How to prevent labelling errors from damaging manufacturing & logistics processes

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It is a familiar scene in any manufacturing facility. The production machines are working, the inventory present, the workforce ready.  Yet, everything has ground to a halt due to labelling errors. This situation is costly. Without the correct label, the parts can’t be received and placed onto the assembly line which will have a significant impact on production.

Frequently, the only way to solve this problem is through bulk manpower and time. Often, the company sending materials must send reams of correct labels or the receiving company has to create and print them itself. Then workers must attach the new labels by hand, manually scan them into a system of record, and unpack them. When dealing with supplier labelling, manufacturers must also consider the issue of relabelling. That’s when the receiving company finds errors with labelling and therefore has to undertake the time-consuming chore of relabelling every item, while the materials sit in the receiving dock  and cannot be passed forward into production. All these issues are costly – companies have reported spending millions each year printing corrected labels – not including the added expense of labour, storage, and lost productivity.

When it comes to labelling errors, however, direct costs are the tip of the iceberg. Erroneous labels are a massive problem throughout every stage of the multimodal international shipping and manufacturing landscape. Companies spend exorbitant amounts on fines and even more money on emergency labour to keep up with the problem. How does something as small as a label create this big a problem?

Labelling systems are complex. Some solutions are homegrown and can include disparate systems with core databases which could be decades old and not drawing data from sources of truth. Meanwhile, the systems of international shipping and their governing regulations are dynamic. New regulations can inevitably collide with old labelling technology, and errors can occur.

Typical causes range from the use of non-compliant data through to lack of consistency and standardisation; replicated and incorrect data and a shortage of skilled expertise. That’s where the latest enterprise labelling software can be key in preventing errors from happening, something which it can do in the following different ways.

 

Addressing a lack of consistency and accuracy

Ongoing globalisation means that a headquarters facility in the US, for example, may own or work with a manufacturing facility in Singapore. However, just because the company is embracing globalisation doesn’t mean there’s a good way for that factory to communicate with the company. How does the headquarters correctly communicate a label format and template to a facility halfway across the world?

We are now seeing the emergence of labelling software that facilitates this by automating labelling and integrating with existing enterprise applications. The software in Singapore interfaces with the ERP system in the US. When records change within the business application, this change is reflected in labels printed across the world.

A widely-dispersed organisation can end up with varied systems across their global enterprise that struggle to communicate. This is conducive neither to speed nor accuracy in labelling. The latest labelling solutions solve this by presenting a cloud-based platform which centralises label data and integrates with business applications to access sources of truth and ensure accuracy and consistency.

For example, companies often merge only to find that they use incompatible software. It’s too expensive and time-consuming to replace an old system. The latest labelling software can provide standardisation. By standardising on a single, centralised cloud-based solution, it can enable companies to use a common interface to access content and label templates to support high-volume label printing seamlessly.

 

Business logic streamlines label changes

It’s possible for users to navigate international shipping regulations, but it takes time. Creating a label means incorporating many variables – such as the type and quantity of cargo, the countries of origin and destination, and all the countries in between.

Dynamic labelling lets companies maximise support for countless label combinations, with minimum effort. This allows them to leverage the data from their systems of record and configure rules that dynamically change label content based on their data.

Rather than manually researching the legalese and pictograms necessary for a label in a given region, a business user simply selects a country from a drop-down menu, picks the nature and quantity of the products being shipped, chooses the country of origin, and receives a completed label design. This approach has the system make the decisions based on data and logic created by experts.

 

Eliminate Errors to Improve Inventory Planning

Finally, let’s take a typical example – a shipment arrives at a factory with an incorrect label. How can companies prevent this from occurring?

Today’s labelling solutions can solve this problem from a number of different approaches. First, dynamically-generated label content makes it easy to avoid manually-created errors in which users accidentally substitute one label’s content for another.

This approach also ensures that business users access approved content for their labels. In addition, it enables partners and suppliers to securely access data and templates to avoid the need for relabelling. Also, remote printing capabilities let administrators print over the internet without relying on direct network connectivity to printers, allowing them to extend printing across remote sites and supply chain partners while maintaining the same level of performance and quality as when printing to networked devices.

By extension, this allows companies to control print operations from anywhere worldwide and ensures accurate labels are used to ship throughout the global supply chain. Companies will, therefore, never have to worry that their partners, vendors, or subsidiaries have printed an incorrect label. The use of the latest enterprise labelling solutions gives them global visibility and control.

 

Josh Roffman

Josh is Vice President of Product Management at Loftware. He has over 25 years of marketing and product management experience with leading enterprise software companies. He is responsible for defining Loftware’s product strategy and overseeing all corporate marketing functions. Specialising in the impact of supply chain trends on enterprise labelling, Josh frequently speaks at industry events.