Don’t move; improve!

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I’m going to borrow a phrase the home improvement industry uses a lot; ‘Don’t move; improve’.

I think it’s good advice for some manufacturing and logistics back office systems. Bear with me on this one!

You can’t pick up a trade magazine or look at an industry website these days without reading about all the exciting new disruptive technologies that promise cost savings, efficiencies and operational improvements. Indeed, as a supplier and maintainer of some of these newer digital solutions we’re acutely aware of the advances that are achievable.

But equally, having worked in this business for over 30 years, we’re also aware of how much life is left in some older machines earmarked for upgrading. And maybe they’re not even the devices that need phasing out first.

Let’s consider industrial printers. Irrespective of where they are, or what job they do, you need to understand their ‘life wear cycle’. This enables you to get the most out of them, avoid unnecessary replacement, minimise breakdowns and production downtime, all of which benefit your bottom line.

Knowing where the printer is in its ‘life wear cycle’, however, and its future usefulness to you is the trickier part. As a printer heads towards its ‘burn out’ phase, where it’s breaking down frequently or causing too much downtime, you need to decide if it’s cost effective to maintain it, or better to relocate it to a less critical area of your operation, or to replace it.

And this brings me back to my earlier point of ‘don’t move, improve’. You don’t necessarily have to replace a printer, as with proper care and maintenance it’s lifelong performance can be improved, or it can be swapped out as part of a rolling maintenance plan.

We’re still supporting printers long discontinued by their manufacturers like Fujitsu, Datasouth, Genicom, Intermec, UBI, RJS, Printronix and Mannesmann Tally. And some of them are very old indeed and working way past their stated lifespan. But this in itself is not a reason to phase them out, not until their operational effectiveness drops to a level where it starts affecting business.

Machine longevity also depends on the users themselves. Do they know how to correctly use and replace consumables like ribbons and printheads, can they recognise errors, do they know how to keep the device clean and the daily care required? Our years of experience with different machines can help educate users on best practice, which can help improve performance of the printers.

Of course, if you do believe it’s time to move technology and follow the trend for more digital solutions you’ll need time to plan and budget for the transition. And part of doing the sums will be comparing the maintenance costs of older printers with swapping out to newer technology and cheaper maintenance plans.

When the MHI 2017 Survey† came out I wasn’t surprised to read that 80% of respondents believed the digital supply chain would be the predominant model within five years; 16% claim it already is. One of the interesting points in the survey for me was barriers to technology adoption. Cyber security proved the biggest barrier (55%), followed by lack of talent to implement it (44%), and no clear business case to justify the investment (44%).

There’s understandably still a lot of reticence around technologies like IoT and Industry 4.0 and companies need to be sure they’re adopting the right one for their business. But meantime, they’ve still got deliveries to get out and for that they need working tools, be they printers, handhelds, mobile computers and scanners.    

Keeping such devices well maintained to improve or sustain their performance buys you time to make those strategic decisions and manage any migrations from old to newer technologies.

† Source: MHI and Deloitte

Pete Laplanche

Out in warehouses and back offices, barcode printers remain the unsung heroes of the supply chain. Board director of Datatrade, Peter Laplanche, has spent 30 years communicating the importance of these mission critical devices, from early matrix printers to the latest mobiles. The brave new world of omni-channel requires even greater visibility and agility in track and trace, and label barcoding is…

http://datatrade.co.uk

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