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The Visible Value Blog

The smart manufacturing line

Posted by David Stain

March 9, 2016 at 12:00 PM


In my first blog I explained how we think the Internet of Things (IoT), the on-demand supply chain and built to order will be 3 important trends in manufacturing this year.

So how can manufacturers cost-efficiently embrace these trends?

We advise using a combination of item labelling and stage and gates. Labels such as RFID and barcodes can be attached to items – be it materials, components, or finished assemblies. The labels can be read by handheld scanners or computers and also, in the case of RFID, by fixed readers (e.g. to ‘batch-record’ deliveries as they arrive at goods-in). Stage and gates divide the production process into different areas. As an assembly moves through them, checks and label reads can be carried out (e.g. to verify the right components have been added to the build manifest). The more the labels are read, the more visibility you have over the production process. I look below in a bit more detail about the role this track and trace technology can play in my 3 trends for 2016.


Much of the excitement around IoT is the potential of humans, machines, robots and       computers to talk to one another. Taking this to the ultimate extreme, it’s possible in future that factories could become virtually autonomous, with small teams on site, or even remote teams, monitoring and overseeing the production line.

Right now, building such plants is hugely expensive. However, by using stage and gates you can start to integrate IoT into your processes in a modular way. Using fixed RFID readers and handheld scanners or computers to capture barcode and RFID labels throughout your plant, you can send a continuous stream of data across Wi-Fi to your back office ERP and planning systems and your industrial control applications. This data will help you to create a smarter production line with much greater visibility over its status and progress. Improving visibility over the line is     also important in the move towards built to order.

The move to built to order

Built to order is no longer a specialism. Many consumers expect to be able to tailor designs and order online – from cars, to furniture and clothes. They also want to be able to trace the progress of their goods. Visibility over production is, of course, key to this and data collected from stage and gates across your production line can be processed by your back office systems and made available over the internet to customers. For example, car manufacturers can allow people to view the progress of their car from order to production and through to delivery. 

From the supply chain to the on-demand chain

Tier one manufacturers are increasingly requesting that suppliers deliver to their lines to match their sequencing. What’s more, they also expect parts, materials and goods to be labelled with their choice of track and trace technology. We can help with this. Our wide range of RFID and barcode printing solutions make it simple to comply with any label expectations so that your goods can be easily tracked in, through and out of your customers’ production lines.

At Zebra we’re always looking for new ways to help customers increase agility, reduce costs and accelerate processes. As part of this drive we’ve recently launched a new mobile computer, the TC8000.

This rugged device invents a new, more efficient way to scan, and, in scan intensive areas of your business – from the warehouse to the production line – it can increase per user productivity by up to 14%. Across a team of eight people, that are continually picking and scanning, they can each gain an hour back per shift in efficiency gains with the TC8000. That’s like adding another person to the team.

We’ve created a video experience here that talks you through the TC8000 and its various applications across your business. The experience also looks at our complete range of industrial mobility solutions – including enterprise-grade printers and Wi-Fi networks and how our ready-to-go apps and utilities make it easier to deploy manage and maintain mobile devices whether you’re running a handful or thousands of devices.

Explore how operational visibility can help make smarter manufacturing a reality with our future manufacturing track and trace solutions.

Topics: Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Internet of Things, EMEA