NSK Europe Ltd realise the Benefits of Automated Labeling
The Benefits of Automated Labelling
With improvements in the available labelling technology and the increasingly accessible nature of these solutions, the onus is now on organisations of all sizes to ensure that they adopt robust, highly integrated processes for printing and verifying labels.
Yet with information typically being pulled from multiple systems, often globally, ensuring the imagery matches the words and that both comply with regional and international regulations is both highly intensive and time consuming.
Currently many processes remain manual and require multiple authorizations and multiple scans – of both labels and products; and with information pulled from multiple disparate systems there is a risk of overlap, duplication and information discrepancy – i.e. two versions of the truth.
As a result, despite the manually intensive effort, most companies accept a certain degree of inaccuracy. Many companies also endure repeated failure of label printing, discarding swathes of labels that have been produced with the wrong text, imagery or unreadable quality. This approach is not sustainable.
However by exploiting integrated electronic print, verification and document solutions labelling errors can be eliminated and manual verification processes replaced by automated solutions, with significant time saving and efficiency benefits for manufacturers. NSK is one such organization that has taken the opportunity to exploit the benefits of an integrated, automated labelling and document system, implementing PRISYM ID's Enterprise solution to improve efficiency, ensure compliance with their customers' recognised industry and regional standards and save their operators valuable time.
NSK was founded in 1916, producing the first ball bearing made in Japan. Today, NSK has bases in Europe, the Americas and the Far East and is one of the world's leading manufacturers of rolling bearings, automotive products, precision machinery parts, and mechatronics products. NSK Europe has five plants which predominately produce steering columns and bearing products.
With customers including prominent manufacturers in the automotive industry and products that are required worldwide, NSK has a constant need to ensure efficient and timely labelling that meets different regional and customer regulatory requirements.
Colin Jones, Business Systems Leader at NSK Europe, explains, "We are working with a very high volume of products so efficiency is vital; the European bases alone ship millions of bearings each month." Jones adds, "For one automotive manufacturer, for example, we ship up to one and a half trailers per day which includes 40 to 50 pallets of large bearings. With smaller bearings the volume is even greater, with up to 200 pallets a day."
With such high volumes of products being shipped, efficient and accurate labelling and documentation is paramount. In addition, NSK ships products to multiple countries that use different labelling standards, making a system that complies with the various regional regulations within the automotive industry an absolute necessity. "In Europe there are two main standards of label, ODETTE and VDA," Jones explains. "We have to comply with both standards, as well as various customised versions of each for individual clients on a day-to-day basis."
He adds, "Accordingly, there are a large number of variables that need to be taken into account for every single label. There can be up to 30 or 40 fields and in some cases we are even labelling individual boxes."
In addition, NSK's legacy, proprietary labelling solution required staff to manually count the number of labels that were necessary for the number of boxes and pallets. The method was open to error and discrepancies occurred between serial numbers on the electronic versions of the shipment notes and those that were delivered physically, in particular. Jones comments, "We needed to find a way of automating the label production process, as well as preventing discrepancies between the paper-based labels and the electronic shipping notes."
Automating a manual process
NSK started looking into automated labelling solutions in 2004 when it started to receive inbound requests for very specific labelling requirements based on the ODETTE standard.
Prisym ID's Enterprise solution offered NSK the core flexibility and functionality it required to automate what was until that point a highly manual process. "One of the key elements we wanted was to be able to amend design elements and the flexibility of the PRISYM Enterprise system means that we can make all the changes required on the labelling ourselves, and automate these with the production of the corresponding electronic documentation – something that previously had to be carried out and checked manually," Jones adds.
Specifically, NSK required the functionality to produce consolidated Advance Shipping Notices (ASNs). "Because we deliver such a high volume and range of products to our clients, we needed to be able to provide a consolidated shipping notice that would list all the barcoded ID numbers of the various shipping units, all the way down to box level detail and the contents of each," Jones comments. "PRISYM ID has enabled us to automate the production of these ASNs through Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), even on pallets that contain mixed product, which has had a huge effect on the cost and accuracy of the process – both at our end and for our clients," he adds.
Being able to provide ASNs to clients ahead of the actual shipment arriving has minimised errors in shipments, reduced the amount of manual time required to check deliveries against the shipment notices and minimised the unnecessary duplication of information. "Not only is the whole process much more automated and streamlined throughout the supply chain, but by encoding all the relevant ID numbers in a single barcode on the shipping note, our clients are not visually swamped and are able to more flexibly re-allocate goods in subsequent shipments," Jones says.
Finally, PRISYM ID has latterly been able to provide NSK with new 'wild card' functionality, which means that NSK no longer needs to input into its system every customer delivery point in order to produce a valid label and appropriate documentation. Jones explains, "A German customer is, for example, given the VDA German standard unless they come back with a more specific requirement. This has enabled us to move all of our customers that require us to produce labels for them over to the product with minimal administration."
He adds, "Although the documentation that we create for our customers must, like our labels, adhere to a variety of standards that can vary from geographical area to individual customer, we are yet to find a standard of documentation that we cannot meet with the solution."
Internal Business Benefits
Following the implementation of the PRISYM Enterprise automated labelling system, NSK ran some comparisons between its historic manual system and the PRISYM ID solution, which highlighted significant time savings for operators. Jones comments, "The key measure was the operator input time using the old manual system for one shipment. The whole process used to take the operator an hour to produce the labels for 10 pallets, and for every subsequent pallet they would have to go back to the machine re-enter the details. With the new system we are able to produce all the labels for a shipment within 15 minutes from starting the process and the operator only has to go to the machine to initiate the job, after which they are free to carry on with other work. He adds, "The change from 60 minutes to 15 minutes with far less operator involvement has shown efficiency savings, time saving and error mitigation."
Jones adds, "We have been working with PRISYM ID for some time now and have an excellent relationship. The solution provided by PRISYM ID makes a real difference in terms of efficiency and time saving, making our operators' jobs much easier. The system has become invisible to users and that is what we wanted. "
Jones concludes, "PRISYM Enterprise has made such a fundamental difference to our business. Due to the success of our deployment, we will be rolling out PRISYM Enterprise across our Industrial and Steering units as well. PRISYM ID will become our corporate partner for enterprise-wide labelling requirements.!
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