by Laurie Barcaskey, President, Leading Marks LLC

ebs-handheld-w-bar-code-structural-steel Marking is more in demand today than ever before. While marking for automotive and food-related recalls are most familiar, the marking applied to products we use every day are vital to the business bottom line and the safety of us all. Industrial identification helps ensure the correct components are being assembled, tracks the material and date production, and can even indicate the line or operator involved in production. Construction is made simpler when structural steel sections are marked with piece-part identification helping the operator erect beams correctly.

It’s easy to find other examples of the marks around us. Look at the utensils or condiments in a restaurant; shovels, rakes, and hoses in your yard; and appliances in your home. More and more industries are requiring products to be marked with machine-readable codes that can be quickly scanned to obtain critical data or to minimize liabilities that impact the risk associated from material defects or operational design failures. Many industries already have established guidelines for the marking of products and are governed by industrial agency oversight. The American Petroleum Institute has strict requirements for components used by the Oil & Gas industry, as does the Association of American Railroads that governs the specifications related to freight rail vehicles and transit lines. These are just some examples of organizations that set criteria for the details to be marked, where the mark is expected to be found, and the method for which it should be applied.

How the product gets marked takes into consideration the type of material being marked, the amount of information that needs to be marked, at what point in the production the marking will be made, the cycle time available to apply the mark, and how long the mark needs to survive. While direct-part marking is the most permanent identification, some products may be at risk of stress fractures or surface deformation with these processes. Therefore, inks, labeling, or tags may be more applicable. Options for the ink/paint formulation, adhesives and/or retention devices are available, and again take into consideration the application and environment for which the component will be used.

steel-fittingsNow that more and more parts are marked with the addition of bar codes, organizations often struggle with how to capture and use the data. Smart devices and bar code scanners that interface with databases allow quicker capture of the data for post-processing requirements. Machine-to-machine communication in production lines has advanced the exchange of data and trigger the marking processes, capture inspection data, and more. Organizations are looking to incorporate technologies like lasers and thermal transfer labeling to their testing stations where the products are inspected for pass/fail quality details. Others are seeking ways to allow robots to present product to the marking station, and then move it further along the production line – all with the help of machine readable bar codes.

Manufacturers find quick return on investment through reduced part handling and establish critical historical data when failures occur after the product has been placed into service. Recalls can be minimized to specific lots, batches, or dates. The level of risk can further be reduced when production line and/or operator identification is included in the codes for traceability. As industry requires marking more often, the demand for knowledge about the various identification technologies is essential for multiple levels of an organization. Manufacturing engineers need to consider where the markings may be applied and at what point in production, safety teams need to ensure equipment is ergonomic and equipped with the proper OSHA compliant guarding or controls, maintenance needs to factor in preventative maintenance scheduling, and management needs to evaluate the return on investment.

Needless to say, industrial identification has moved beyond the days of ABC’s and 123’s, so it may be time to ask yourself if you’re missing the mark.

Laurie Barcaskey, President of Leading Marks, has 30 years of experience and shop floor knowledge of solutions for industrial identification and part traceability. She is the third generation of one of the marking industry’s most innovative and enduring family legacies. Contact her at laurie@leadingmarks.com.