A man scans a label on a part in a manufacturing facility next to a label printer
By Your Edge Contributor | November 03, 2020

RF-SMART “Taking Inventory” Podcast Exclusive: What Does Printing Have to Do with Manufacturing Visibility and Traceability?

The quality of the data you capture is only as good as the quality of the data source which, in manufacturing environments, is usually a barcoded label or RFID tag.

This post was contributed by Sarah Archer, Digital Marketing Coordinator at RF-SMART, a Zebra registered reseller partner.


Today’s manufacturers are looking for greater visibility into their operations to increase efficiencies. Operations managers need the ability to execute production plans and schedules with optimum results, while planning for the unexpected. In the event that equipment goes down or quality issues arise, manufacturers must react, re-plan and reprioritize in real time. Additionally, to stay competitive and profitable, they must maximize production efficiencies while adhering to all safety protocols. That’s where technology comes in.

These Technologies are Critical to Visibility and Traceability…

Nearly every one of manufacturers’ goals – whether focused on mitigating issues or introducing new efficiencies – requires a greater level of operational visibility than what’s found in most production environments today. Manufacturers are craving better connectivity between assets, materials and people within the four walls. Traditionally, there has been a separation between enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and operations technology. That must now change. As such, manufacturers are turning to new technology, such as cloud-connected RFID solutions and sensors as well as mobile handheld computers and scanners.

To achieve true visibility, though, manufacturers must also consider the traceability of their products throughout the entire supply chain. Traceability is imperative to maintaining product safety lessening the impact of recalls, should they occur – especially for those who manufacture perishables such as food or pharmaceuticals.

If you’re a discrete manufacturer, you might also know this to be true. You want to be able to confirm that the right part got into its final assembly and have a record of the exact part SKU or instance in case there is a later issue. Track and trace technology solutions, such as barcode scanners and RFID, enable you to have much better control over quality, recall and warranty management and many other circumstances.

But Printers are the Real Game Changers…

Though barcode scanners, RFID readers, sensors and mobile computing technologies are necessary to capture the data that informs decisions and actions, printing solutions are actually the key to achieving manufacturers’ visibility and traceability goals. If a label or tag is inaccurate or unreadable, then the other technologies become a moot point.

At the same time, choosing the correct printer and supplies for your manufacturing environment can take your facility to the next level. Thermal printing solutions, such as the ones that Zebra offers, have been around for quite some time. But believe it or not, some manufacturing customers still use other types of printing methods such as laser or ink jet printing to produce labels or product tags. If you compare these three types of printing technologies, you’ll see that thermal printing technologies offer a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and a higher total benefits of ownership (TBO) value than ink jet or laser printing technologies, particularly in manufacturing environments.

In addition, thermal printing hardware tends to be more reliable and durable because it is purpose-built for industrial and enterprise use cases. The barcode, label, or document that's being printed by thermal printers will also be of a much higher quality and last longer – assuming you’re using the right printhead, ribbon, inlay and supplies for both your printer and your labeling application.

Another consideration when you're selecting a printer is the physical accessibility of the hardware itself. Gone are the days when workers have no choice but to walk back and forth to a stationary printer. Though you may still need a stationary printer for some applications, it is quite possible that your labeling workflows can just as easily be executed using mobile printers that can be mounted to a forklift or worn on the hip. There are even rugged RFID mobile printers available now. So, instead of trekking across the shop floor to print out a stack of labels or RFID tags on a stationary printer, workers can take the printer with them wherever they go without losing printing capabilities.

Of course, there are instances in which a stationary printer is still best. But that doesn’t mean that workers have to necessarily move from their stations to use it. Many manufacturers are choosing to embed a printer within their manufacturing lines, and that printer becomes a mission-critical piece of production. However, if that printer goes down or begins to produce low-quality or inaccurate labels, your whole manufacturing line could go down. For this reason, you need to have a printing solution that is extremely reliable and durable – and right for your unique labeling applications.

In fact, I recently sat down with Zebra’s Director of Supply Chain Solutions, Mark Wheeler, as well as Marty Johnson, Zebra’s Regional Printer Portfolio Manager, to talk in detail about the manufacturing trends that industry leaders are seeing, as well as best practices for choosing and maintaining printers.

Listen to the podcast episode now.


If you’re hankering for some amazing deep-dish pizza, Mark and Marty spill the beans on two fan-favorite places that will actually overnight you a pie, no matter where you are in the U.S. (You’re welcome.)


About the Author

Sarah Archer is the Digital Marketing Coordinator at RF-SMART, where she hosts the Taking Inventory Podcast. RF-SMART is a mobile barcoding solution that improves accuracy, productivity and profitability for over 1,300 cloud customers worldwide. 


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