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David Lee

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Turning The pressure on with automatic identification

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 Despite Its title, going with the flow is not how Chicago Faucet turned into a major producer of industrial and residential plumbing products. By staying on top of new technologies, the company transformed its clumsy product identification procedure into an onsite, fully computerized labeling system for bar coding before it was mandated by distributors.

 Since 1901, the Des Plaines, Ill., company has significantly extended its product line by providing fittings which may be integrated with others to produce countless different faucet mixes. This multitude of mixes also required hundreds of special preprinted identification labels.

 Paper Labels were preprinted with standard information and graphics to identify each tap, while varying information - such as catalog specifications and numbers - was either handwritten or stamped set up. After the data has been filled in, the labels have been applied onto corrugated merchandise boxes with adhesive. However, the endings of the tags tended to flake out, necessitating using additional tape to secure the tag. Not only did this method create a big, expensive label stock, but the unflattering labels didn't reflect the company's top standing reputation.

 In Anticipation of implementing more automation to its own processes, especially by shifting towards automatic identification, direction researched the possibility of shifting its tagging on site. Keeping abreast of its industry, management understood that its vendors would shortly necessitate UPC bar codes to track products through warehousing operations. Without transferring to automatic identification, preprinted bar codes would make an even bigger inventory of labels.

 "We Wanted to find a head start rather than scramble when our customers demanded bar codes," explains Bill Butchart, the company's data processing supervisor. "By being in front, we could determine our own direction instead of follow others."

 The Company determined that the best method to integrate its old tag information with new UPC codes was via its own System 38 midrange computer program. The key was to find tagging software which could easily integrate with the company's MRP 11 system, which monitors each item work order as it is processed.

 "It Would be virtually impossible to maintain another database with current information on a stand-alone labeling system," states Butchart. "All of the necessary product data already are loaded to the midrange computer and promptly updated. With a different system, we'd have to repeat each change."

 With That in mind, Bill Haag, the organization's product and systems engineer, explored various labeling systems and suppliers through industrial magazines, the Industry Bar Code Alliance, and automated identification trade shows. He found that very few tagging software packages were available for midrange computers, and suppliers that did provide the applications usually did not incorporate the labels or printers.

 "It Was significant to us that we employed one source for our turnkey tagging system," says Haag. "We wanted a funnel for each our tagging questions, from support to support to supplies."

 Weber Marking Systems, Arlington Heights, Ill., was able to supply Chicago Faucet with a complete labeling system, such as Legitronic Midrange Labeling Software, three 80 string thermal-transfer printers, customized labels, plus a bar code verifier.

 By Calling the Legitronic software from its existing manufacturing system, the firm's engineering users can design different tag formats for different-sized labels and merchandise lines. Variable information, such as product specifications, ANSI info, and proper UPC bar codes, are all gathered from the manufacturing system and appropriately placed into the format.

 Now An operator on the production floor simply keys in the catalogue number and amount of this item to instantly call up a specific label format. Once an order is ready to be packed, the labels are printed by one of the thermal-transfer printers situated on the design floor. All three printers could be used concurrently to run labels for various products without changing label media.

 "We Print all our tags as we need them. Now if there's a product change, we do not have hundreds of obsolete labels or a lengthy lead time for new preprinted labels," states Butchart.

 The Thermal-transfer printers provide high-density bar codes and alphanumeric text on custom labels preprinted with the company's emblem. Labels for the cosmetic faucets include specific type fonts that reflect the appearance of the product line. All labels are manufactured and provided by Weber.

 After The labels are printed, the bar codes are periodically inspected with a Quick-Check verifier. This handheld unit checks the accuracy, contrast, and spacing of bar codes so as to fulfill UPC criteria.

 Each Product box then is tagged and palletized. The pressure-sensitive labels remove the use of glue along with its cluttered and time-consuming procedure. The result: consistent, uniform tags that improve the packaging and are simple to read.

 "I am Constantly receiving letters from clients announcing their strategies for pub Coding," says Butchart. "With our new system, we're more than prepared For them"