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Bar coded circuit boardsAutomated Data Collection Worth Its Weight In Gold

Coors Electronic Package Company of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a fully owned subsidiary of the Adolph Coors Brewing Company, is one of a few remaining American-owned ceramic manufacturing and packaging companies in the electronic components industry. Heavy competition from Japanese companies has pushed the company to constantly fine tune its processes for ultimate efficiency, accuracy, and cost reduction in all manufacturing areas.

One of Coors' largest customers, a major semiconductor manufacturer, demanded that bar coded shipping labels on Coors' products incorporate the customer's own bar coded identifier--or Coors could no longer be a supplier. In response to this demand, in 1990 Coors implemented an on-demand shipping label system. The company also added bar coded shop order travelers that track work-in-process through all manufacturing operations and an automated data collection system that permanently reduced costs on its gold plating line.

When evaluating possible bar code solutions in 1990, Coors first turned to manufacturing software developers who were just beginning to integrate bar code capabilities into their existing software programs. Finding the cost prohibitive and expertise lacking in these packages, Coors chose a dedicated bar code printing solution, On-Tap, from Integrated Software Design.

More often than not, Coors is shipping orders on demand and must have the flexibility to customize shipping labels depending on customers' requirements. As each packer enters data into a PC, AIAG labels with Code 39 bar codes are created using On-Tap. Information contained in the labels includes shop order numbers, part numbers, "packed by" identification, dates, and any identifying characters requested by the customer. The labels are printed on Printronix P600 printers.

Coors has also added bar code-based work-in-process tracking on its factory floor. Each step of the company's product manufacturing process is now assigned a routing sequence number that is documented on a series of routing sheets. These sheets contain Code 39 bar codes (using the LOGMARS standard) and travel with work-in-process throughout manufacturing. Workers use Intermec 1515 laser scanners and Model 9560 Transaction Managers located in each department to log each job in and out and track actual labor compared to the shop order. A change in shifts poses little threat to continuity since workers can pick up exactly where the last shift left off.

In addition, the company has automated its gold plating line. This system allows workers to adjust gold usage for specific runs while still meeting customers' minimum requirements for gold content. In the past, platers had to type a part's number into a stand-alone database. The database then gave the plater gold plating parameters for that part number. This information was recorded on a card ( as required for quality control), and the plater manually dialed in the numbers. Incorrect data could be entered, throwing off specific plaint parameters an ultimately resulting in inefficient use of the gold plating solutions.

The plating line now receives gold specs on-line through a PC connected to Coors' mainframe. When the plater scans a bar coded work order number using an Intermec contact wand and 9570 wedge connected to the PC, the computer retrieves the correct plating parameters from the database on the mainframe.

The required quality control document, a bar coded card, is produced on a dot matrix printer. The card contains the run number encoded in Code 39. The run number ties the specific plating parameters to the work order and part numbers. The plater then uses a slot reader connected to the serial port of the PC to scan the bar coded card. The system automatically downloads the plating parameters to the cell controller for the plating line.

Once Coors switched to bar code-based data entry for its gold plating line in 1991, the system paid for itself within the first month. Approximately $50,000 was saved in the first year, and the company expects ongoing savings through a permanent reduction in gold consumption. More important, plating engineers now have more confidence in their gold tolerance specifications for the ceramic packaging, and precious resources are used more judiciously.

Integrated Software Design's On-Tap software is a set of routines which can be added to any system that allows users to pull up bar codes and place them in customized or formatted labels. Coors chose to integrate On-Tap with ASK Computer's Man-Man factory automation software already in place at the plant. The programs were easy to learn and implement, offering a range of printing options and requiring little programming expertise.

Now used by Coors for almost two years, On-Tap was fully implemented within the company in a matter of months, at a cost of approximately $2,000 and an investment of 40 man hours for complete setup of all its current bar coding applications.

For its shop floor control application, Coors chose Digital Equipment Corp's VMS operating platform and was able to incorporate the On-Tap bar coding software into its Digital VAX systems. This provides Coors with the ability to print bar coded documents, without rewriting any software, on most of its Digital, Epson, Printronix, and Hewlett Packard printers.

On-Tap is completely transparent to users who, for the most part, are unaware the bar coding software has been integrated with their system and was not part of the original configuration.

In the future, Coors will be using On-Tap in more custom applications to better service its premier customer base, which includes IBM, AT&T, National Semiconductor, and Motorola.

Quality control is the next well-defined area ripe for bar coding at Coors. Coors anticipated quality control tracking and the improved identification of defects as the next stage in implementing bar coding company-wide.


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