Quality is the biggest differentiator for small and medium-sized manufacturers. Get it right, and it could be what takes your business to the next level. Let your product quality slip, and you could lose your customers and your reputation.
If you’re looking for ways to improve product quality, then automation could be the key. Automation can enhance quality control (QC) by ensuring consistency and preventing sub-par products from leaving your factory doors. This leads to happier and more loyal customers, which leads to a healthier and more profitable business.
In short, investing in quality is investing in your future.
The good news is technology is more affordable and more flexible than ever. There’s no excuse for SME manufacturers not to embrace automation in their manufacturing processes with the goal to improve product quality.
Here are 3 technologies proven to help SME manufacturers improve product quality, plus examples of how they work in action:
Fact: humans make mistakes. So, if you’re relying on your people alone to inspect your goods, it could be time to invest in some inspection equipment. Inspection technology can inspect goods for packaging errors, contamination (metal, plastic etc.), and quality standards while improving efficiency along the line. The result is fewer errors and better product consistency, which can help you target cost reductions, improve customer satisfaction, and increase your bottom line. (You may find these tips on ROI for vision inspection interesting.)
Inspection systems also help you satisfy your customers by demonstrating that reliable QA processes are in place. This can even be mandatory for retail customers, such as the major supermarkets. For example, Woolworths Quality Assurance (WQA) requires that all Woolworths-branded products must be subject to metal detection, at a minimum, to detect if any products have become contaminated with foreign items.
Types of inspection technology:
- Barcode scanner: Ensures barcodes are present and correct for use through the supply chain and with point-of-sale. Can inspect barcodes on cartons, pallets and individual items.
- Metal detection systems: Inspects products for metal and non-magnetic stainless steel, one of the biggest culprits for food contamination. Ideal for inspecting dry products such as flour, salt, sugar and frozen products.
- X-ray inspection: Evaluates density throughout the product and packaging, including through thick foil pouches and even cans, to identify contaminants including glass, stone, high-density plastics and rubber and more.
- Vision inspection: Mostly used to inspect packaging integrity and product conformance, such as code validation for date codes and barcodes, validating the presence and position of labels, checking closures of tamper seals, detecting packaging content and fill levels, sorting food and beverage products based on marking and matching packaging components, and counting products.
- Checkweigher: Can precision weigh at high speeds to identify overweight and underweight products and automatically remove them from the line. This ensures compliance and reduces manufacturing costs by minimising product giveaway.
INSPECTION TECHNOLOGY IN ACTION: Read how TriMas Corporation uses vision technology to reliably identify parts, improve quality and eliminate the possibility of a defect passing to the next stage of the process.
The rules around coding are becoming increasingly strict. You need to print date, batch and bar codes in a certain format, in a certain position, and ensure they can be easily scanned. Get it wrong and customers may reject your products. Get it right and you can build a reputation as a reliable supplier.
That’s where coding technology comes in. At its most basic level, coding technology will make sure the right code is applied onto the right product, and it will do so with the exacting precision retailers demand by. As with all automation technology, it also gives you the opportunity to improve your quality processes and overall efficiency – and that’s not something any SME should take lightly.
TYPES OF CODING TECHNOLOGIES:
Small Character Inkjet (CIJ): Extremely versatile solution used across industries to code use by, batch codes, identification marks and more at very high speeds.
Thermal Transfer Overprinter (TTO): Highly cost-effective printing solution that allows you to print easily onto generic film packaging, such as for snack foods, confectionary or fresh produce.
Thermal Inkjet (TIJ): Ideal for printing human-readable information directly onto cartons, such as date codes, batch numbers or product descriptions. Renowned for their print quality, even at high line speeds.
Drop On Demand (DOD) Printer: Ideal for moderate resolution, small to medium character print, especially for carton coding. Renowned for being simple to operate, low maintenance and for typically having lower capital and operational costs than other inkjet coders.
Read this technology review for the lowdown on thermal inkjet, drop-on-demand and hi-res inkjet printers.
CODING TECHNOLOGY IN ACTION: Learn how family-owned business Maipac used coding technology to provide a high-quality solution for its Nespresso®-compatible capsules.
Are your labels up to scratch? FSANZ notified of 608 food recalls from 2007-2016, and more than one-third (36%) were from incorrect labelling. Many SMEs rely on their people to manually label products. This is not only time-consuming and labour-intensive, it can also compromise product quality. The wrong label can be placed on products, labels can be poorly presented, or products might be missing labels entirely.
Labelling technologies allow you to automate this process and improve product quality. Better still, they can help you improve efficiencies, saving time and labour, to create a Lean business. (You can read up about Lean here.)
TYPES OF LABELLING TECHNOLOGIES:
- Label Printer Applicators (LPAs): Print information onto pressure-sensitive labels and then automatically apply those labels onto a product. Capable of printing high resolution, high quality information, such as barcodes, graphics, large and small text, logos, 2D codes and linear 1D codes, even at high speeds.
- Label Applicators (LA): A cost-effective alternative to the manual “slap-and-ship”, without the printing of LPAs.
- Weigh labellers + weigh-price labellers: Can be integrated into existing automated production line for fully automatic price labelling.
LABELLING TECHNOLOGY IN ACTION: Find out how Messina, Australia’s best gelato maker, uses an automated labeller to improve product quality and save up to two hours a day in manual labour.
Do your research to understand which technology will drive quality and process improvement, while delivering the best return on investment (ROI) for your business.
It might be difficult to justify the cap-ex investment of technology for small production numbers, so consider the future: for instance, will you be increasing volume output soon? Your manual operators may no longer be able to keep up with demand, which can quickly compromise on consistency and accuracy. With the right technology, you can maintain high quality while driving significant cost savings.
Leasing equipment can be a smart option for small and medium manufacturers. It allows you to access new-generation technology to make your line more efficient and productive, without the large upfront cost of buying equipment outright.
Technologies that improve your product quality are well worth the investment, but for small and medium manufacturers it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Matthews Australasia helps you take a step-by-step approach to identifying your needs and goals, selecting the right equipment, and implementing technologies that will not only improve product quality, but your whole business.
Matthews has large resource library full off highly informative case studies, whitepapers, presentations we’ve done to industry bodies, infographics for manufacturing, articles from our thought leaders, vids showing solutions in action, lots of detailed of brochures and more! And it’s all free to download!
Image credit: iStock / chaofann