With the roll-out of Industry 4.0 and the industry’s new take on digital tools such as the Internet of Things and big data manipulation, the scope for parts and raw materials traceability has widened considerably. Early adoption is now an essential step on the road to full Industry 4.0 implementation, as Pryor Sales Director Alastair Morris explains.
Raw materials, parts and finished product traceability practices have traditionally been the province of highly regulated operations that are legally bound to demonstrate compliance, such as the pharmaceuticals, aerospace and automotive sectors. Now, as a much wider industrial base wakes up to the promise of Industry 4.0 and its impact on manufacturing economics and logistics, traceability issues have taken on much greater significance for companies operating at every stage along the supply chain.
Traceability has always been a vital aspect of pharmaceuticals production and the supply of military, aerospace and automotive components which carry real risk of harm to end users - not to mention supplier reputation - should a product have been compromised during the manufacturing process. However, Industry 4.0 sets a higher priority for traceability among more mainstream manufacturers; efficient production methodologies demand an unbroken, fully connected supply chain along which participants are able to track not just the movement of parts and materials in real time, but the history of their manufacture, the processes involved and the sources of the raw materials used in that manufacture.
With the evolution of Industry 4.0 and its requirements for the efficient collection and dissemination of manufacturing data, traceability is becoming an essential element of the manufacturing process, no matter at which level it happens to be deployed within the supply chain.
Tracking individual parts throughout the entire supply chain's manufacturing processes and beyond into distribution and the after-market are critical to the functioning of highly-automated 'smart' factories, cyber-physical production systems and interconnected supply chains that define the Industry 4.0 manufacturing operation.
The 'smart' factory or cyber-physical production system proposed by Industry 4.0 requires end-to-end ICT based integration of production systems, from factory floor automation to the enterprise-resource planning system. In this seamless, paperless production environment where human interventions are infrequent or non-existent, parts identification and tracking will fundamentally underpin the operation.
While manufacturers across all sectors to some extent track parts and material flow to aid planning and provide a relatively simple parts traceability capability, these processes often involve time-consuming administrative tasks - standalone systems that are labour-intensive and which certainly do not provide the fast and efficient traceability solutions demanded by Industry 4.0.
In today’s smart factories, it is more likely to be the production assets – not human operators – that determine capacities and product flow based on all manner of inputs from the supply chain and customer communities.
For this to work, production machines must have an effective means of communicating with raw materials and parts in order to identify them and their origins from within the factory, as well as their onward destination following machining, an assembly operation or other manufacturing process.
Industry 4.0 requires every component to be individually identifiable and located wherever it happens to reside within the supply chain. Information regarding origin, storage, state and location of materials, components and products must be instantly retrievable. As well as providing the history or current status of a part, such comprehensive tracking of parts and components provides the basic tools for operational analysis, suggesting alternative and more efficient production paths and processes.
So, as Industry 4.0 practices are embedded and the need to implement the accompanying integrated parts and materials tracking capability becomes more urgent, how are industries with little experience of, or investment in, traceability systems able to cope? Fortunately, as Industry 4.0 has rolled out among key enterprises across the world’s manufacturing economies, the necessary developments in coding and marking technologies have kept pace, and what was once considered the exclusive preserve of specialist manufacturers is now available to a much broader range of industries that seek to embrace Industry 4.0.
High quality, readable coding and efficient data capture are essential elements of parts traceability. The process starts with a marking device that applies a unique and permanent identification (ID) tag to the part, which can be a barcode – typically in 2D or data matrix formats – or permanent readable texts and images. This is accomplished using a dot marking (peening) technique, which 'prints' text, lines or images on components as a series of closely spaced dot indentations, or by laser marking, which offers a non-contact alternative to dot marking to provide a high contrast mark on a wide variety of surfaces and substrates.
Once the part enters a sequence of machining or other processing stages its ID is captured in real time by a machine vision system and recorded on a centrally located server. This data is correlated with production planning systems, process by process to ensure no steps are missed, and that they are completed in the right order, thus accumulating a manufacturing ‘history’ for the part.
When a part reaches an assembly cell, for example, it is scanned and checked against a bill of materials to confirm that it has arrived at the correct location, and that the appropriate assembly process is followed. At this stage, the part can be said to have full traceability thanks to the tracking of its unique identifier through various stages of manufacturing, enabling quality issues to be identified ahead of further assembly or finishing operations.
While the sophisticated traceability systems of the past were costly to install and maintain, smaller systems such as those described above can prove particularly cost effective. Moreover, the security and peace of mind that a manufacturer will gain from ensuring traceability of parts through the whole manufacturing process will likely overcome any reticence that the manufacturer may have investing in such a system.
One such system that marks components with a unique ID, then tracks them using advanced traceability software is available from the marking, identification and traceability solutions specialist, Pryor Marking Technology. Manufacturing information, such as the timed progress of a component as it moves along the line, can be ‘logged’ against this unique ID to reveal process bottlenecks, as described above.
Software packages are now available that can fully automate the marking process, network production sites and collate production data on a truly global scale. This software, used in conjunction with unique identification marks on each component and a reliable means of scanning these marks, aids quality control procedures and ensures that components are presented in the correct sequence for assembly or onward despatch to other locations for further processing.
Traceability also offers significant advantages to production engineers tasked with analysing the events that may have ultimately led to a product recall. By tracking individual parts and storing a variety of production related parameters, it is possible to identify exactly how, when and where a problem occurred at the earliest opportunity. Speedy identification spots issues before they turn into major problems and could also mean the difference between recalling an entire month’s production and simply changing individual faulty parts.
Industry 4.0 is a prime driver for the wider adoption of component tracking, data capture and networking, and as the technology is now more affordable it has become more accessible for smaller scale enterprises, and there is every advantage to gain from adopting these new ways of working, whatever the product and regardless of the size of the manufacturing operation.
This article was featured in new industry magazine Industry 4.0. Read the full article here from Issue 6