With a predicted growth rate of 18%, online shopping continues to skyrocket in popularity during the pandemic. In times like this, e-commerce provides more than just a convenient shopping experience – it’s an essential channel for individuals who cannot access or purchase necessary items in brick-and-mortar shops. And, while the volatility of the current environment makes it difficult to predict long-term trends, evidence suggests we can expect e-commerce to keep increasing year-over-year across the globe.
But, this growing opportunity also presents many unique challenges. Due to the additional pressure ecommerce brings to maintain efficiency, it’s vital that supply chains continue to run and utilize the right tools for moving inventory and shipping products as quickly as possible to those who need them. Moreover, those looking to compete in the marketplace will need to ensure they are poised for our increasingly digital world in years to come.
For creating and managing labels, this means moving past legacy systems and manual processes and instead adopting digital solutions. These solutions can unlock a trove of improvements, ranging from enhanced quality assurance to greater agility and flexibility, improved collaboration from anywhere in the world, and importantly, IT teams don’t have to be onsite to configure and deploy labels.
Common legacy barriers and the cumbersome print room
While an efficient supply chain depends on a network of factories, warehouses and distribution centers, many links in the chain can struggle with outdated labeling methods – this brings risks and slowdowns and requires onsite interaction.
In just one manufacturing facility, a print room may use up to ten different brands of label printers to print label batches, which are then carried to the production line and manually applied to products. Every time a process like this is performed, it increases the chances of mislabeling.
Often, small, siloed teams may be overwhelmed by hundreds, if not thousands, of label templates across various hard drives and storage devices. Instead of accessing a database of stored templates, operators in various facilities may also need to manually take order information from paper documents, input it on the spot and print it out.
If no central label storage system is in place to monitor changes and system events, quality assurance, tracking label changes and print history tracking can also be inefficient. This is problematic when supervisors and operators must ensure the right labels are applied to the right products and oversee the process of making sure printed labels correspond with the current production order.
What if a shift ends, and not all labels are used? If an organization is not prepared for this, such scenarios can result in more manual checks, major risks and room for error. Adding to the challenge, this type of work has often been done by a small number of print room experts because it can require special capabilities, such as conducting manual quality checks, that only a few have the knowledge to carry out.
Relying on a small, select group of expert staff in limited, siloed print room environments can make label design and printing difficult and time-consuming. It also seriously restricts supply chains and the ability to track items and cooperate across many regions and facilities. Many recognize these inefficiencies. But what steps can be taken to improve labeling?
Adopt a digital labeling system to enable anywhere collaboration
With a digital labeling system, labels can be centrally managed and updated, deployed from a browser and accessed anywhere. Making labels easier to create, share and print, enables better collaboration as well as drastically improved levels of quality, agility and expenditure.
With a centralized approach, it also becomes easier to standardize label formats across an entire supply chain. Moreover, it prevents counterfeiting and diversion and enables more efficient use of technologies like radio frequency identification (RFID) to automate inventory management.
A digital approach also streamlines printing. Digital label management systems, whether on premise or in the cloud, can interface with many types of label printers, without being restricted to a certain manufacturer. This interoperability enables consistency and minimizes label reworking, waste from mislabeled products and costs from investing in solutions that won’t integrate with other systems.
Overall, digitizing labeling via an on premise or cloud-based system creates a unified, harmonious environment across an entire network. This is especially valuable for companies managing widely dispersed locations or for those that possess a large amount of already installed label printers but need to standardize operations.
Reduce the need for manual design and quality control efforts
Legacy labeling approaches often need extensive IT intervention to make label changes or new templates. This problem is compounded if an unharmonious labeling approach requires teams to duplicate design or update efforts.
Solving this problem, a centralized label management approach can help IT make label changes quicker or even delegate these tasks to business users who can quickly change and create labels from a user-friendly platform. It can also decrease human error by reducing data entry and the need to maintain duplicate templates. Access control can also be made more secure, so only authorized parties are able to change certain label files and set the number of labels being printed.
Strive for interoperability and efficiency
To reiterate, a digital label management approach can offer benefits like reduced IT burden, digitized quality control and the ability to promote greater supply chain transparency. A modern system can also remove hidden legacy costs by standardizing labeling via a central web-based platform across manufacturing, distribution and supply chain partner facilities. This removes redundant templates and greatly minimizes maintenance costs spent in reworking unneeded variations.
The ability for a label management system to integrate with existing business systems is also important. Most organizations rely on tools like manufacturing execution (MES), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and warehouse management systems (WMS), which receive constant updates and improvements. As such, a labeling solution must easily integrate and scale alongside these systems. This will greatly speed and improve supply chain operations and help organizations move past outdated approaches like hard coding label templates, locally managing labels in a disparate manner and using paper-based quality assurance methods.
In addition to business system interoperability, label management systems should make label printing easier and more efficient. This can be done by using a printer agnostic system that can automate certain print workflows and support mobile systems. These benefits will reduce unneeded admin tasks, such as training operators or manually adjusting printer settings, and even future-proof environments to welcome mobile and IoT devices.
Future-proofing business functionality
Though the recent pandemic has created unprecedented business, economic and daily living impacts, those who wish to flourish in the still-rising e-commerce industry must ramp-up rather than slow down. And, as a crucial component to meeting consumer demand and supply chain efficiency, labeling must be streamlined.
Long-term success will require flexible solutions now and for years to come, and outdated, disparate approaches just won’t cut it. By implementing the right digital label management system and integrating it with warehouse, manufacturing and logistics systems, companies can not only ensure the continuity of effective shipping and logistics in a challenging time, but also work to secure future success as well.