How to Eliminate Coding and Labelling Mistakes

How to Eliminate Coding and Labelling Mistakes

Worldwide, operator error is one of the top causes of labelling mistakes, necessitating costly product recalls which can have a devastating effect on a company’s brand reputation.

On average, a manual production worker can be expected to make one mistake for every 300 touches. However, the reality is, that despite recent advances in automation and production, many companies continue to rely on manual processes to ensure the right information is printed on the right products, boxes, and pallets.

Where do the errors come from?

In coding and marking, manual processes in both label selection and label management can ultimately lead to labelling mistakes on a final product:

  • Human error in label selection – selecting the wrong label or deploying the wrong information onto product packaging
  • Human error in label management – entering the wrong information into a label template to be printed onto a product

The effect of errors

Utilising manual processes can leave the production line susceptible to simple errors, which can pose a tremendous risk to manufacturing operations. Errors in product labelling can require product recalls, which are not only costly in terms of logistics but also have the potential to harm the long-term value of a company.

Consumer protection laws require manufacturers and suppliers to bear the costs of all product recalls. It doesn’t stop there; product recalls can also do long-term damage to brand reputation and relationships with consumers.

Protecting consumers

In the food and beverage industry, product labelling is of particular importance in ensuring the safety of the end consumer. When mislabelling occurs, it can pose a significant risk to consumers, as even a slight change in an ingredients list could lead to a product having undeclared allergens.

Failure to adhere to regulations surrounding the labelling of food and beverage product can have significant repercussions for manufacturers. In Australia, errors in product labelling related to allergens necessitate a mandatory recall of all mislabelled products – and despite the consequences, this continues to be an issue for manufacturers the world over.

In Australia between 2011 and 2020, undeclared allergens and labelling errors accounted for 44% of all food recalls.

Of course, labelling issues are not just an issue in food and beverages: manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices are also subject to strict legislation surrounding the labelling of products on the market in order to keep consumers safe. Indeed, 9% of all medical device recall events in 2018 – to the tune of over a million units – were due to labelling issues.

How do you stop the errors?

Having identified that the primary cause of labelling errors lies in manual data entry, the first step towards reducing such errors clearly comes from simplifying or reducing the need for manual data entry on production lines. The answer lies in switching to an integrated system to ensure the alignment of your product labelling with your current production system.

At the most basic level, companies can utilise label design software to automatically populate product labels and manage their distribution across multiple printers from a central location, such as a production office. This reduces the number of data entry points on the line itself, thereby reducing the chance of errors occurring. Furthermore, by replacing individual messages with a template tied to a product database, potentially one can reduce the number of labels being managed from hundreds to only a handful.

Introducing label templates, and so reducing the number of labels required on production lines, not only makes it easier for manual workers involved in code selection but also makes it significantly easier to make changes to labels when legislation changes.

The next step in error reduction is in establishing good label management. With the simple application of Industry 4.0 methodology, it is possible to integrate automated coding solutions to automatically populate labels information obtained from a production management system – this can further help to prevent mislabelled products arising from issues in label creation.

Integrated label management solutions can be anything from a simple barcode scanner used to select data from a UPC or production order, to full integration with an existing MES or ERP system – enabling label creation directly from a centralised management system.

Populated labels can then be automatically pushed through to a printer without any manual intervention, mitigating the risk of labelling errors and helping to grow efficiency on production lines.

Validation and vision control

The final step towards error-free coding is in establishing a validation system to ensure that all information on product labels is present, correct, and readable.

Today, high-speed manufacturing environments have made an inspection of every product by an operator impossible and unreliable – an integrated vision control system (VCS) can instead be used to validate a product label, and further reduce the risk of the product reaching a retailer with improper information.

Integrated cameras and a VCS can work alongside coding automation to verify information against production orders and shift codes, to eliminate labelling mistakes. They also can be used to provide verification for item-level serialisation – enabling track and trace of every pallet produced down to the case, or even the product itself.

PrintDATA can help you integrate coding automation solutions integrated with camera systems to verify that all the required information is present and correct and that the label being produced meets the quality standards on every single product.

By checking label quality, a VCS can also ensure that preventative actions are being taken during manufacturing: for example, it can be integrated with coding automation software to automatically stop production if a certain number of ‘no reads’ (products that fail to be read by the VCS) are reached within a certain period, or if the validated label data is inconsistent to the product the system believes is being produced.

In this way, a VCS is an extremely effective quality control tool, which provides an almost immediate return on investment by ensuring that labelling mistakes and quality issues are eliminated before they cause a problem.

Your partner for error-free coding

At PrintDATA, we understand how important your product labelling is to your business. Equally, we know that making significant changes to production processes is not always feasible. With our integrated coding solutions, you can ensure the accuracy of your product labelling, without necessitating significant changes to your production lines.

Our coding automation solutions utilise industry standards to provide a link between your industrial equipment and our coding and marking solutions.

If you would like to find out more about our integrated coding solutions, please get in touch. Our experts in coding automation are always on hand to discuss the specifics of your business and help identify how you can eliminate costly labelling errors from your production lines.

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