For manufacturers, polycrisis-related supply disruptions have rendered any concept of ‘business as usual’ a thing of the past as businesses grapple with production and shipping delays; inventory management issues; quality control issues; increased costs; penalties; and customer dissatisfaction.
While the current volatility in our global supply chains is likely to remain in the foreseeable future, there are steps that businesses can take to adapt, and those that do may find themselves at a competitive advantage. As Lee Metters highlights.
A single solution stands out amidst today’s supply chain challenges: flexibility. Disrupted supply chains, and raw materials shortages, can necessitate manufacturers having to make last-minute changes to production orders. In such a volatile environment, flexibility is vital.
It’s often much easier for manufacturers to make changes to products, for example, to incorporate ingredient variations, than to change the packaging, as this is typically outsourced, with long lead times. In general, changes to product packaging design would occur at packaging rather than production sites – but the market is evolving with an opportunity to bring coding and marking and digital printing technology under one roof at the manufacturing site. This digital convergence paves the way for late-stage customisation of product packaging, providing manufacturers and brands with more control and agility than ever before.
High-resolution, digital printing technologies are now evolving for use within production lines, allowing manufacturers to bring more packaging customisation within the factory walls, providing a way for companies to respond swiftly to evolving circumstances, including last-minute changes to production runs due to material shortages. In-line and near-line product packaging printing can enable manufacturers to adjust product labels in response to material availability without relying on last-minute shipments from external packaging providers.
Also, some brands utilising late-stage customisation may benefit from a reduction in changeover times, specifically when changing between batches of products with the same ingredients but different end markets, requiring different packaging – for example, with regional language variations. The time saved between runs may only be a few minutes, but over the course of a day could mount up to allow for more production runs in a single shift.
Moving forward, brands with the capacity for late-stage customisation of product packaging may be better able to respond to changes in labelling legislation and ingredient availability, embrace new markets and language variations, and create promotional packaging for short-run campaigns – without excess wastage or costs from minimum order requirements.
Traceability and visibility of products, as they move through supply chains, is another crucial metric in overcoming supply chain challenges. During periods of high demand or when faced with stock shortages and delays, increased visibility can help manufacturers accurately forecast lead times, control stock requirements, and manage customer expectations.
Including variable product data, such as batch and product information, embedded within scannable 2D codes is one way of facilitating greater visibility within supply chains – and with late-stage customisation, this can be enabled within the factory without necessitating changes to product packaging at packaging converters.
Scannable 2D codes can facilitate data sharing throughout the supply chain, allowing brands and supply chain partners to track products upstream and downstream and provide status updates. This increased data flow can provide valuable insights into inefficiencies and areas prone to waste or leakage, so bands can optimise their operations, improve resilience, and manage risk.
Beyond navigating the current supply chain challenges, adding 2D codes to product packaging can have huge commercial benefits for brands – from consumer engagement to waste reduction and counterfeit protection.
Disrupted supply chains can cause other significant issues on production lines – including necessitating last-minute changes to production runs and requiring lines to work overtime to meet commitments when shipments arrive. Manufacturers still reliant on traditional, manual production processes can find themselves hard placed to respond to such challenges and remain productive.
The complexities of modern-day manufacturing require high levels of control and agility – which can only be achieved by creating trusted, repeatable processes that improve efficiency and reduce the risk of expensive errors. Adopting automation in coding and marking is one way that manufacturers can look to increase control and agility.
With automated coding solutions, manufacturers can automate systems to take care of routine, error-prone tasks, increasing efficiency and allowing for the reallocation of factory resources to where they are needed most to ensure that products continue through production and out of the factory doors.
As well as limiting the risk of coding errors and associated downtime, coding automation can provide manufacturers with a seamless communication stream and options for increased visibility and data sharing. This business insight can prove essential when coping with changing production schedules. Understanding the number of items coded daily can help ensure the right amount of inventory – from packaging materials to labels, inks, and make-up supply – everything required to keep production lines running smoothly.
Indeed, companies investing in automated coding solutions today will be better equipped to handle future challenges. In the long term, automation can reduce running costs, eliminate errors, and improve resiliency and productivity.
The complex and widespread nature of the polycrisis makes it unlikely that supply chain issues will be resolved soon. However, manufacturers can start navigating through this turbulence with solutions that help to increase flexibility, visibility, and control, including late-stage customisation and coding automation. Those who do will undoubtedly unlock business growth and success opportunities.