It isn’t easy to maintain operational efficiency, maximize material usage, and reduce human error in parts manufacturing. Between the stamping, fabricating, and storing of what could be thousands of different components, developing reliable organization and workflow processes is vital to effective inventory and production management. Lacking these controls, costly mistakes can and will occur, hurting both internal and external stakeholders alike.
Parts identification strategies can help mitigate these risks and improve efficiencies. There are several proven methods already used throughout the industrial world that can result in immediate, dramatic improvements in these complex manufacturing processes. We’ve compiled some of these best practices below, but first, let’s review parts identification in more detail.
What Is Parts Identification & Why Is It Important?
On one hand, the term “parts identification” is self-explanatory: it’s the literal recognition of individual components. If you have a dozen different parts that are numbered 1-12, it’s not difficult to determine which piece is which.
But things get complicated as operations scale. If you assemble highly complex equipment, how do you ensure you’ve installed all the correct parts during the build process? If you’re a fabricator whose job is to cast, forge, stamp, or otherwise create precision components, how do you ensure you’re accurately interpreting the CAD file or job traveler? And how do operational managers know which parts have been manufactured and which haven’t?
Clearly, being able to have as much transparency and insight as possible into your firm’s manufacturing framework is critical to running a watertight operation. When companies know what parts are already on hand and what’s still necessary to complete outstanding job orders, they can efficiently prioritize certain projects and production runs.
That’s where an effective identification strategy comes in. Implemented correctly, these processes should leave no guesswork as to which parts belong to which projects and how they should be fabricated. The result? You’ll save significant money, materials, and time compared to those that are running blind. Let’s review some specific strategies that can achieve these results.
1. Incorporate Labeling Solutions
Labeling is the most obvious and time-tested solution to limiting parts mismanagement in a manufacturing operation, and there are two labeling options: permanent and temporary.
Embossing part numbers on individual components is nothing new, but technology has made this an even more viable strategy than ever. Durable barcode labels and equipment tracking tags are easily affixed to parts, allowing rapid identification with a simple barcode scan at any stage of the production process.
Permanent labeling solutions have a few universal benefits: they don’t wear out, fade, peel, or otherwise disappear over time, even in the most extreme conditions, when the right labeling solution is used. For instance, Metalphoto® labels and tags can withstand exposure to heat, humidity, long-term exposure to weather, UV and other outdoor conditions, salt spray, abrasion, industrial solvents, chemicals, and more, offering an expected exterior lifespan of 20+ years.
Permanent labels also provide assurance and confirmation to downstream handlers and assemblers completing production. In cases where the final product has a long-term useful life, these part identification solutions can help future users find correct replacement components. Think asset labels, but on a per-component basis, such as industrial labels, custom metal decals, rating plate labels, and compliance tags.
If stamping parts with permanent markings isn’t practical, incorporating a temporary label solution can satisfy internal inventory tracking and identification needs – and then simply be removed during final assembly. Residue-free stickers that are strong yet peel easily provide a simple, definitive identifier for parts handlers who might handle countless similar components each day. Like a manufacturing version of a produce PLU sticker, these adhesives are ideal for internal organizational needs.
2. Take Advantage of Automated Labeling
Stickering individual parts at scale sounds like a time-consuming, monotonous task – and it would be, were it not for automated labeling technologies. Today’s equipment can incorporate automated labeling to affix the correct stickers to unique parts even before the nested cut sheets are processed.
The process is fast, quick, easy, and autonomous – the whole labeling operation is programmed to be done automatically. The result is less invasive than etching parts with permanent markings and more reliable than scribbling shorthand on job travelers.
3. Remain Mindful of Marker Choice
The lowly marker might be one of the most undersung tools in the shop. This tried-and-true writing implement might not seem like much, but it represents a key way of communicating across channels in a manufacturing environment. But it’s imperative to have the right marker for the job at hand for it to be effective at all.
Industrial markers are designed specifically for extreme use cases. Some of the most common professional-grade solutions include:
- Ink markers
- Welding markers
- Liquid and solid paint markers
Each of these markers offers its own unique set of properties that make them ideal for writing on surfaces such as oily or rusty metal. These are the options you turn to when a typical office Sharpie just won’t do the job.
If your team needs to mark up parts during the fabrication process, specialty markers can mean superior legibility and fewer mistakes. Inferior marker ink will spread, bleed, smudge, fade, and generally become illegible in short order. That invites confusion as parts proceed downstream along the production process. Inevitably, mistakes will be made and time-consuming rework will be necessary – something that could have been avoided just by using the right marker.
4. Balance Batch vs. Nesting Fabrication Strategies
One of the most impactful ways firms can organize their fabrication operations is by strategizing their production techniques. While the obvious benefits here might be economical, the effective use of batch and nesting techniques can go a long way in reducing rework and keeping parts production on track. Let’s take a closer look at each.
When manufacturers fabricate in batches, they produce the same part in large quantities at one time. Perhaps multiple SKUs in a firm’s product line use a certain type of bracket; this part might be built en masse, then held in raw materials for use during assembly. Once supplies dwindle, the company might order another large batch.
That’s the ideal playbook for this manufacturing method. Mass-producing widely used and interchangeable parts in fewer but larger batches cuts down the risk of fabricating errors and provides a healthy stock of needed components. It’s a safe bet that’s perfect for common parts.
That said, batch production can still go awry. When running charges are incorporated in production, there could be obsolete components on hand that might inadvertently be installed. If you need similar parts for different jobs, simple mistakes during either fabrication or assembly could lead to more material waste and reworking.
When managing this kind of complexity or nuance, consider nesting parts production.
The alternative to batch production is nesting, in which different parts are cut out from the same sheet. The beauty of nesting is that it dramatically reduces material waste – today’s CAD algorithms can work with nesting software to maximize every fraction of an inch on a cut sheet.
Perhaps most importantly in this context, nesting can group different parts together for one job. If you need 50 different parts to build one widget, which strategy seems more appropriate: batch-producing each piece, or nesting them all on one cut sheet?
While the former option makes the most sense for large-scale widget production, the latter strategy is ideal for completing small-batch projects. All parts for one project stay together, reducing the likelihood of errors, lost pieces, or misidentification.
Considering strategies like these optimizes your production processes across multiple fronts, from parts identification to material waste reduction. The result is improved management of parts inventories, lower costs – and happier customers.