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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

The Chill Factor

Warehouse logistics is one of the most sensitive areas of a company, and any errors in the processes here can cause significant losses. In fact, recent research shows that distribution centres are losing an average of nearly £242,000 per year, simply due to mis-picks. But another critical factor arises from the temperatures to which goods are exposed: frozen storage is a growing issue.

Freezing temperatures of -30°C not only affect the stored goods, but the materials used in logistics too. Mobile computers, scanners, printers and voice solutions must therefore demonstrate exceptional resistance.

Cold Conditions

Frost, condensation and cold air all create individual challenges for rugged mobile computing equipment. The insulation used to keep refrigerated and frozen storage areas cold also poses problems when it comes to wireless connectivity. Here follows a brief overview of how these conditions impact mobile computer performance.

Liquid-crystal display screens can become obscured by frost, preventing users from seeing prompts or verifying the data they enter. This means that productivity and accuracy both suffer. In addition, barcode readers and image capture devices will not function if frost covers their optical ports. In these cases, workers must resort to manual data entry, which severely reduces productivity and increases error rates.

This raises the same problems as frost by obscuring screens and causing scanners to fail, but presents a more serious issue because it can occur inside the screen or scan window – and thus cannot be cleared away easily. Condensation can result in internal components to corrode, short-circuit and fail, making devices unusable until they are repaired or replaced.

Cold Air
Battery-powered mobile devices are challenged by cold air because batteries cannot release their energy when temperatures drop below certain levels. The result is reliability and productivity issues that threaten on-time performance and reduce overall efficiency. Additionally, radio waves travel differently through cold, damp air than they do in warmer, drier conditions, so users may experience less range throughput from their wireless local area network systems unless adjustments are made.

Device Placement

So why not simply place devices outside of cold storage? This is a question that is often contemplated. But the problem with this approach is that it drastically decreases pick rate and staff efficiency levels due to the added distance travelled by workers.

Improving the ‘chill factor’ of devices is therefore imperative to any warehouse integrating cold storage. The capability of the printer media, in particular, is often underestimated, but is crucial for a smooth process flow. For example, faded or smudged ink, detached labels and illegible receipts reduce efficiency and productivity levels because it is time-consuming and expensive to identify individual goods and reprint individual labels.

Printer Media

All consumables related to the printer process can be referred to as printer media. In addition to barcode labels and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, this also includes receipts, tickets and ink ribbons.

In logistics, a distinction is made between traditional standard media and special labels. Special labels include, for example, RFID labels, wristbands for hospitals and durable labels.

A differentiation is also made between media with short-term resistance, used predominantly in parcel shipments, through to very resistant labels that withstand the effects of chemicals or temperature – often used in laboratories. Hence, it is critical that companies choose a provider with the widest possible portfolio and varied experience, in order to identify the best solution for a given application. Ideally, the manufacturer should be able to offer a complete solution from one single source, including printers, labels and, where applicable, ink ribbons.

Either thermal direct or thermal transfer labels are used for labelling and marking products, depending on the application and requirements. In short, obtaining a perfect match between label and printer is crucial across all environments.

Proving Durability

Of course, even the most durable components cannot ensure that a mobile computer is rugged enough to stand up to real-world use. Extensive testing is necessary to prove that a design has what it takes.

Mobile computer manufacturers looking to achieve industrial-grade durability must establish standards for impact and temperature resistance – then test to ensure the standards are met. While these assessments are often performed by the manufacturers themselves, testing to the International Electrotechnical Commission’s International Protection (IP) standards for dust and water resistance must be performed and certified by independent labs.

Most industrial-grade mobile computers are rated IP64, with the 6 indicating that the device is dust-tight, and the 4 indicating it will resist being splashed or sprayed with water. Companies should ensure that their hardware meets these specifications before subjecting it to the cold store.

Another area to consider is product features: large keys are better for gloved hands, for example. And the brighter the defroster screen, the easier workers can go from outdoor dock to dark freezer without condensation.

Good Balance

Here are five tips to ensure your warehouse is able to achieve the right marriage between printers, devices and labels in the cold store:

1.    Operating Environment

The environment in which the media will be used has a direct impact on every single component of the printing process. Temperature plays a crucial role as the individual elements involved need to be of a specific composition, depending on the level of cold.

This is especially true if the temperature to which the printer media are exposed is subject to fluctuations. For production facilities where chemicals are processed, it is important to choose materials for the media that will not react with the chemicals.

In selecting the right provider for the purchase of printer media, the customer and a representative of the manufacturer should accurately evaluate the operating environment so that a customised solution can be created.

2.    Selecting the Best Provider

To identify the most appropriate media for your application environment, a thorough analysis is required to find the right combination of necessary components. Detailed expert advice is essential in this respect, especially for critical applications.

Ideally, following in-depth analysis, the provider will be able to test the recommended solution in a laboratory environment prior to implementation. After that, the customer should always receive a bespoke offer to meet their individual needs.

3.    Choosing an Adhesive
The adhesive is crucial for efficiency and for getting the best out of the printer medium. Due to the wide variety of substrates (such as dry/wet, flat/curved, smooth/rough, clean/dirty, hot/cold or painted/rusted) and external influences (temperature, humidity and sunlight), the demands on the adhesive must be closely examined and taken into account in order to make the right choice. After all, the composition of the adhesive and binder determines whether the medium adheres well or is easily detachable.

This is especially true for the particularly sensitive area of frozen storage because extreme temperatures as low as -30°C are not uncommon. In such cases, the media must also demonstrate frost resistance. Each storage environment and application requires a particular combination, and the customer will need to find the perfect match.

4.    Thermal Transfer Printing
Obtaining an optimal match between labels and ink ribbons is important for the thermal transfer printing of media. It is crucial to assess what demands the customer will be placing on the printed label.

In frozen storage, thermal transfer printing must be able to withstand temperature fluctuations of up to 40°C. Labels must adhere reliably under these conditions, yet be easy to remove at any time.

In this kind of environment, companies need to be able to rely on the supply quality of their provider, especially when it comes to high label volumes, in order to ensure accurate and reliable operation and, thus, a good level of productivity in the warehouse.

Factors such as scratch and abrasion resistance, as well as resistance to temperature, chemicals and humidity, must also be taken into account. In general, the harsher and more challenging the operating environment, the more rugged and flexible the media must be.

5.    Single Source

Ideally, companies will select their warehouse solutions from a single source, purchasing both hardware and media from the same provider. This way, customers can be sure the device, labels and/or ink ribbons are perfectly matched.

It is even better if the provider can offer other services too, such as a printhead replacement scheme. Receiving free replacement of parts that wear quickly is a great way to ensure a higher level of productivity and efficiency, resulting in a rapid return on investment.

Furthermore, in the event of system failure, the cause can be found quicker when the products used, including printers, computers, scanners, imagers and labels, all come from a single source. Problems are easier to identify, or often do not even arise in the first place, because systems are harmoniously integrated.

Choose Wisely

Seamless tracking and tracing of goods is essential for a smooth and efficient flow within the warehouse, especially so in frozen storage where cold chains have to be maintained and goods must be tracked at all times – from receipt through to dispatch. The media used plays an essential role here, and the most successful solutions can be obtained with the competence and experience of a reliable provider.

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Rafael Hernández began his career at Siemens Nixdorf, as Product Manager in the Division of Automatic Identification. In 1993, he entered Intermec Spain as Director of Marketing, holding a number of senior roles within the European channel. The company was acquired by Honeywell in 2013, and Rafael now holds the title of Industry Marketing Manager, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa.
Rafael Hernández
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