SOLVING: Track WIP With Tools and Equipment You ALREADY Have

 In General, Label Printing Solutions

Three Simple Ways to Use Barcode Scanning to Track WIP with tools and equipment you already have.

I used to have 6 products running in my plant for weeks on end. Now, at any one time, I have 400 different products running through 25 different work centers in my shop with an average delivery time of a few days
~ A U.S. plant manager describing how dramatically the production landscape has changed.

Manufacturing and other industrial organizations are faced with delivering an ever-increasing number of semi-custom products with ever decreasing delivery times.  Managers such as this are finding that their current methods of tracking their operations no longer work. Paper forms, spreadsheets, or manual data entry into an ERP system, sufficed when their plants were making fewer products with much longer delivery times.

To ensure that customer orders get out on time with new faster-paced production requirements, it is essential to keep track, in realtime, of many different jobs as they flow through multiple work centers.

At the same time, operations managers want to reduce their overhead cost by eliminating the need for manual keyboard data entry as well as eliminating the need for expediters and customer service people to make sure customer orders get out on time. They also want to use systems that are low cost and simple for their people to use.

Barcode scanning is an ideal way to solve this problem. While there are trade-offs in which methods to use, depending on the data to be collected, barcodes are used in over 95% of all domestic production facilities.

Here Dr. Peter Green (Bell Hawk) presents three methods for tracking work-in-progress:

  1. License-plate tracking methods – used to track items or containers of material as they move from operation to operation.
  2. Tracking Progress on Work Orders – track when work starts and stops on a job at each work center. This gives a more complete view of the status of jobs and also tracks the labor required.
  3. Tracking Materials and Work Orders – a combination of the first two methods, and include tracking materials consumed and produced in each operation. This enables materials traceability and job costing data to be collected as well.

1. Using License-Plate Tracking

In license-plate tracking we place a unique tracking barcode on each item or container of items we wish to track through our manufacturing, repair, or other industrial operation.  When an item or container of materials is first entered into the tracking system, it can be associated with a customer, job, or work order and other data about the item or parts captured.  Then, as the material moves from operation to operation barcode scanning can be used to record the movement of the item or container to each operation by scanning its license-plate tracking barcode and selecting or scanning the new location/operation.

Finally the barcode can be scanned to record the shipment of the item or container of material to the customer, again by scanning its license-plate tracking barcode.  This is typically used to track the assembly, repair, and testing of serial numbered items, each of which has a unique license-plate tracking barcode attached to it. The barcode can also be used to track batches of material, including split batches.  With a system like BellHawk, the user is able to associate a specific barcode scanning device with a work center. Thus only requiring a single scan, using that device to record the movement of the item or container of parts to that work center.

From a barcode scanning viewpoint, this is the simplest method to use, because it only requires one scan per workstation. But, as a trade-off, this method only provides real-time information as to where jobs are in their process, and does not provide any additional information

2. Work Order Tracking

The process starts with the creation of a work order to process an individual item or batch of material.  This work order has a unique work-order-number and a route of operations. Once the work order is created then a barcoded traveler is printed out on an office laser printer.  This traveler has a general barcode for the work order at top right and individual barcodes for each operation being performed in the work order down the left hand side.  To record the start of work on an operation, the user selects a Start Work button from the screen of their device, which calls up the Start Work screen.  The user then identifies themselves by scanning the barcode on their badge and then scanning the work order and step barcodes from the barcoded traveler sheet.

Once the user selects the [Submit] button to record that they have started work on that operation on that work order.  When they stop work on the operation, the user selects a Stop Work button on the screen of their device, which brings up the Stop Work screen, and then scans a barcode on their employee badge followed by scanning the work order and step barcodes. At this point, the user has the option to a enter the quantity processed or made.

If work on the operation is complete then the user checks that the operation is complete and selects the [Submit] button to indicate they have stopped work and the operation is complete.

With this approach, the manufacturer is able to track when each operation on each work order starts and ends, and the amount of labor required for each operation. The status of each work order and the amount of labor required are available for screen viewing and reporting, as well as in the form of Excel exports for subsequent reporting.  All work orders are queued up for a specific operation in a specific work center, which helps identify and prevent bottlenecks.

The one drawback to this method is that it requires more barcode scanning than the license-plate tracking method.

3. Tracking Materials and Work Orders

Here we use the same barcoded traveler as in the prior example as the starting point and can record the start and stop of operations on work orders. In addition we can use license-plate tracking to record materials consumed on an operation, the operator scans a barcode on their badge followed by scanning the work order and operation from the work order. Then the license-plate tracking barcodes on containers of input material are scanned and the quantity consumed recorded.  By setting up a Bill of Materials (BOM) for the work order operation, this method can be used to check that the correct materials are being used and to warn the operator if they are about to make a mistake by using the wrong material.

Material can be recorded out of operations as containers of material by scanning license-plate tracking barcodes on the containers into which they are placed and recording the quantity placed in each container. Alternately assemblies, repair items, and accessory equipment with their own license-plate tracking barcodes can be recorded into and out of operations. This materials tracking can be done for finished product with their own part numbers or WIP materials.

This combined job and materials tracking method requires more barcode scanning that either of the prior two methods but is essential if materials traceability or job costing data needs to be captured and tracked.

Comparing Methods to Determine What’s Best for Your Operations:

  • If all that is required is to track where serial numbered items are in their assembly, repair, or test process, then license-plate tracking alone provides a very simple way of getting real-time visibility into the status of each customer order.
  • If the primary goals are to be able to see the status of batches of material or individual items and to capture the labor required in the manufacture, repair, or testing then work order tracking should be used.
  • If the primary goal is to capture a materials traceability history so that this can be used to track back from defective finished products to the raw materials used and to track forward from defective ingredients to the products in which these ingredients were used, then tracking work orders and materials is necessary.
  • If the primary goal is to prevent the use of wrong materials on a job then it is essential to track the consumption of materials on each work order operation and compare this with a stored BOM for each work order operation.
  • If the primary goal is to accurately capture labor and materials cost data then tracking labor and materials is required. This can be augmented by capturing the setup, run, and down times of the equipment or machines used to get an overall job cost.

The above methods are presented in order of the amount of barcode scanning required. In making this choice it is important to select the method that requires the least amount of scanning for the desired outcome.

When it comes to printing barcode labels on-site and/or ordering preprinted barcode labels, PaladinID offers on-site and remote assessments to ensure that the manufacturer is selecting the appropriate printer and label software for their particular needs.  Please contact Dana Ritchie dritchie@paladinid.com or (603) 527-0256) for more information on setting up a barcode label printer in your facility OR for prepreinted barcode labels.

*This excerpt from Three Simple Ways to Use Barcode Scanning to Track Work-in-Process, published October 2017 © BellHawk Systems Corporation

About Bell Hawk

BellHawk Systems provides its BellHawk real-time inventory and operations tracking software to manufacturers, distributors, food processors, laboratories, engineering and other industrial organizations. It also provides related professional services to assist its clients in implementing these systems as well as in integrating these tracking solutions with their ERP, CRM, accounting, E-Commerce and other systems.

About PaladinID LLC

PaladinID develops and supports high-performance bar code labeling applications. We work with our clients to “Make Your Mark” by providing the expertise and tools necessary to create an entire product label printing solution.  PaladinID has been providing quality barcode solutions for over thirty years and in 2017, became an RFID-certified company.


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