Best practices in labeling are as important as best practices in production

Best practices in labeling

Why the label can be worth as much as the part

Automated and high speed manufacturing operations have upped the ante in  product labeling.  Best practices in label quality are now often just as important as best practices in part production and quality.

On an automated production line, a perfectly good part with the wrong label can be mean serious trouble.

As odd as it may sound, there are times when the product’s label can be as valuable as the products it’s self. Even though the concept is simple – a paper, fabric or metal tag affixed to a part or package of parts – your customers are counting on you to “communicate” accurately with them regarding the identity and quantity of parts you deliver to them and how those parts fit into their downstream manufacturing and assembly processes.

Labeling Pitfalls

Whether the issue is wrong label at the right time or right label at the wrong time, from your customer’s point of view you have non-conforming product and your credibility as a vendor is jeopardized. For example, even if the parts and containers themselves are labeled correctly, incorrect pallet labels can cause EDI Automatic Shipping Notices (ASNs) to be out of sync with production and potentially disrupt your customer’s assembly operations.

Internally, if containers and parts are incorrectly labeled, you may have a real treasure hunt to find product in your plant. When labels are incomplete, it can be very difficult to assure that you are turning over your inventory in first in / first out manner to minimize shelf life issues and single-batch processing. Leaning on manual data entry for container quantities can introduce typing errors, cause slow cycle counting and make shop-wide inventory “physical” inventories very challenging.

Creating a Successful Labeling Process

When you also consider the special logic involved with individual piece labeling (IPL) to satisfy customer or regulatory requirements for med-tech, food and beverage or defense industries, or to manage color / option sequenced shipping for individual vehicles (ILVS) in transportation industries – the amount of process logic to assure the right label for the right product can be significant.  That is why manufacturers must treat labeling as a critical aspect of the  production process from Raw Material through Work in Process to Finished Goods ready to ship.

For manufacturers to be consistently successful in identifying parts, products, containers and even pallets for shipping, the labeling process should be based on these principles:

  • Capture key product, quantity, lot and container data once from customer orders and releases sent by EDI or other means, your production tracking records and freight carriers then reuse the information over and over to correctly label raw material, components and manufactured goods as they flow through your operations to your customers
  • Tightly control labeling as a powerful tool to work hand-in-glove with warehouse management to minimize inventory costs, save time in material management and improve cash flow.
  • Timely and accurate labeling helps assure consistent quality by enabling you to segregate and contain questionable parts and scrap. This ability will also be very useful if your customer calls to inquire about product traceability since they can reference lot or serial numbers in question from labels on containers in their plant.

Labeling Best Practices

A modern, robust labeling process must be built on these best practices to eliminate mistakes and assure accuracy:

  • Print and apply labels to parts or containers as close as possible to the when and where the work is done – ideally lineside and in real time. It is important to have enough label printers to locate them close to the equipment producing parts throughout your plant.
  • Tightly integrate printing logic into your sales order, scheduling, production tracking and order fulfillment systems to minimize the risk of mistakes due to production or warehouse workers having to remember to request labels from separate printing software
  • Have ability to create and edit label layout and content so your team can setup and adjust formats as customer, industry, or regulatory requirements change
  • Leverage bar code technology to ensure quick and accurate identification and counts of parts by scanning labels with mobile devices tied to your inventory management system
  • Keep a master file of customer label requirements under document change control for your team to reference

As you strive to meet demand and customer expectations, you cannot afford to lose track of precious stock or waste time handling and shipping your parts. You need to do more with the same people and minimize all non-productive efforts.

Your customers are counting on you to be a strong and reliable partner in their efforts to optimize their operations, keep them lean and boost their bottom line.

Since 1989 IQMS has been providing productivity gains to manufacturers. For more information and to learn more about our award winning labeling and ERP solutions, connect with us at .

Ed Potoczak, IQMS Director of Industry Relations, has more than 30 years of experience in the manufacturing industry. Formerly an ERP consultant at the Oakstone Group and Plante Moran, Ed has also held positions as a senior systems engineer for Chrysler, technical sales leader in parts suppliers and general manager for a process equipment builder.