronized the work order change from our MES to the printer.

We worked with the printer vendor and used a built-in OPC server that allowed our MES system to execute these configurations. Each time they changed the work order, the MES would:

  • Find the new product
  • Retrieve the required data
  • Get the correct template
  • Write that data to the OPC server and download the data to the printer.

While working on that, we sat down with all stakeholders and agreed on what the system needed to do. We agreed on a standard solution that decreased errors and simplified deployment to newer sites (a request was received soon after implementation).

Finally, we tackled template creation. Our customer hadn’t realized the software they were using to create templates would allow them to streamline. So we:

  1.   Created a database table to house all template data
  2.   Developed a web-based tool to add/update data
  3.   Linked database with template software and configured templates to use that data.

This meant far fewer templates, less maintenance, and more consistent design.

Results

  • Faster changeover through automation: Technicians are no longer required to come to the line; operators can validate themselves if the printers have been updated.
  • Reduced errors: Operators don’t need to remember to change the printer configuration when switching products. At outset, one site was reworking 650+ cases per month, that number will be closer to zero in full deployment.
  • Reduced complexity/opportunity for error: By adding a database, we reduced the # of templates required by a factor of ten. After deploying the solution to just one line, we dropped from 40+ different templates to 4; adding more lines will only make this ratio grow. And adding new templates is simpler because they start with an existing one.