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