Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Barcode scanner uses a Liquid Lens just like a human eye

Industrial barcode scanners have to be tough to survive in warehouse and manufacturing environments, but they also need to perform their primary function of barcode reading, in what can be very challenging conditions, and be able to adapt to the fast changing needs of a busy workplace.

Reading all barcodes, first time, every time is the most important thing to the worker, so a barcode reader that can adapt to the circumstances and "just read the barcode" allows the user to concentrate on the work, not on the kit.

The problem is that until recently barcode scanners were nowhere near as good as the human eye at reading at a distance or close up, a bit like when we get older and need both reading and distance glasses (like me).

Until now that is! Now an amazing new technology that uses a solid state "liquid lens" and refocusses in milliseconds has been built into the latest Datalogic PowerScan 9500 HP industrial barcode readers.

What does this mean? Well it means that this barcode scanner can refocus on the barcode at different distances, just like a (young) human eye.  Do you remember as a child being surprised that Grandpa needed glasses to read and different glasses for everything else?

Well most barcode scanners are a little like Grandpa, with quite a short depth of visual field where barcodes are in perfect focus and everything else is a bit fuzzy. But the new "liquid lens" PowerScan 9500 HP has a lens that can be reshaped instantly, just like an eye, and this means that the barcode being scanned is always in focus.

And now for the science:  Using a technique called Electrowetting the lens is focused using an electric field to reshape a special oil/water lens cell. There are no moving parts and the cell is totally sealed, only the internal liquids change shape.

This gives the lens fantastic shock resistance and a focal length from 5cm to infinity, perfect for reading small barcodes near to and large barcodes far away. Ideal for a warehouse or loading yard, where the operator needs to read barcodes on a loading sheet and racking bays or pallets.

Datalogic PD9530 HP connected to a DLoG MTC 6/10
Many barcode scanning applications don't need such sophisticated near/far scanning, but in fast paced warehouse logistics and manufacturing environments, this technology is the key to smooth work-flow and happy workers. There is nothing more frustrating than a barcode that wont scan! Especially if it happens all the time, leading to unhappy workers and slowing transaction speeds. I expect we will soon see this technology in many other devices, as it's much more powerful than providing barcode scanners with better glasses!

If your barcode scanners suffer from poor vision, call our sales team to arrange a demo of the new Datalogic Powerscan, its a real eye opener!

Written by David Parkinson - partner at Dash Computer Products, who specialises in barcode driven WMS, hand held and fork truck mounted computers and data capture solutions.
contact David on 01200 441977 or email here:  Sales@Dash Computer

Monday, 10 November 2014

Big Data - The value of a transaction

At a recent presentation in Germany by our partner DLoG one of the presenters used a phrase which really got my attention and made me think.  In discussing the more prolific use of touch-screen terminals in the retail and hospitality sectors the presenter said that soon "the value of the information about the transaction will be worth more than the transaction itself".

Its a great line and one that certainly sounds good to a room full of experienced system integrators and resellers. What he means of course is that even the smallest purchase, using a "traceable" transaction, not cash, can generate information about where you are or what you are doing, that can be worth money to a retailer or advertiser, its all part of the Big Data revolution that we are all part of.

It took me a little while to realise that as a concept, despite sounding fresh, this has actually been true in our business for a great many years.

Looking at our work in logistics and warehousing over the past 15 or 20 years, the technology and solutions we develop with our customers has been delivering that incredibly valued information right from day one, but sometimes its "real value" is overlooked.

Whenever we introduce automated data capture into an operation the Return on Investment is seen in the improvement and streamlining of the existing operations, picking, packing, put away etc.  But what becomes evident fairly rapidly after deployment is that the information the business gains insight on, the actually transactions themselves, can show hitherto unseen patterns and provide a level of detail that can affect the whole business.

Why does a certain pick location always need manual input instead of scanning?  What makes Tuesdays the most efficient pick day of the week?  Why does more stock leave on bay 5 than any other?  Or more importantly it can lead to an improved stock profile and in some cases a drastically reduced total inventory value, improving cash flow.

All of a sudden a whole new spectrum of information becomes available to the warehousing and logistics team and allows them to further identify issues and improve efficiencies.

So the retail sector is now catching up somewhat with the logistics industry and beginning to see the inherent value in the information you can gathered in an automated process and how this can benefit the business.  The only difference being the information is coming from customers not employees and the benefits come from more accurately targeted sales opportunities and customer buying patterns.

Written by Nigel Holloway - a senior sales consultant at Dash Computer Products, who specialises in barcode labelling systems, hand held and fork truck mounted computers and data capture solutions.
contact Nigel on 01200 441977 or email here:  Nigel@Dash Computer

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Are thin client conversions the solution to Win XP Fork Truck computer woes?

Earlier this year we commented on the issue for large Enterprises who need to end the use of Windows XP PCs on their network, but who have Truck Mounted computers with lots of life left in them only able to run XP.

One possible solution has come to us from DLoG in Germany, the use of an Industrial Thin Client, that can replace the original Win XP OS with a super thin client firmware that allows the computer to access remote VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) like VMWare, Citrix or Microsoft RDP.

This may seem pretty ordinary these days, with Thin and Zero client devices being used across many corporations.  But its the ability to re-purpose existing rugged computers, some less than three years old and in perfect working order, with many years of service left in them and make them look and feel like the latest Win 7 or even Win 8 computers, that is so interesting.

DLoG GmbH working with iGEL Technologies, a specialist supplier of Zero and Thin Client devices, have created a firmware image for the DLoG MTC 6/10, that installs one of the best industrial Thin Clients available.  The original project was not even to re-use older hardware, but was to create new super rugged Truck computers for the Automotive industry that was quick and easy to deploy and has no OS to support in the factory.

So instead of having to replace expensive truck computers with the latest hardware and latest operating system, before their time, Enterprise customer can now host any operating system they choose that runs on Virtual Desktop Infrastructure.

The benefits of using IGEL on a DLoG MTC 6 computer include:
  • Easy set-up within minutes for quick roll-outs - just "plug in and go"
  • No support issues for Windows security updates
  • Robust construction for use in industrial and production environments
  • Huge reduction in maintenance support costs due to straightforward, centralised remote administration
  • Extremely environmentally friendly: CO2 emissions and electricity consumption up to 77% lower than with regular PCs
  • No moving parts for greater reliability, longer service life and fewer failures, ensuring a reliable 27/4 operation
If you want to see if your DLoG XP truck computer can use this upgrade, call the Barcode-IT team 01200 441977.  Or check out our website here : DLoG Thin Client

Written by David Parkinson - partner at Dash Computer Products, who specialises in barcode driven WMS, hand held and fork truck mounted computers and data capture solutions.
contact David on 01200 441977 or email here:  Sales@Dash Computer

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

ERP or WMS which is more important?

So, you're thinking of changing your ERP system? Wow, that's a big step, however it could radically improve your business and streamline your operation.

But what about the propeller of your business, the warehouse? Driven by the engine room of your ERP, the warehouse is the part of your business that actually delivers product to your customers, and if that part in not working properly its game over!

A well engineered and properly implemented ERP is a thing of beauty. However, all too often finance people within the business lavish all their attention (and budget) on guaranteeing that management information and financial reporting are paramount, and ignore operational capabilities.

But if the warehouse can't fulfil the "Right Here! Right Now!" demands from your customers, then the shiny new ERP will fail to improve the business in the way in which it was designed.

Today, modern warehouses are totally different and have moved far beyond the paper based and manual systems that were used by some businesses even only 10 years ago.
The heart of the modern WMS is a rugged, WiFi enabled, barcode driven data terminal directly connected to the WMS, giving information and instructions to the worker, while ensuring that transactions are fast and accurate.

Warehouse management today is about flow and control, balancing the need to allow the flow of goods in and out of the warehouse, with the need to ensure that proper control is exercised over the put away, picking and despatch processes.

Too much or unnecessary control can slow important processes which can lead to dramatic knock on effects to later WMS transactions. 

For example, when goods are being received from a supplier, a modern warehouse management system (WMS) will already be aware that goods are due and will be able to recognise that some products need to be quality control checked, while other items can be immediately put away.

The QC process is important but it need not hinder work-flow. A modern WMS can recognise that the item needs QC, but still put it away in the correct location, according to its need (could be chilled or need a special location) then it's marked as "awaiting QC" and NOT added to available stock, therefore it cannot be picked or moved. Finally the QC request is added to the list of "waiting for QC" items list and the QC worker is directed to the correct location using a modern industrial terminal or pad, that uses barcodes to enforce accuracy.  The worker checks the items, or takes samples for analysis and if the QC test is passed, releases the items electronically to available stock.  The product is already in location so there is nothing else to do. Time saved and productivity improved.

The old method was to place goods received into a QC or quality control area, where inspectors could (eventually) do the QC test and mark the goods are available for put away. This requires more time and another put away task before the goods are taken to their final stock location.

Many ERP systems have built in "stock management" but for slick and sophisticated
management of the warehouse, you just can't beat a dedicated WMS that gives the warehouse and logistics teams the very latest thinking in warehouse management and the right mobile tools to keep the products and orders flowing to your customers.

So, the real answer to the question "ERP or WMS, which is more important?" is that each is equally as important as the other, but the two MUST work in harmony to achieve the business benefits that each has promised.

If you would like to discover more about the latest ideas for "smart" warehouse management or see how giving your worker mobile access to your business systems could be of benefit, come and talk to the experts here at Barcode-IT.

Written by David Parkinson - partner at Dash Computer Products, who specialises in barcode driven WMS, hand held and fork truck mounted computers and data capture solutions.
contact David on 01200 441977 or email here:  Sales@Dash Computer

Monday, 6 October 2014

Rhino Hide - Replaceable Screen Protection for Truck Computers

DLoG mobile computers are tough, very tough. Able to withstand the rigours of life bolted to an unsprung fork truck, DLoG computers just keep on working.

But accidents do happen and a number of customers have reported that the surface of screens are being damaged by some workers using sharp and inappropriate tools, pens etc instead of a finger or correct stylus.  Plus when workers use heavy duty gloves, embedded with grit, metal filing or other abrasive dust, the surface of the screen can become dulled or opaque, where the worker constantly uses the same area of the screen.

To combat this damage Barcode-IT will now offer a sacrificial screen protector called Rhino Hide, for all DLoG computers.

Rhino Hide is a super strong totally clear overlay that works in exactly the same way as the protected screen beneath, allowing the user to view, touch and interact with the screen as before. Except now Rhino Hide is protecting the screen and absorbing any cuts, nicks and scratches accidentally impacting the screen.

However the real beauty of Rhino Hide is that when damaged, it can easily be removed and replaced with a new Hide, keeping the DLoG in service instead of being returned to the workshop for (sometimes expensive) screen repair.  Rhino Hide can be replaced in situ, quickly and easily by an on-site technical support person or fork truck engineer in just ten minutes.

Rhino Hide can be fitted from new or added to existing DLoG computers.  Call today to order yours and start benefiting from reduced down time.  Also available for Psion, Motorola, LXE, Intermec and Honeywell Truck Computers.

Written by Nigel Holloway - a senior sales consultant at Dash Computer Products, who specialises in barcode labelling systems, hand held and fork truck mounted computers and data capture solutions.
contact Nigel on 01200 441977 or email here:  Nigel@Dash Computer

Friday, 26 September 2014

The true cost of ownership

We were recently contacted by a chemical company looking to replace old Psion 7535 hand held terminals, they used these in the warehouse to track picking and putaway transactions using a (pretty old) browser based application and it had run OK for years.

Now the obvious route (for some) would be to pitch up with the latest terminal from manufacturer X, load the RF configuration and Terminal Emulation client, let the guys test them and be impressed by the brighter screen, better scanner, faster response times etc. Easy!

However, when talking to the operators on their tea break, it became apparent that the real issue was the screen size and the way the "not very well designed" browser GUI was displayed to the operator.  It was very small, some information was off screen including the scan input so they were unable to see an incorrect barcode scan until it was committed and the next screen came up.

Also they were using narrow isle trucks in high racking and the terminals were usually jammed into a convenient space on the VNA.  Which resulted in a quite a few breakages that took up to 8 weeks to get fixed and returned.

Fortunately both the Warehouse Manager and the IT Manager were open minded enough to listen to our ideas on the use of a fix position DLoG truck computer, to address the workers issues.

A secure DLoG unit mounted directly to the VNA to eliminate drops, a larger screen to display the ERP software correctly, making the interface quicker and smoother to navigate and finally a UK based repair centre.

Testing went well and the operators were delighted, but as a solution it was noticeably more expensive than just buying new hand held devices.  Luckily the Warehouse and IT Managers, when they pitched this to the business looked into all the down time, breakages, slow picking, miss-scans and equally importantly, the time to fix units as the IT support was on a different site about 10 miles away so had to drive to the warehouse to fix the units and or arrange return to the manufacturer's European repair centre. With the DLoG units he could remote access into them just like a standard PC from his desk, diagnosing software issues and fixing them in real time.

So despite the initial financial outlay appearing to be very high, by taking into account all the factors the extra investment in the correct hardware for the job showed an overall saving and improved efficiencies for the company.

Needless to say they have now started the roll-out of DLoG MTC 6/10 units and are beginning to enjoy the benefits of a properly researched solution, based on the real world needs of the business and the true cost of ownership factored into the purchasing decision.

Written by Nigel Holloway - a senior sales consultant at Dash Computer Products, who specialises in barcode labelling systems, hand held and fork truck mounted computers and data capture solutions.
contact Nigel on 01200 441977 or email here:  Nigel@Dash Computer

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The human interface is still crucial

Yesterday I attended a meeting at the site of an International (and very famous, you know the one who awards stars) tyre manufacturer.  We had assisted them by providing the latest DLoG model, the DLT-V8312, to run a test of new software to improve the shop floor manufacturing process.

A significant amount of time had been spent ensuring the specification of the terminal was up to scratch and that the unit would be robust and reliable enough for the rough and tumble of the environment.  All of which is understandable as the DLoG is not a cheap terminal and the majority of the cap-ex would be spent on this as the platform for the new application.

As an aside, my contact asked for some forklift truck mounting brackets and a barcode scanner as part of the test kit.

When I returned to collect the hardware after testing I was obviously keen to know how the DLoG had performed.  Had it been powerful enough for the application to run smoothly? Did it fit OK on the forklift truck and not block line of sight? Had the RF been stable?  Was the screen bright enough for the outdoor element of the process?

 But all the IT guys could talk about was the barcode scanner, a cordless Datalogic Powerscan PM-9500.
A revelation!  As compared to their original Intermec laser scanners (approx 9 years old) it was far superior.  It scanned at lightning fast pace, had an aiming beam to help hit the correct barcode, was light and easy to handle and (the best bit) it had a Green Spot good scan confirmation. Amazing! They had to have some!

So the test was a success! Not really down to the expensive, key piece hardware we were all concentrating on and where most of the money was going, but on the barcode scanner I accidentally included in the box. But this does reinforce a common theme we see in our solutions. The human interface is crucial. Whether it be a great barcode scanner or a customised software keyboard on the screen, the level of user acceptance is ultimately the degree by which the company will see payback on the investment in the project.

The people using the solution everyday are key to its success and making their life easy and getting their buy in is crucial.

So sometimes it is the peripherals that people interact with, often ignored in the big project, that can make all the difference to how well a user gets on with a piece of kit and how much benefit a business get from a system that uses the technology.

Written by Nigel Holloway - a senior sales consultant at Dash Computer Products, who specialises in barcode labelling systems, hand held and fork truck mounted computers and data capture solutions.
contact Nigel on 01200 441977 or email here:  Nigel@Dash Computer

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Fork truck label printers - Small and rugged does not come cheap!

The growing installation of truck and vehicle mounted computers in manufacturing and warehouse operations, such as DLoG DLT truck computers, is driving demand for an ultra rugged method of producing barcode labels at the point of need. Often this means mounting a label printer directly on the truck so that the driver can print labels on demand rather than returning to a "print station", wasting time and creating potential errors in the labelling of goods or pallets. Some have tried to use portable printers from Zebra and Intermec but with limited success, as being bolted to a fork truck is not the same as hanging from some guys belt or a nicely sprung car or delivery van, fork trucks don't have suspension!

The good news is that there is a printer that has been around for a while and has a fantastic specification but seems to be a closely guarded secret in this market sector.

But before I let you in on this precious secret, I need to pose a question:
If you buy a powerful desktop PC with a particular spec and then by a super slim laptop with a similar spec, would you expect to pay more for the laptop than the desktop PC?

I'm anticipating that you will say the laptop will be much more expensive and in fact the smaller and thinner the more it will cost!

So, why do we expect that a small mobile label printer, capable of printing exactly the same labels, to the same quality at the same speed, but in a moving, rugged environment should be cheaper than a desktop label printer?

OK I'm ready to come clean now.      Small and Rugged does not come cheap!
But if the fork truck cost tens of thousands and the mobile PC two or three grand, its only reasonable that a mobile printer bolted to your fork truck, with the same abilities as the Zebra xi4 or Datamax H-Class, is going to cost more too.

Datamax-Oneil MP Compact4
In fact many of Europe's leading supply chain companies have already bought into this concept and have been using ultra rugged, mobile label printers for ages. Bolted to fork trucks, reach truck, narrow isle, man-rider and all other types of industrial vehicle, these printers just keep on working and are designed to cope with anything the industrial user can throw at them.
Its such a secret, this is the only action shot I can find

For more details about how this printer might help your business please call the team at Barcode-IT on 01200 441977 or visit the Mobile Printer secret web page here

There is a very interesting Video on YouTube that shows how Bossard, a global fastening supplier to the Automotive industry used The MP Compact4 to solve a warehouse problem.

MP Compact4 warehouse video - link 

Written by David Parkinson - partner at Dash Computer Products, who specialises in barcode labelling systems, hand held and fork truck mounted computers and data capture solutions.
contact David on 01200 441977 or email here:  Sales@Dash Computer

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

WiFi - Some times it is broke and you must fix it!

A vital but often undervalued component of any automated data capture system is the WiFi infrastructure or Wireless LAN (WLAN) .  All the hand held terminals, fork lift truck computers and sometimes thermal label printers require this to operate and without it, effectively become very expensive door stop.

If you are utilising a solid industrial WiFi (for example Cisco or Motorola products) then normally, if correctly configured after a proper site survey, they just run and run and run without missing a beat. Over time, because of their inherent reliability, these products they tend to be forgotten about and ignored.  If it just works then leave it be.

However we have seen a number of clients purchase new terminals leading to a mix of devices, add extra access points to the site where they think they need them and also move, add or remove racking and mezzanine floors as the business adapts and develops.  All this can have a negative impact on the ability of the WLAN to operate at peak performance.  Drop outs start to occur, roaming effectively between access points is inhibited and whilst using the terminals, software speed of response for the user is reduced.

The last point is the most important.  An issue in the WLAN manifests itself usually in the device and as such the perception is that the terminal is broken or the software client is buggy etc.  IT departments then spend a lot of time and effort trying to diagnose and fix 'perceived' issues while missing the possible key fault.

Worse than this, poorly performing terminals have an unusual habit of breaking with alarming regularity as frustration for the user mounts and they vent their anger on the kit.

Recently a number of long term clients have asked us to revisit their sites and re-appraise the suitability of the WLAN in light of changes to hardware profile, software clients and the physical environment.  Often more in-depth than the initial site survey, this looks for potential pitfalls and problems to help create a fast, smooth and reliable wireless LAN which in turn leads to smoother transactions  and a marked decrease in downtime and faults on the shop floor.

Having invested a large sum into automated data capture devices and warehouse management systems most companies would do well to remember that the wireless infrastructure is one of the key elements to ensuring you get the return on investment you expect.  Some times it is broke and you must fix it!

Written by Nigel Holloway - a senior sales consultant at Dash Computer Products, who specialises in barcode labelling systems, hand held and fork truck mounted computers and data capture solutions.
contact Nigel on 01200 441977 or email here:  Nigel@Dash Computer

Monday, 14 July 2014

NiceLabel PowerForms - Forming Powerful Solutions

One of the most underrated features on the NiceLabel range of products is the Powerforms module (previously Niceform).  Packaged with Designer Pro, the main intention of this module is to provide a quick and clean GUI for operators.  Essentially hiding away all the mechanics of label design, printer settings, ODBC connections, fonts, graphic placement etc. and making the interface quick, clean and most importantly protected from unintentional alterations and errors.

Over the years however, we at Barcode-IT have come to recognise that there are far reaching benefits to be had from clever utilisation of this fantastic tool kit.

Recently I tendered for a project with an electronics company where the idea for the solution went back some years to a previous customer project that we developed using PowerForm.

That customer is in the automotive sector (I know, sorry but we do a lot of work in this sector!) for an electronics component manufacturer supplying directly into main assembly at Nissan (amongst others).  They approached us to help them enhance and refine their labelling system in light of new and more complex packaging specifications from the clients.  Previously they had driven this by stand alone copies of Bar One software and manually selected and input data to the label design.

The user touches a button to proceed to one of the Forms below.
The user then uses the interface revealed to choose the correct part and enter the codes. 

Finally a Box End label is printed
Our solution using NiceLabel introduced a number of improvements including a networked installation with back up license servers (a little known standard feature in multi-user NiceLabel), intelligent database connectivity and advanced event logging.  But the key feature was the Powerforms front end. We designed a layered structure of forms to allow for operators to easily navigate to the correct product, using customer logos and colour schemes to make it easily identifiable and included a 'live' label preview that changed dynamically as they input data.  This data was carefully verified in terms of formatting to help ensure compliance.  All in all a huge leap forward!

So successful has this been over the years, that the solution is still running today and has been copied and rolled out to other sites all over the EU to enhance accurate labelling of products.

But there are far more possibilities for Powerforms than even this.  Who says it has to drive label printing as its primary function?  It could be used for data input to ERP systems or act as a link to view and manipulate data between different software systems.  It could track any variable or defined process that requires an easy, clean and cheap front end, all while being fully customisable, sometimes by internal IT, to suit the exact user needs.

If my aforementioned proposal comes off I will tell you all soon exactly how I used this simple system to create something far more powerful.  In the meantime take a look at Powerforms to see just what it can do - PowerForms Page

Written by Nigel Holloway - a senior sales consultant at Dash Computer Products, who specialises in barcode labelling systems, hand held and fork truck mounted computers and data capture solutions.
contact Nigel on 01200 441977 or email here:  Nigel@Dash Computer

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Why installation & training is important for advanced labelling solutions

When customers purchase advanced labelling software like NiceLabel PowerForms or Automation, they may forget just how much more the business can benefit if users and administrators are properly trained to release the solution's full potential.  Some users buy expensive software and self deploy, which can be fine, but often means that the users may never implement design best practise or miss out on complex but vital features that can make the difference between a cost effective system and an adequate tool.

A good example is a recent new customer, Quotient Clinical who have installed a five user copy of NiceLabel PowerForms to manage their printing of Clinical Trial Labels. Although the volume of printing is quite small, the accuracy of the information and the quality of the label material (polypropylene) is paramount.  Errors on the label or a failure of the label itself could invalidate the whole trial which could cost many thousands to re-run and delay the introduction of important new drugs.

NiceLabel PowerForm clinical trials

Quotient Clinical realise that to get the best out of PowerForms, the IT administrators, the label and data architects and the users of the system, should be fully trained by our expert in NiceLabel, Craig Hirst. Craig not only advised on how best to set-up PowerForms for a multi-user environment, but trained staff in all aspects of label design, thermal label printers and Forms . Craig has a huge amount of experience with Pharma and Medical labelling solutions, advising many NHS hospitals and Trusts on how to best set up the laboratory information and label printing systems.

NiceLabel PowerForms is a perfect tool to allow operators to input or scan (barcode) data into the form and allows a degree of data validation on input so operator input errors are reduced. A real-time preview of the label is displayed on the form, which is an exact copy of the label being printed on to the Datamax H-Class label printer being used. This ensures that even if the operator has made an error he is presented with a "real" label image, before printing the hard copy.

In other industries, PowerForms offers drop down boxes or pulls data from SQL or other databases, to further minimise the operator input. But at  Quotient Clinical, the information input by the user is the beginning of the record, which does not exist until it's been printed.

More and more customers are realising that to unlock the real power and features of software products like PowerForms, training and on-going technical support are paramount, something that Barcode-IT and the support team at NiceLabel excel at.

For further information on how PowerForms could transform your label printing, contact the team at Barcode-IT. For training or support we can tailor a solution to your needs.
Call 01200 441977 or email us @ Barcode-IT Sales

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Driving Home Quality - Re-Shoring into the UK

A number of companies I have visited over the last few months have all had the same reason as to why they are contacting us.  All the companies are manufacturers, in different industries but the tale is the same.  They are all seeing an increase in business.

On the face of it this is driven by (finally) a boom in the UK manufacturing industry, especially the well documented success in the automotive sector.

But on closer inspection there is also another, more interesting reason, why these manufacturers are having to increase output.

Time and again it appears that organisations that moved their manufacturing 'offshore' are bringing those cells back to the UK.  In the last 2 months 3 different companies have explicitly told me this is the main reason for growth on their particular site.

More interestingly is the reason why which also appears to be the same.

We all know the initial drive to move manufacturing away from these shores to Eastern Europe, Asia and China most of all was cost.  And despite an increase in the expectation of wages for the workers in these countries, it still seems to be the case that, for the accountants at least, there is a good financial reason to keep the production where it is.

However, what is driving the return to the UK is in fact product and component quality.  The expectation of the customers for a consistent and high quality product has brought home to many producers the value of domestic skilled labour and mature systems and procedures to ensure this.
"Reshoring could create around 100-2oo,000 extra UK jobs over the next decade, and boost annual national output by around £6-12 billion" PwC UK - read the article 
The initial go live of remote manufacturing sites a few years ago was carefully controlled and managed in most cases to ensure the transition of product and the supply chain all went without a hitch and the client would not notice a difference expect in the monthly invoice.  However, colloquially it appears that as the years have gone by quality controls may have slipped and reported failures and returns have increased.

Not what any company wants in a very competitive market.

Also companies like BMW/Mini and JLR operate remarkably involved just-in-time systems and having the supplier located 20 miles away as opposed to 6,000 miles away makes a huge difference to the levels of customer service that can be offered and more importantly maintained.

What this return of and increase in business does bring into focus is the need for efficient internal systems and Auto-ID driven warehousing and logistics to ensure the most accurate and lean process.

Having a second bite at the cherry seems to have made people aware of the need to invest in barcode driven data capture and smart, integrated labelling and marking to drive home the message of a consistent and quality product and service levels.

With our expertise and extensive knowledge in these areas, working with our clients we can play a small part in ensuring the repatriation of manufacturing to the UK.

Written by Nigel Holloway - a senior sales consultant at Dash Computer Products, who specialises in barcode labelling systems, hand held and fork truck mounted computers and data capture solutions.
contact Nigel on 01200 441977 or email here:  Nigel@Dash Computer

Barcode Label Printers - Premature failure of thermal transfer print heads

Some of our customers are seeing a spate of early failure of printheads in their barcode label printers at the moment and this prompted me to discuss what the reasons might be for the failure and how best to maximise printhead life.

Firstly, its important to say that all thermal printheads fail! Printheads are a long life consumable item, like tyres on a car and just like tyres on a car, the further you drive and the faster you drive, the sooner they wear out.

Common print head issues are shown here, some can be fixed, some are terminal and some are adjustments

  1. Very thin, feint white lines vertically down the length of the label
    = Pixel failure - its the end of the line for your printhead, failed pixels cannot be recovered.
  2. Thick, white lines vertically down the length of the label, often with blurry edges
    = Dirt or a residue built up in the head - often at the location of heavy print. Can often be recovered if early action is taken, clean with a thermal cleaning pen and printhead polishing sheet.
  3. Faded print on the right or left of the label                                                                                          = Printhead balance adjustment is incorrect - the label width adjuster is badly set, if the label is faded on the left or on the right, the printhead balance is incorrect. Different printers use a variety of knobs and slides for this adjustment, normally its green plastic.

But there are things that will improve printhead life - some things are obvious and others are not. So here are some do's and don't's for the care of thermal printheads:

Do Not:

  • run the printers with the cover open
  • allow dust and dirt to build up inside the printer
  • run the heat or darkness at more than 75% of the maximum setting for your printer
  • clean the head with ANY none approved fluids or materials!
  • use the wrong ribbon / label combination
  • run at very high or very low speeds, unless you know what you are doing
  • forget to change the ribbon if printing on special labels
  • twiddle with knobs or adjusters if you don't know what its for
  • clean the head correctly on a regular basis with a polishing sheet
  • take care to use the correct ribbon for the label material
  • set the labelling software to control the heat (darkness) and speed of the labels
  • read the manual or arrange printer set-up and best practice training for a super-user
  • use special cleaning pens every time you change the roll of ribbon or labels.

    Special printhead cleaning pen

    For more information on how to keep your barcode label printer in good working condition or to arrange a technician to fix a printer fault, call Laura on 01200 441977 or go to the Barcode-IT maintenance web page 

    Cleaning pens and printhead polishing sheets for all makes and models of printer are available from the printer maintenance team at Barcode-IT.

    Friday, 4 July 2014

    Product Label Printing Problems - by Nigel Holloway

    I have just come out of a meeting with a company that distributes pharmaceuticals on behalf of a number of different companies and organisations.  It was one of those incredibly satisfying meetings where I was immediately  able to offer a solution to their problems.  Specifically the problems were very unusual but potentially crippling to the business.

    Over the course of the past couple of years a small percentage of their product labels have started to print with random unusual errors for no apparent reason.  Missing text, missing numbers, font shifts, moving symbols, angled text etc.

    All very strange but the system is now at the end of its life. The labelling software is old and unsupported, the OS ( XP ) is now unsupported and so many alterations have been made to the system to try and correct the errors that no-one really knows where it all began.

    So the only answer is a clean test bed using Nicelabel Powerforms on a new PC with new label designs and one of the existing (new) Zebra printers.

    I have a suspicion what the issue will be but I will hold fire on saying until we have tested and proved it!!!

    Safe to say I am very confident we can fix this.  Look out for updates to this story!

    Written by Nigel Holloway - a senior sales consultant at Dash Computer Products, who specialises in barcode labelling systems, hand held and fork truck mounted computers and data capture solutions.
    contact Nigel on 01200 441977 or email here:  Nigel@Dash Computer

    Wednesday, 2 July 2014

    GS1 UK Labelling Survey Reveals Mixed Readiness for Food Information to Consumers

    A new survey by GS1 UK reveals what many of us in the business have known for some time, that many Food Manufacturers and packers are not yet prepared for the EU 1169/2011 Regulation (FIC).

    The regulations cover many areas but the main challenge is to list all ingredients and highlight the Allergens that are present.  This is not a trivial task with food products containing very wide ranges of ingredients and allergens differing from one product to another.  The solution is NiceLabel PowerForms and some clever design and configuration work from Barcode-IT.  Check it out here - Barcode-IT Allergens Solution

    Gary Lynch, CEO at GS1 UK comments: “Compliance with  FIC is proving to be a complex process for industry, as it comprises many different areas and can involve multiple teams and in some cases thousands of products, each with different size labels and different requirements specific to the ingredient type. We recommend that all businesses involved in the supply and sale of food and drink products aim to be compliant well in advance of the 13th December deadline, to help avoid bottlenecks and ensure contingency measures can be put in place should final labelling errors be found.“

    If your company needs help in addressing the new EU regulations on food labeling, give the Barcode-IT team a call on 01200 441977.  We have good solutions and the expertness to guide you to a cost effective solution.

    See how we have helped one local company to to make a start on compliance, look here  Lancashire Cheese Manufacturer

    See the GS1 UK report here.
    Food Information to Consumers report

    Monday, 30 June 2014

    EU Allergen regulations problem solved by Singleton's Dairies using NiceLabel

    A Lancashire cheese manufacturer is a little closer to meeting new European Union regulations on Food Allergens by upgrading to the latest version of NiceLabel Powerforms.

    Singleton's Dairies make top quality, iconic Lancashire cheese sold under the Grandma Singleton's brand, which is exported all over the world, but forthcoming EU regulations on the labeling of Food Allergens have required a complete re-think of the labeling process to ensure full compliance with the directive.

    Fortunately Singletons have been long time users of NiceLabel and so the transition to a full database method of label printing, required to allow food allergens to be correctly identified and emboldened on every label, while still a big job, is now a manageable task.  In fact Singletons are such loyal users of NiceLabel, that they have used every version of NiceLabel over the last 11 years, from version 3 to 4 to 5 and now version 6 - NiceLabel PowerForms.

    Currently EU regulations list 14 possible allergens in food ingredients, with every label now needing to show "which" allergens are contained for each and every product.  With thousands of products and variations in the range, this task needs automating to make sure no mistakes are made and so NiceLabel have developed an 'intelligent' database of the allergens, which is checked against the ingredients list at print time and if any allergen is contained in the ingredients, it is automatically made bold or underlined to allow the customer to immediately see the allergen they may wish to avoid.

    Barcode-IT are also advising Singletons on the best way to structure the data and label templates, to make the whole system future proof and easy to manage, so that the number of label templates is minimised and new products information is pulled in from Microsoft Dynamics ERP automatically using ODBC.

    Further information on NiceLabel Powerforms, EU food allergen directives or barcode labeling, contact the Barcode-IT team on 01200 441977 - www.barcode-it.co.uk

    Tuesday, 24 June 2014

    New Dexterity WMS version 3 brochure now available

    latest brochure for Dexterity warehouse management systemThe latest on-line brochure for Dexterity 3 WMS is now available from the Barcode-IT website. Dexterity 3 has recently been very popular with Sage 200 users both new and old, who have seen the advanced warehouse management features in Dex 3. New customers who use Sage 200 ERP are finding that "Sage on a Gun", as some customers call Dexterity's closest rival, just does not allow them to manage their business and inventory in a flexible modern way, whereas Dexterity with its configurable interface, can cope with almost any warehouse scenario.

    Existing Dexterity WMS are also lining up to upgrade to the latest version and many are also refreshing hardware at the same time. The new Dex X3 terminal (Dex Gun to most users!) is very popular and for barcode label printing the Printronix T2n is a fantastic work horse with a small footprint and a rugged construction.

    Full information about Dexterity WMS can be found at our dedicated website   Warehouse-IT

    Monday, 23 June 2014

    Ball Aerocan chose DLoG Forklift Truck Computers

    Ball Aerocan chooses DLoG Forklift Truck Computers from Barcode-IT

    Ball Aerocan have chosen Barcode-IT to supply DLoG MPC6/12 forklift truck computers into their Devizes warehouse. The computers being purchased for the UK warehouse add to the large fleet of over 100 DLoG computers currently being used in France and The Czech Republic. As well as supplying the DLoG computers, Barcode-IT will be performing a wireless site survey to ensure that coverage is optimal in the warehouse and the computers stay connected to Ball Aerocans system at all times. Ball Aerocan manufacture aerosol cans and aluminium bottles for use in many industry sectors, including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage manufacturers.

    DLoG fork truck computers are widely used by on SAP ERP systems to allow fork trucks to have real-time communications to SAP using ITS Mobile or the earlier SAPConsole.  ITSMobile is a web front end for SAP systems, giving mobile computers access to the ERP anywhere in the business that is WiFi connected or has access to a 3G or 4G mobile network

    Handheld mobile computers such as Motorola and Datalogic which have small displays can still use ITSMobile as SAP have developed special small screens that can filter normal SAP screens for the 3.5 inch displays.

    NiceLabel PowerForms is a big hit with SAP Business One user.

    Manufacturing cardboard tubes may not seem very glamorous, but it is amazing just how many businesses rely on the simple cardboard tube. Stells is the UKs largest cardboard tube manufacturer and offers an enormous range of products.  This makes the correct labeling and shipping of the products critically important and Stells have invested in Nicelabel to work with SAP Business One, to ensure that the right label is printed with the right data at the right time.

    A full description of how NiceLabel is helping Stells is available to view
    here :  Stells Success Story

    "The NiceLabel solution implemented by Barcode-IT makes label printing simple. The solution is robust and being seamlessly integrated with our SAP B1 software means that it really can't fail - it just works!" - Sam Stell, Director at J Stell & Sons.

    Monday, 16 June 2014

    Why you need Automation ( for label printing )

    Barcode label printing is such an important part of the manufacturing or shipping of any product that you would think that it would be considered an important process for any business. However you would be wrong, with many companies running antiquated label production systems relying on information entered by an operator at print time with little or no management oversight on the format or data integrity of the labels being sent out.

    Finally we are seeing some real progress in the Automation of label printing, where all the data and the instruction for what label to print and which printer to print it to, comes directly from the Manufacturing or ERP system, giving full control of the quality and accuracy of the labels.

    NiceLabel Automation Pro has all the features needed to produce perfect labels first time every time, without human intervention ( unless you want intervention that is), using label templates created on a professional WYSIWYG designer ( NiceLabel Pro ).

    Automation runs as a fully integrated service and runs in the background on a server, whenever labels are requested by the ERP.  Automation monitors multiple "triggers" at the same time, so that labels can be printed to any network label printer "on the fly".

    Zebra Label printers use NiceLabel drivers.
    Label printer support is the very best in the business and has drivers for every make and model of printer in the business.  In fact the World's biggest label printer manufacturer, Zebra Technologies, use NiceDrivers as their own a massive vote on confidence in itself.

    NiceLabel Automation and its supporting designer and tools, run on Windows platforms, but don't be put off by this as Automation can monitor print requests from any ERP or data system running on any operating system and because it runs as a service on the Windows server, its immune from operator errors or data input issues.   Plus as a bonus, you can get a full audit file of all the labels printed, the data merged and full history of what was printed and when.

    Take a leap into label printing in the 21st century and look at NiceLabel Automation, you might be surprised just how much it might improve your business.

    Friday, 6 June 2014

    Mobile data terminals browser based clients and RDP

    Here at Barcode-IT we have seen a lot of our customers who use mobile terminals to connect to their ERP, changing from the old "green screen" Telnet sessions, to Browser based clients, like ITS Mobile for SAP users.

    The problem being seen by many is that if the WiFi connection is lost, even just for a second or so, the session on the ERP system is broken and the user may have to start the transaction again.

    This can be very challenging for the operator as it may result in a request to log in again and/or not allow the new login as the previous session is still active.  Either way it is maddening for both the user and the Admin team alike.

    Some customers have even tried to have the browser client hosted on a remote PC using an RDP connection, but this too can be troublesome and the licensing can be very expensive.

    The "Real" solution is to have an Industrial Browser such as Velocity from Wavelink, the next generation in Mobile Enterprise Browsers.
    Velocity is both a client side Industrial Browser running on the mobile and a Server side host that manages all the clients requests to the ERP and protecting the sessions from connection interruptions and poor WiFi performance. It does this by acting as the proxy to the ERP and keeping the sessions alive even if the mobile client connection is lost.  So that when the mobile client reconnects to the Velocity server, the current ERP session is continued as if the mobile device had never gone way.   Velocity Overview Document

    Security - Performance - Resilience

    • In addition Velocity offer other Enterprise features, such as restricted web access and device and OS lock down
    • Page rendering optimization and page caching (which enhances performance)

    To learn more or to see if your Mobile workforce could benefit from this exciting new technology call the sales team at Barcode-IT now.  01200 441977 or visit our web site  Barcode-IT Website

    Thursday, 5 June 2014

    EU Food Allergen Labelling - Don't get caught out!

    EU Directive 1169/2011 comes into force from the 13th December 2014 and will require all food manufacturers to change the way that information is displayed on ingredients labels by highlighting allergens, either in bold or by some other method.

    Does this legislation affect your company? If so, is your current label printing method capable of producing labels that are compliant with these regulations?

    To meet the strict requirements, both your label printing software and printers may need to be updated. Barcode-IT can provide you with the tools to print the new food allergen labels and our understanding of the requirements will ensure that the transition runs smoothly.
    Label Sample

    How can you ensure your labels comply?
    Under the new guidelines, allergens must be highlighted within the labels by emboldening, underlining, making italic or printing allergens in colour. However, unless you create a specific label for each product, which is very time consuming, highlighting the appropriate allergen within the variable data can be difficult to achieve. Many existing label printing solutions are not capable of automatically highlighting allergens and require expensive coding to be written to enable this feature.

    Additionally, the new guidelines state that text must be of a certain font size to comply. In order to fit all the information on the label, many businesses will need to upgrade their printers to 300dpi models, in order to be able to print high quality text on the labels.
    NiceLabel connects to your existing product data. It can highlight allergen ingredients without the need to modify your existing product database. Simply add a table with the list of allergens and NiceLabel automatically formats the ingredients list. There is one universal template for all products and one simple print for with database and label preview.

    About EU Directive 1169/2011   Scope of the new regulation:
    •  Mandatory nutrition information on processed foods
    •  Mandatory origin labelling of unprocessed meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry
    •  Highlighting allergens, e.g. peanuts or milk in the list of ingredients
    •  Better legibility, i.e. minimum size of text
    •  Requirements on information on allergens also cover non pre-packed foods such as those sold in restaurants and cafes 
    The 14 substances and products that cause allergies or intolerances are:
    Celery                        Crustaceans              Eggs                  Fish
    Lupin                          Milk                             Molluscs            Mustard
    Nuts                            Soy Beans        Sesames Seeds
    Sulphur dioxide and sulphites

    NiceLabel Design & Print Software from Barcode-IT
    NiceLabel label design and print software can help you to comply with these new regulations, with minimum setup and maintenance.

    To download labels and form samples, click [here].  Call 01200 441977 for more details.

    Does your XP truck computer represent a security risk?

    With the end of support for Windows XP, is there a security risk in continuing to run these computers on the network?

    Many modern truck computers use Windows XP as the default operating system, even if there is a client application or terminal emulation actually connecting the truck computer to the ERP system.

    The good news is that most DLoG computers use XP embedded, which is highly resistant to change, virus attack or trojans. XP embedded is loaded from a flash image, which cannot be changed by an external application or program and the whole operating system is reloaded everytime the truck terminal is re-started.

    This means that any virus or trojan that has infected the computer is flushed away upon a computer reboot or powerdown

    Some older truck computers using full Windows XP Pro, could well represent a security rick, as many companes do not have in place the full suite of anti-virus and security applications normally seen on office computers and workstations.

    Dexterity WMS To Manage Tangle® Teezer's New Croydon DC

    Dexterity WMS Is Chosen To Manage Tangle® Teezer's New Croydon DC
    Tangle® Teezer, the manufacturer of professional detangling hairbrushes that once featured on the BBCs Dragon's Den, have chosen Dexterity WMS for Sage 200 from Barcode-IT to implement into their new Distribution Centre based in Croydon. The company currently use an existing Sage 200 Add-on to help manage their warehouse, but felt that it was not suitable for their expanding business and when searching the web found Dexterity WMS. After numerous meetings with Barcode-IT consultants, Tangle Teezer chose Dexterity WMS, a decision that they came just 4 weeks from their original enquiry!

    Full information on Dexterity WMS V3 please visit our dedicated website Warehouse-IT