Serial numbers are often created and issued at the last minute and some times variable machine data is only available at the end of the production line.
In the past this has been managed with stamped metal labels or engraving with a Dremmel. While these solutions work, they rely on the person on the end of the line being good with a hammer or engraver, overcoming any issues with the hammered panels not sitting flat and there being good light when someone needs to read the data off the plate. The biggest issue is really that they do not look in keeping with high quality equipment where switching labels and control panels look crisp, clean and legible but the data plate has been hit with a punch.
We have worked with a number of customers to develop three alternatives to the plate and punch.
The first is a template based solution where all data is engraved on stainless steel, the second solution allows on site customisation using a desktop laser and the third solution uses a combination of barcoding and engraving linked up with customers systems for an industry 4.0 solution to the problem. Please see below for more details on all of the solutions.
Solution 1: template etched on stainless steel
Vibraplant manufacture vibratory material handling machinery, their customers need to move a wide range of materials from aggregates and coal to large volumes of grain.
The machines are set up very differently depending on the size, shape and density of materials. This mean that each machine needs to vibrate with different frequencies or speeds. Some of these factors can be set up in advance, but some of these properties can only be finalised with testing when the machine has been commissioned. As this variable data is only available at the end of the production cycle Vibraplant set us the challenge how to capture this on the machine in a way that looked professional, was very hard to accidentally remove and could be done right at the end of the production process.
We designed a laser engraved template.
This replaces stamping a label with a stamp set and hammer. It isn’t just that this finish is much more premium, it gives their customers a sense of integrity, it is as durable as stamped label, but significantly more legible. The plates fit flush and is not reliant on indention to make it legible , with stainless steel the colour is engraved using a fibre laser that etches the surface of the stainless steel. We can also engrave using a special paste and a CO2 laser to give a darker finish.
Both of these processes are highly durable, someone would need to attack the plates with an angle grinder before making the image illegible.
We use a template to do this, but because we produce all of the data at the time of print, if they wanted to change normally stable information(like phone numbers), this is entirely possible.
We can turn stainless engraved labels like these around in 2 days, if the time pressure is on we can always do this next day.
Option 2: Ano-print + laser engraved
Ano-printing involves printing ink into the pores of partially anodised aluminium plates. Once the ink has been printed into the material the plate is then returned to the end of the anodising process, effectively creating a metal tattoo. This gives a highly durable, highly legible, satin finish.
We have adapted this process for recording variable information.
The boxes for information are printed in black, then anodised. Then when variable information is available it is laser engraved through the black pigment to give a whitish appearance. This leads to very clearly legible print that looks highly professional. This print is also incredibly durable and there isn't much short of attacking it with an angle grinder or another laser that is going to remove the information.
We can produce the ano-printed plates in higher volumes ahead of time. Then we can add the customised data at a later date, within really tight timelines (next day if necessary). We can use the same font as the rest of the plate, making the plate look like it was all produced at the same time with the same process, but it is just the variable data that has been added. If customers wanted to engrave the data themselves then we can help them to source a desktop laser (About a £5K investment) to allow them to quickly and reliably add variable data themselves.
Option 3: Pre-engraved labels & barcoding
A third solution that is becoming increasingly relevant is the storage of variable data on a system against a barcode or QR code.
This allows for much more data to be stored against an individual machine than would perhaps be provided on a data label. It can also be a solution to discourage unqualified maintenance of the machine.
We can produce barcoded plates using any of the processes laid out above to give machine readable and incredibly durable labelling with an agreed set of codes. Then a simple system set up using your ERP system should allow you to scan and link the code with the machine.
If your customer also wants to be able to add their own barcoded data onto a plate for their own industry 4.0 processes or simply to allow better asset control, we can help you with this too.
If you would like to talk to us some more about this process or how we could help you with your variable data requirements, please do get in touch.