Production floors can be hectic places with high demands and a need for 100 percent accuracy. One common way of systemizing process flow is to use production routers or travelers with barcodes. This technique ensures that the proper steps are followed to produce the part. It can also be used to insert quality checks at key points and to identify bottlenecks.
As the requirements for part traceability increase, there is an increasing need to integrate part marking in the production process. In most cases, it is no longer an option to print and attach a label to the part, rather the information must be marked directly onto the part (direct part marking or DPM). So how does one integrate a laser marker into a production process using parts trays?
Using laser marker software with parts trays/travelers
Recently, I’ve seen a real uptick in requests for providing a specialized graphical user interface that will interact with both the production system and the marker. In other words, customers need a way to get information into the mark file from their production database, mark the part, and then provide a record of the same.
This process is especially attractive to customers whose process includes the use of parts trays (also known as "travelers" or "routers") and the need to ensure “cradle to grave” parts processing. Medical and some automotive or aerospace applications are prime examples, but really any manufacturer with medium to low volumes can use the software interface to simplify production for the operator.
So how does it work?
Imagine a production line in which an individual tray or traveler is used to transfer parts through the steps in a manufacturing process – from initial assembly, to secondary assembly, to laser marking, and then packaging. The traveler method is used to ensure operators are not duplicating steps, are using the right equipment, and are getting the right marks on the parts.
Each tray coming along the line will have two barcodes: one providing instructions for parts processing and one for the mark itself.
The operator will scan one barcode to initiate the mark sequence. This barcode may contain information on the mark file template, as well as information on which fixture to use, and additional steps required before marking.
The second barcode would contain information specific to the part to be marked – such as serial number and part number, or where to get the information that may be pushed from a database.
The image of the intended mark information is displayed. The program also requests that the operator confirm part placement – this can be automated so once it is marked it can be flagged as a marked part. The operator inserts the part, marks it, and then go on to all the parts on the tray, whether serialized or one part at a time.
Once the operator finishes, he/she scans the barcode to show the part is complete. This can be set up to create a log of the parts that are marked. The barcode remains with the traveler, which goes off to the next operation, and the station is now ready for the next part tray to arrive. The program can also record marked records to a database table (optional) and then return to the initial screen. An overall organizer makes sure that all the parts are going through properly.
The system ensures that even if the next part to be worked on is completely different, operators will be always be aware of what is required for the particular part they are working on. This can really help to simplify production and reduce operator error (and waste), because the operator no longer has to choose the correct program from a dropdown menu. The accompanying graphic shows a visualization of the workflow.
See it all on the screen
The accompanying figure shows a screen with a sample human machine interface (HMI) for the software. The operator depresses the “Click to Connect” button to connect to the marker, barcode readers, and robot programmable logic controller (PLC) (#1). Also shown is the current marking job (#6). When everything is properly connected, the operator scans the first barcode, which then populates the required marking data in the marking data fields (#3) and the barcode data (#4). At the bottom is a visual image of what will be marked on every part.
The marks and the data information can be stored on a network or locally. Many medical customers store data on a remote secured and locked network to ensure tracking and traceability throughout a product lifecycle. The traveler card can also include information on the serial number and the date of manufacture, which can be stored along with the marks made, available for later identification if necessary.
The software is available in a basic version and can be customized as needed. Some customers may want an open network, while others may be fine with a local network. Still others may use the software for database logging. While the illustration shows the software monitoring door opening and closing, the system can also be used for manual operations, or only with a Z axis.
For those looking for cradle-to-grave control of low to medium volume parts using a parts traveler or tray, this kind of laser marking software can be configured to incorporate laser marking into a manufacturing line while also improving your manufacturing flow.