In hi-tech manufacturing environments, change is the only constant. Whether it’s fridges sending out text messages if they’re too warm, or food mixers operating to pre-configured speeds and settings for given recipes, retailers are constantly finding new ways to use the technology available. New sensing capabilities and communications protocols lead to intuitive devices that increase user convenience.
Hi-tech is always looking at the next step forward, the next improvement in adaptability, functionality, form, fit and function, or robustness in order to stay ahead of the competition. This is essential in meeting consumer needs for novelty and convenience, and making it harder for non-OEM providers to enter the fray and diminish revenue streams.
But this creates a huge challenge for both the hi-tech manufacturers and the suppliers they depend on for their parts. Where the manufacture of goods and components used to be lifecycle-managed over two or three years before the launch of a new model, today that timescale has been reduced to 12 or 18 months.
Managing product assortment, engineering change and product lifecycle become key. Hi-tech manufacturers need to keep a constant eye on lifecycle management in order to make sure they’re on the right course for their designs. Development engineers are sometimes operating right on the edge of product capabilities, where one small modification can make the difference between a product lasting 12 months or not, or hitting a given cost point in the Bill Of Materials.
In this scenario, it’s critical to track and trace components down the manufacturing line, and to manage warranty and parts inventory based on the in-service installed base and product reliability. Having efficient track and trace capabilities enables suppliers to understand which components have gone into which product variants. With lifecycles changing so swiftly, it’s vital to know what’s gone into a given product if it starts to fail in service, as this can have a hugely negative impact on a brand.
From a process compliance perspective, the use of electricity implicit in hi-tech consumer and industrial goods makes regulatory compliance a must-have, with multiple protocols, health and safety measures, compliances and test regimes to undertake. Process compliance enables manufacturers to validate and mark devices accordingly, providing the proofpoints that they’ve been built to comply and are not fake copies.
Today’s mobile and IoT capabilities provide operational and actionable data on the location and condition of assets, visibility backwards and forwards along the demand chain, and total transparency of parts, but also of what’s been built. Suppliers have better control of processes and costs to mitigate risk, while being able to identify, bound and rectify errors in a much more concise and agile way.
Using a combination of mobile computers, on-demand barcode printers and scanners, RFID technology, and an electronic record of materials used, provides efficient and error-proof track and trace for parts or components at every point in the manufacturing process, and after delivery to the customer. In an environment where the pace of evolution is increasing, track and trace provides the operational anchor that suppliers and manufacturers need to support their brand.To learn more about Zebra’s track and trace capabilities, read our guide.