The Power of the Barcode

Weldco Beales Manufacturing’s misfortune was Dynamic Manufacturing Solutions’ (DMS) big break. In 2008 a botched software installation was causing havoc at the plant and it was the humble barcode that ended up saving the day.

“They didn’t have a lot of feedback from the shop floor as to what was going on,” says DMS president Mark Hamblin. A NAIT grad, Hamblin has been involved with the software side of manufacturing since the mid ‘90s.

“There was also very little information being shared between departments, and the planning and scheduling tools they were using were probably a little more complicated than they had to be,” says Hamblin.

Weldco, whose Edmonton plant manufactures truck-mounted cranes, got a complete barcode makeover. Everything from the drill bits to the employees’ nametags got one. Then they installed 20 computer terminals encased in acrylic plastic throughout the fabrication shop so welders can use the attached handheld scanners to record the jobs they’re doing, the time it takes and the tools they’re using. As a result, every piece of equipment in use at any time is automatically recorded and inventoried on a central computer server. “If there’s a quality issue, I can tell you who did it, when they did it and go through the whole quality history,” says Hamblin.

By using barcoding you’re able to capture the transactions at the time they occur in the physical world. This keeps the information more real-time and helps prevent mistakes. People aren’t running out to the shop floor to chase people down for information. Fewer mistakes means less rework and that bubbles up into a more efficient system.

The tracking of labour can also be particularly useful. Consider a paper system. The employee hand-writes the amount of time they took on a task. That gets handed in and someone has to enter it into a database. Then someone else has to handle the payroll and client side. By eliminating these intermediate steps you can eliminate hours a day of redundant data manipulation.

Since that first installation, DMS’s barcode-based software has been used as far away as the U.K. and Estonia, and the company has opened a second Edmonton office as well as one in Barrie, Ontario. DMS is Alberta’s fastest growing company [according to Alberta Venture magazine](http://albertaventure.com/2012/01/albertas-fast-growth-50-2011/ “”) and has grown from just three employees to 16. Revenues have increased by 120 per cent in just the last year. Next year might be even better, according to Hamblin. “There’s more room to grow,” he says.

DMS is also interested in having this kind of electronic inventory management as baseline knowledge for Alberta’s next generation of manufacturers. They’ve struck up a partnership with NAIT and are running demonstrations of their barcode system at their Shell Manufacturing Centre.

“We have hundreds of managers of local businesses coming through our centre every month taking training,” says Neil Wenger, the centre’s electronics technologist. Hamblin says the partnership is a “win-win” because the exposure NAIT provides DMS is targeted at potential customers for the company.

This sandbox for Alberta’s manufacturers is a real world way for manufacturers to see what they can do to improve their productivity with off-the-shelf technology.

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