SPECIAL REPORT/MATERIALS HANDLING: Piece by Piece

May 1, 2010
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Barcodes can be implemented in conjunction with a production monitoring and tracking system to streamline sanitaryware manufacturing.



Xerital Ltd. has developed high-temperature barcoding technology for use in the sanitaryware sector. Xerital has worked with SRC Engineering Srl to develop a complete concept for sanitaryware manufacturers. SRC's integrated technology allows for complete production monitoring and tracking using Xerital barcodes on each piece of ware. When used as part of a statistical process control system, it allows losses to be monitored and intervention to be implemented at an early stage, thereby saving time, money and excessive scrap.

Barcode Basics

The high-temperature barcodes are stable to 1250øC and beyond. The printing technology developed for this process is suitable for producing a full range of sequential ceramic barcodes that retain their strong black color after firing, a critical factor in ensuring information integrity and readability. In addition, color logos can be incorporated into the design.

Carefully formulated ceramic pigments are used to create the barcodes via digitally processed laser printing. Sequential barcodes can be supplied in all standard formats as waterslide decals (transfers) that are applied to greenware. The barcodes can give a glaze-free finish or can be supplied for overglazing with clear or transparent glaze.

Factory Management

The application of a thermally integrated "information vehicle" with an easy-to-use system is especially effective when used as part of an advanced factory management system. Manufacturers can code each individual piece of ware, which helps them promptly detect any problem that may occur in the different steps of the production cycle.

In addition, coding the product makes it simple and straightforward to manage ware handling, especially with the benefit of today's advanced ware storage systems. The plant manager always has access to the real-time status and history of every single piece, as well as statistics on the whole production batch.

With a bar code label applied to each piece, all manner of data can be collected, traced and reported to management. System flexibility enables data to be collected using a local area network (LAN) with PCs in the factory and portable standard barcode readers for data collection. Alternatively, portable wireless barcode readers can be used for direct data collection in the main server. Data can also be collected by touch-screen PCs, a feature that is mainly helpful at the sorting step of the factory line.

Essentially, a barcode binds all necessary product characteristics to each piece. In this way, each piece has a progressive number and can be traced during its entire lifecycle in the factory. The barcode is first applied following the casting of the valid piece. At the end of this process, the label reading is carried out as follows: set code, item code, dimension code and barcode. Set, item and dimension codes are read from a printed table that the system uses to bind the barcode with the produced piece. Shortcuts are available to minimize this reading process for instances when there are many repeated consecutive sets, items or dimensions in the casting lines.

The casting date is automatically bound to the single piece/barcode when the data are downloaded to the server every day. It is possible to add additional information to each piece by reading the related barcode (from a table printed with the software) as follows: mold, casting shift, casting line and casting operator.

Additional Applications

The system can also be used more widely  to provide additional benefits. For example, it can mark pieces that are deemed not valid (scrap) after casting. On these pieces, the barcode is not applied. Instead, a special code (the zero) and the cause of scrap are detailed on a table printed with the program. This special code directs the system to record each piece of scrap for statistical purposes. In addition, the individual molds on the casting machines can be coded to allow the plant manager to track possible problems with specific molds.

"Our collaboration with SRC in Italy benefits sanitaryware producers in a number of ways, putting many years of ceramic experience at their disposal and offering a high degree of flexibility in the way that the overall data management system is designed, organized, sourced and installed," said Howard Quinn, a Xerital director.

For additional information, contact Xerital Ltd., Unit A, Slippery Lane, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent ST1 4JA, England; (44) 1782-210653; fax (44) 1782-286676; e-mail info@xerital.com; or visit www.xerital.com. SRC Engineering's website is located at www.srceng.com.

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