In today’s manufacturing environment product tack and trace with Laser Automation is increasing important for several reasons:

  • Health and Safety (ie: in food and pharmaceutical/medical products)
  • Maintenance of cost effective and safe industrial inventory levels
  • Assuring JIT (Just In Time) delivery of products
  • Assuring the correct and fully tested components are used to build or manufacture items
  • Tracking of major assets to prevent against loss and assure proper maintenance
  • Compliance with regulatory requirements
  • Providing order, shipping, and tracking information to customers

In this article, we will explore the options for and effects of product track and trace with automation and the best methodology for achieving proper track and trace. In subsequent articles, we will discuss asset tracking, regulatory compliance, assuring proper components for assembled or built up parts, and how track and trace automation can help with e-commerce orders, and JIT inventory requirements.

Options for Creating Product Track and Trace with Laser Automation

Radio Frequency Identification (RFI) which has some advantages:

  • Does not require line of sight for reading
  • Can be tolerant of harsh or difficult environmental conditions

And some disadvantages:

  • Costly
  • Subject to hacking data might not be entirely safe
  • Generally requires fixed mounted readers for most accurate and reliable results

Ink Jet printers which has some advantages:

  • Fast printing rates up to 1000 feet per minute
  • Relatively low cost of initial capital expenditure

And some disadvantages:

  • Does not print fine detail well, subject to blurs or running together of small details
  • Not permanent or indelible it might take some time but marking can be removed
  • High cost of operations in terms of consumables (ink) and line shut done time [lost production capability] for cleaning and maintenance.
  • Introduces chemicals and solvents into the manufacturing environment not Eco-Friendly or lending to green manufacturing operations.

Thermal printers or thermal transfer which as some advantages:

  • Generally had the ability to print very fine detail

And some disadvantages:

  • Slow process very poor cycle times
  • Chemicals and solvents are used potentially damaging the environment.
  • Maintenance intensive with lower [shorter] lifetimes
  • Contact with the parts which can cause damage to the parts or blurring of the printing making it very difficult to read.
  • Expensive and time consuming to change over when printing requirements change

Laser Automation which as some significant advantages:

  • Very fast printing up to 1500 characters per second
  • Ability to print very fine detail even to the level where magnification is required to see the printing
  • Ability to change print messages on the fly in a matter of nano-seconds, which is critically important in current manufacturing environments. This is where lines are automated (and in some cases run as lights out manufacturing meaning without human operators). In addition, for most of these types of operations several different configurations of parts are completed on the same assembly line. This means that tracking information, such as product details, manufacturing plant, time and date of assembly, which manufacturing line was used (for plants with more than one production line), and any other key information required for complete product tracking]. As well as, changes in tracking information. Even the slightest change in parts composition take place and the printing change must be fast and completed without operators.

How can Laser Automation do this?

    • Information printed by laser systems is determined or driven by a file imported into the laser system automation.
    • The file can be changed in Nano-seconds. As fast as a computer will respond and the command to change, the file can be sent from a production  automation system (such as Wonder Ware, AB controls, or actually virtually any production or host control system). The product tracking can also take this information from a data base of document, such as a CSV file.
    • The printed information can be easily read with robust and inexpensive mounted vision camera, or even with handheld vision readers. This is to verify the information sent to the laser was in fact printed by the automation system, and if any error occurs the part can be kicked off the line into a rejection or rework area.
    • The laser system automation requires no consumables, and depending on the platform will last for between 25,000 to 100,000 hours of operations without maintenance or repair. The cost of ownership and operations is extremely low.
    • Laser systems are the most ideal method to achieve track and trace operations, in some cases it might be necessary to combine certain elements of the track and trace with RFID operations; however, the use of Laser Automation to create license plates point to dates bases (static or live real time data bases). Discussed with more details in subsequent articles.

In this video, demonstrated are text and bar code markings added to products, which provide a license plate pointing to a data base (in some cases live or real time data base). In the video, a vision automation system is demonstrated successfully reading the bar codes and verifying the bar code contents.

Product Track and Trace Laser Automaton From WLSC

WLSC was established in Phoenix, AZ, in 1986. For 32 years we have been providing Laser Automation to our customers across a wide range of industries. These automation systems have included product track and trace, where manufacturing systems and customer needs required them. WLSC now has offices and manufacturing facility located in Gilbert AZ 85233.  We offer Laser Automation systems in the 266nm, 355nm, 532nm, YAG/Fiber, and Co2 platforms and in powers from 10w to 500w.  WLSC maintains a full applications and testing labs. We can work with your products to qualify the correct automation system for your operation. It is generally necessary and advisable to have products tested in our lab, with different wavelength platforms (different materials react with wide flucations and levels of success or failure based on the wavelength [nm] of and power of laser light) and verify results prior to design, build and install of the system automation. At Worldwide Laser we know lasers and look forward to hearing from you.

The business of Worldwide Laser Service Corporation [WLSC] is to work with our customers to resolve manufacturing problems and issues via system automation. One WLSC customer was experiencing an issue related to raw materials. The WLSC end user receives orders from customers. The pricing of these orders differs based on the amount of a certain ingredient in the product called level A, B, C, or D. Level A being 99.9% pure for the main ingredient, and the other levels have decreasing levels of the main ingredient down to approximately seventy percent (70%). The price of level A products, with the highest level or percentage of the key ingredient, is significantly higher than level D products. The end users, of the product, test deliveries to make sure the content of the delivered product matches the content of the ordered product. Any discrepancies are billed back to the supplier, costing profits and potentially damaging business relationship between the WLSC customer and their end users. The WLSC customer was experiencing high levels of product price adjustment, due to inability to completely control the raw material (or BOM) process. WLSC was able work with this customer and install a product track and trace automation system. That way all items required for the bills of material to create the products, were all marked with 2D bar codes and human readable text. WLSC installed vision automation system attached to robots picking raw materials that were used to read the bar codes and match the quality of the raw materials (level A, B, C, or D), with the requirement of the orders. Another way the product track and trace laser automaton data base had been filled, with key order details from the customer’s order entry system this information, was then used by the track and trace automation to pick the correct raw materials to build the order in compliance with quality requirements. The WLSC customer reported that after installation and use of the new product track and trace automation, the quality return issues were resolved to a 99.7% level. Another example of WLSC working with our customers to correct or eliminate manufacturing problems and issues with Laser Automation.