Originally appeared on The Human Readable Blog, by TEKLYNX.
Partner Blog BY: DOUG NIEMEYER / TEKLYNX
2020 will go down in history as one of the most game-changing years in modern manufacturing. The COVID-19 pandemic upended not only our personal lives, but every aspect of global and local economies. As 2020 comes to a close, it’s time to look forward to 2021. Let’s take a look at five major manufacturing trends that, while undeniably accelerated by the events of 2020, will hold true into 2021 and beyond. For each trend, we’ll dive into ways labeling will evolve in 2021 to support manufacturing.
Cloud-hosted Technologies are on the Rise
Cloud-hosted technologies are no longer new and shiny. Cloud-hosting is now an expected part of a solution discussion: “Will this be hosted locally or in the cloud?” Thanks to maturing technology and improved security (surpassing local security standards), over 90% of enterprises already use a cloud service, according to Flexera’s 2020 State of the Cloud Report.
How labeling software will support the adoption of cloud technologies in 2021:
- A cloud-hosted label printing interface provides a simple and secure way for your print users to print the right labels with the right data from anywhere in the world. Don’t worry about local installations, server maintenance, or software upgrades – we’ll handle it! Having your labeling software hosted in the cloud for you gives your print users access to a simple label printing interface and removes the burden of IT maintenance from your shoulders.
- Already comfortable with cloud-hosting your own applications? You can host our label printing automation software in the cloud. Whether in the public cloud (AWS, Azure, Google, etc) or in your own private cloud, cloud-hosting your labeling software makes license management simpler for large enterprises with many locations.
- In 2021, look for more labeling software providers to offer ways for your local labeling software to access data stored in the cloud. Businesses that store their data in the cloud will be able to connect their label design software to populate variable data onto their label templates at print time. 2021 will continue to be a year of evolving labeling solutions and infrastructure around cloud technologies.
Manufacturing Continues to get Smarter
Smart manufacturing refers to the ways in which businesses are harnessing the power of data within their facilities to optimize every aspect of the production process. Gartner estimated that, by the end of 2020, there would be 5.8 billion enterprise and automotive Internet of Things (IoT) endpoints in use. At the core of IoT is data, and barcodes and RFID are some of the most ubiquitous data carriers.
Here are three ways labeling software will enable smarter device communication in 2021:
- Data printed on your labels must be accurate, or the consequences could be serious. Using device-to-software communication enables data to automatically drive label printing, removing steps of human interaction. Whether it’s scanning a barcode to select the correct label template, using a scanner to lookup the correct database record, or sending weight data directly from a scale to a when printed variable on a label, features like PortWatch lay the foundation for machine-to-machine communication in labeling. This is expected to become a more common labeling trend in 2021.
- Barcode verification, or determining the quality of a printed barcode against a grading scale, is a required quality assurance measure in many industries. However, the vast majority of companies today use a spot-check method, only verifying a sample of barcodes. This leaves businesses open to the threat of damaged or low-quality barcodes, low ratings, and chargebacks. In 2021, more companies will adopt fully automated end-to-end barcode verification systems that verify every single barcode. Barcode verification data comes full-circle when it’s tracked within your label traceability system for future auditing and reporting.
- In 2021, your labeling software will offer more ways to integrate with manufacturing technology like programmable logic controllers (PLCs). This will enable even greater flexibility for businesses looking for efficient ways to drive barcode label printing.
Continued Efforts to Do More With Less
Industry has always strived to produce greater value out of fewer resources, but 2020 brought new meaning to the goal of doing more with less. When large segments of the workforce were suddenly unable to work in-person, businesses pivoted to continue achieving their goals with fewer staff on site. Necessity may have triggered the need to remove manual touchpoints from processes, but the trend of reducing human interaction within manufacturing is here to stay.
Implement these lean labeling trends in your labeling environment in 2021:
- Create smart label templates that leverage database connections to automatically pull data onto the label. Manual data entry can create tremendous waste when mistakes are made. The solution isn’t more training, it’s eliminating the need for manual data entry in the first place. Label templates can be connected to any type of database, from an Excel spreadsheet to a full business system or ERP system.
- Design your labels using an automated label approval process. Assign roles to each user, including Designer, Approver, and Print User. Label approval software takes care of the rest, limiting each user’s ability to make changes or print depending on the label’s status. Email notifications keep the process in motion, saving time walking around to each person seeking approval.
- Take your business system labeling integration a step further by automatically triggering label print jobs from the business system. This completely eliminates the need to manually open label files, update them, and select the correct printer and quantity to print. Best of all, it means you don’t have to manage multiple local installations of label design software.
Implementation of Adaptable Solutions for Quicker Response to Changes
Perhaps the hardest learned lesson of 2020 was that systems weren’t always up to the task of pivoting to meet the latest challenge. Food manufacturers suddenly had to shift from selling to restaurants and institutions to selling directly to consumers. This introduced the challenge of quickly getting the required nutrition facts and ingredients labels onto products that had previously not needed them. Although the FDA relaxed some labeling requirements, food manufacturers were still responsible for informing the consumers of critical information such as allergens.
Throughout 2020 and into 2021, businesses will place a stronger focus on resilient supply chains powered by adaptable software solutions. Here are a few ways your labeling software can help.
- When you need to make changes to a label, whether because of a global pandemic or simply because the marketing department changed the logo, smart label templates allow you to do it efficiently. But companies with “label rooms” where rolls of pre-printed labels are stored are now faced with an inventory of unusable labels. Printing labels on-demand ensures that resources aren’t wasted and you’re always ready to make a last-minute change.
- Last-minute label changes are only good if they’re correct, and an automated label approval process provides the infrastructure to make changes accurately. Knowing exactly who is responsible for updating label templates and who is responsible for approving those updates means labeling isn’t a bottleneck when changes are needed.
- Keep your operating system (OS), labeling software, and other systems up-to-date. The older versions may work for now, but an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude only works in times of certainty. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that nothing is certain. When challenges arise, you don’t want to find out that outdated software is what’s holding you back. If you’re using an old version of your labeling software, a labeling expert at TEKLYNX can help you find the best up-to-date solution.
Companies Improve Trust through Greater Transparency
With more data at our fingertips than ever before, it’s no surprise that consumers want to know more about the products they buy. Transparency about products is important to consumers: 70% of consumers are most interested in the social, health, environmental, and safety impacts of the product they buy (compared to the same impacts of the company that makes them), according to a report by the Consumer Goods Forum. Furthermore, transparency could save your business in the face of a crisis. 85% of consumers are more likely to stick with a business during a brand crisis if it has a history of being transparent, according to Sprout Social.
Transparency starts with the label, which must contain accurate and detailed information about the product. Labeling software has promoted transparency within the supply chain for decades, but in 2021, specialty 2D barcodes will pave the way for deeper consumer research.
- Labeling regulations have been around for decades and vary by industry. Required by the government and enforced by the threat of fines, labeling regulation compliance is a key goal for companies in industries including food, chemical, medical device, pharmaceutical, and more. Requirements like GHS labeling for chemicals and UDI labeling for medical devices ensure that workers, patients, and consumers are informed of hazards and safety instructions. In the food industry, consumers use nutrition facts labels to make healthy choices, and allergen labels keep adults and children with allergies safe. More recently, the alcoholic beverage industry is beginning to self-regulate with the introduction of the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative. The emerging cannabis industry has been born into a world where transparency is a priority and clear and accurate labels are the means to that end. Labeling regulations are here to stay and remain a top priority for manufacturers in 2021.
- When you can only fit so many words onto a label, QR codes (and other 2D barcodes) allow you to provide additional information to the consumer. According to Pew Research, 81% of Americans owns a smartphone, meaning 81% of Americans have QR-scanning technology in their pocket. QR codes typically link to a webpage where brands have unlimited space to tell their product’s story, including the social, health, environment, and safety impacts in which consumers are interested.
- In 2021, keep an eye out for wider adoption of GS1 Digital Link technology. GS1 Digital Link codes leverage GS1 identifiers (the same ones used in GS1 barcodes) to provide specific product information via an app or website. GS1 Digital Link supports the One-barcode initiative, enabling powerful consumer transparency via a single barcode.
Set your company up for success in 2021 and beyond by ensuring your labeling software is ready to support whatever 2021 throws your way! Want to talk to a TEKLYNX labeling software expert? Get in touch today.