The MVRC concept for traceability: A quick guide
One purpose of traceability is to keep tabs on every work-in-progress (WIP) that traverses the production line. Ultimately, traceability systems serve to make the immense complexity of manufacturing as manageable as possible, and yet they can introduce challenges of their own. These challenges include marking thousands upon thousands of parts, collecting massive amounts of data, and communicating that data to the rest of the system.
At Omron, one of our major goals is to make traceability as intuitive and accessible as possible. Simplifying the way we think about traceability helps make its implementation easier. That’s why we like to use the acronym “MVRC” – short for “Mark, Verify, Read and Communicate” – to tether the concept to concrete processes and technologies.
Let’s take a look at each component of MVRC in detail.
M is for Mark. The basis for traceability is the barcode, a machine-readable structure containing all relevant data about a particular part. With every scan, this information goes to a database along with a timestamp so that the whereabouts and status of all WIPs are reflected in digital records.
To ensure that the markings themselves are inseparable from the objects they relate to, manufacturers often use direct part marks (DPMs). DPMs are barcodes that are etched, printed or otherwise marked directly on a given part. Printed labels are also used in many industries, but DPMs are a more durable solution for traceability.
V is for Verify. DPMs need to stay readable for the entire production process and supply chain, and in some situations – like automotive and aerospace manufacturing – readability must last the entire service life of a part. How do manufacturers know that the markings will hold up under the pressures of the factory floor and the unpredictable challenges of the supply chain?
To ensure readability, codes need to be verified thoroughly according to standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Barcode verification is a complex process that grades each individual code against several key ISO standards, including symbol contrast (the intensity difference between light and dark cells or bars) and modulation (the degree to which contrast varies throughout the symbol).
R is for Read. Once WIP parts are marked and their codes are verified to be of good quality, manufacturers need to make sure their systems read these codes at key points throughout the production line. Analyzing the data from code capture helps manufacturers optimize manufacturing, identify problems with specific machines, and ensure that all parts have gone through each manufacturing step.
The harshness of the manufacturing environments in many industries poses a challenge for code reading. From high heat to chemical washdowns, there are many instances in which barcodes and barcode readers could suffer damage. Fortunately, many industry-ready barcode imagers today, such as Omron’s HS-360X handheld, are ruggedized to withstand these conditions, and they also contain advanced algorithms that can accurately read damaged codes.
C is for Communicate. Once traceability data is collected, it needs to be communicated to the manufacturing execution system (MES). Controllers on the production floor can work as data aggregators, sending traceability data to the manufacturing execution system. It’s important for the MES to have the proper interface for capturing and integrating this information.
One major challenge of communicating traceability data is that the time required to process all this data can dramatically lengthen the production cycle. Fortunately, intelligently designed controllers like Omron’s NX/NJ series can directly transfer traceability information to a SQL database without hampering machine control performance. By making secure data transfer easily available at the machine level, the NX/NJ controllers make it easier to implement a robust, real-time traceability solution.
Traceability becomes much more straightforward when broken down into the four concepts of “Mark, Verify, Read and Communicate,” each one referencing a concrete requirement of any good traceability system. Viewing the process through this lens makes it easier to understand the challenges of traceability and the ways to overcome them with advanced technology.
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