Streamlining label management in the manufacturing sector. By Ken Moir

Unsurprisingly, labelling is not a subject which is often focused upon in the busy world of manufacturing. Yes, it’s seen as important, but there are myriad other factors that shape success in the industry. As a result, many organisations have disparate or legacy systems which are a huge burden on IT.

For instance, it is common for each distribution centre, factory and other facility within an enterprise to produce its own labels for shipments, inventory control and other processes. And typically, each facility has several different label printers and creates and maintains its own library of label templates to meet compliance requirements, internal processes and customer requests.

This means that organisations potentially have thousands of label templates across their departments which can lead to inconsistencies that are picked up by the customer rather than the manufacturer itself. At best these inconsistencies can undermine the brand, and at worst cause inaccuracies, labelling errors and potentially non-compliance.

Multiple decentralised labelling systems also add time and cost to the overall manufacturing process. For instance, a customer may request changes to the labels on its shipments due to a variety of reasons, such as they need a larger font, the label size needs to change, or the bar code needs to contain specific data.

Whatever the reason, if the manufacturing company does not hold a centralised label template library, then every facility that ships to the customer would need to update its own label templates. Clearly, this leads to the repetition of work which can cause delays as well as involving numerous staff members.

And even for organisations with a centralised system, such as SAP, label changes can be too complicated because they require the creation of many label variations. This places a massive burden on IT in terms of time, resource and cost.

Clearly, the more steps in the process and the more people involved, the potential for label errors and inaccuracies increases. In fact, mislabelled products are a leading cause of product recalls, so much so, one life sciences organisation previously instituted a ‘six-eye approval principle’ — three people must check each and every label variation.

Benefits of a centralised solution
Many of these inconsistencies and errors can be mitigated with a modern, centralised label management solution. Modern systems maintain a single version of each label template and make the file easily accessible to the people and systems that need it, regardless of their location. This approach ensures that label changes are managed in a controlled and traceable manner while improving management for label system administrators and convenience for users.

And there are other benefits such as improved agility and quality, increased accuracy, cost reductions, improved collaboration and streamlined processes:

Improving agility
Modern label management solutions empower the business to create new label templates in a matter of hours, and they are also printer agnostic, unlike scripting or complex forms design. Change requests can be managed by workers in any department because there is no programming or ERP expertise needed, meaning that it doesn’t need to fall to the IT department or other expensive resources to accommodate customer requirements. If IT wants to keep control of label design, they can do it much easier much faster.

Improving quality
Eliminating the need for manual approval workflows at multiple facilities has a direct correlation to improvements in label quality. A centralised label management system eliminates the need for the ‘six-eye approval principle’ by digitising the workflow and streamlining quality assurance. There is only one version of each label template, which is stored at a central location and shared with those who need it. This means that there cannot be any differences in how labels are created, regardless of the user, location or printer used. This consistent approach maintains the quality of each and every label, ensuring both compliance and customer satisfaction.

Enhancing supplier collaboration
A centralised system allows collaboration across the whole supply chain. A supplier label printing solution can be made available through a browser interface. This can promote consistency in how inbound materials and parts are labelled, enabling better use of technologies such as RIFD to automate the inventory management process.

Reducing costs
In a nutshell, a centralised labelling management system reduces cost by decreasing the IT burden and eliminating the need for paper-based quality control. It allows consolidation of multiple file templates, saving the costs of maintaining them as well as alleviating the costs associated with the chances of using the wrong template. Reducing the number of templates also saves costs in terms of labour and time in label creation and approval.

Streamlining quality assurance
Modern label management systems have effectively digitised the quality assurance process, removing manual quality control. This means there’s a reduced labour cost, less risk of error and changes can be made and approved more quickly.

Realising the benefits now
The global arena is an increasingly challenging market and manufacturers are under constant pressure to reduce costs and improve responsiveness. This will only happen with improvements to processes, including label management. Automating printing requirements with a modern label management system that can interface with existing production systems, can also boost process efficiencies and avoid unplanned downtime.

It’s also a mistake to ignore labelling solutions until something goes wrong, especially as labelling errors can contribute to a such a large percentage of product recalls and therefore lost profits in many industries, particularly where compliance is high on the agenda.

A modern labelling management system can help organisations to reduce costs, improve responsiveness and maintain compliance while improving label quality, supporting the brand and improving experiences for everyone, including the customer, involved in the manufacturing supply chain.

Ken Moir
Ken Moir is VP of Marketing at NiceLabel, a leading global developer of label design software and label management systems that help companies of all sizes improve the quality, speed and efficiency of their labelling, while reducing cost. With the help of its label management systems, organisations are able to digitally transform their entire label printing and production process. The result is a leaner, more agile operation that enables companies to respond more quickly to changing market conditions and requirements, get products to market faster and compete more effectively in the sectors where they do business.