Leave the Driving to Someone Else
by Clyde E. Witt, editor
The label has always been the least expensive and, arguably, the most problematic aspect of automatic data collection. If the label doesn’t read, you’re out of business. One bad scan and you can almost hear machinery grinding to a halt. I say almost because the sound is usually drowned out by the noise of a manager’s teeth gnashing.
Almost daily there are improvements in bar code label printing and scanning technologies. The thing on the horizon currently generating a lot of talk is the multi-faceted label. These labels offer readability by laser scanners, radio frequency scanners (RF) and, when all else fails, humans. Printer technology has kept pace—some say led the way— with the ability to print bar codes and encode embedded tags with RF information at the same time. This is both good and bad news. How are you expected to keep up with these changes when you have a business to run, especially if your major clients are demanding more productivity at the shipping or receiving dock?
Constantly changing requirements for labeling and scanning by customers make suppliers hesitate on which label or system to adopt. So the very thing designed to speed production and distribution can, at least at the beginning of the process, slow things. It’s easy to get paralysis by analysis on this subject.
Large companies seem to be able to absorb the costs (and pain) while making the changes that satisfy the giant customers. It’s small companies, the ones who thought the playing field would be leveled if everyone adopted standard data collection techniques and equipment, that are being hurt. Data errors and non-complying labels can cost a company big dollars and possibly a loss of business.
The automotive industry is the archetype for studying this problem. The sub-suppliers, of which there are a myriad in the automotive industry, barely have time or money to get a new system in place when suddenly one of the giants of the industry will make a change, sending tidal waves of angst down the line.
But hope, and help, is out there on the same horizon as the multi-faceted data collection label. At AutoTech 2000, sponsored by the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), there was talk of Web-enabled labeling techniques and bar coding that should make the high cost of complying with the giants’ wishes more palatable. These Web-enabled solutions take away the need for constant software upgrades, training and other costly implementation hassles.
The way these future systems will work is typical of many third-party applications. You stick with your core competencies and let someone else do what you can’t — or can’t afford. If you’re a small company, you sign up with a selected knowledge-based technology provider, one who specializes in your industry. There is a growing list of companies that offer bar code and data collection services. Check www.aimglobal.org for a list of members of the automatic data collection industry that can give you guidance.
By associating with a third-party provider, you’re relieved of up-front investments and changes that would have to be made at the whim of your biggest customers. Most third-party providers charge a subscription fee to keep you fully compliant. Using an application service provider has the added benefit of freeing human resources (or eliminating the need to hire) to take on other projects.
Your initial efforts to find the right service provider will certainly occupy some time and money, but in the long run it will pay. When making your decision keep in mind that you want a provider who knows your business and industry. Remember, the object of this exercise is to reduce those financial barriers that have existed between you and your major customers. You do this by reducing costs on all levels.