Stop the Touches: How to Eliminate Labeling Mistakes from Your Production Line

  • By Adem Kulauzovic
  • July 13, 2020
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Regardless of the industry, operator error is one of the leading causes of labeling mistakes. In the worst cases, these errors can result in costly product recalls that can have a devastating effect for the company’s brand reputation.

On average, a manual production worker can be expected to make one mistake for every 300 touches. Those errors are not because of any lack of training or expertise, but simply because of the standard errors that any person makes as a human being. 

The real error doesn't actually lie in the hands of a manual production worker. Instead, the biggest errors lies in the organization that doesn't prepare for them. Despite recent advances in automation and production, many companies continue to rely on manual processes to ensure the right information is printed on the right products, boxes, and pallets.

As legislation surrounding the labeling of consumer products becomes stricter in a bid to protect consumers, ensuring efficiency and accuracy in your product labelling operations has never been more essential.

The good news is that, in the Industry 4.0 era, errors arising from manual processes are not only avoidable, they can be completely eradicated quickly and cost-effectively - all without necessitating significant changes to existing production processes.

In this article, Domino Amjet Director of Coding Automation, Adem Kulauzovic explores the use of automated coding and marking solutions to reduce the risk of costly product recalls.

Where do the errors come from?

Ultimately, whether we like it or not, human error is to be expected. However, in coding and marking, some operations simply cannot afford these errors. Continuing to utilize these manual processes in both label selection and management is where they can lead to costly recalls. 

In highly-regulated industries such as pharmaceutical industry and food production, a seemingly innocuous error can be especially costly, or, in the worst case scenario, dangerous. 

Here are some of the most common sources of errors:

  • Label selection errors – selecting the wrong label or deploying the wrong information onto product packaging 
  • Human error in label management – entering the wrong information into a label template to be printed onto a product

The effect of errors

Utilizing manual processes can leave production lines, both large and small, especially susceptible to simple errors. This can pose a tremendous risk to manufacturing operations, and, ultimately, lead to costly recalls. Recalls don't just have attached production costs, but are also costly thanks to logistics and have the potential to harm the long-term value of a company.

Consumer protection laws require manufacturers and suppliers to bear the costs of all product recalls – according to a study by Deloitte, food and beverage manufacturers can expect to lose up to USD$10 million in wasted stock, logistics, and penalties resulting from a single product recall.[i]

A solid brand reputation built up over time by providing quality products can be easily undermined by a single product recall. According to Deloitte, a publicly-traded company can expect to see its stock price decline by up to 22% in the first two weeks after a recall is announced[ii].

Protecting consumers

In the food and beverage industry, product labeling is of particular importance in ensuring consumer safety.

In the United States, packaged food and beverage products are consumed by approximately 250 million people each day. When mislabeling occurs, it can pose a significant risk to consumers - even with the smallest errors. Slight changes in an ingredients list could lead to undeclared allergens, which, in turn, can lead to product recalls or even potential physical harm to your customers. 

Remaining Safety Compliant all over the world

Product labelling requirements, and standards for recalls, are set by the relevant government regulations in which a food or beverage product is sold. In the US, these regulations fall under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. This act applies to the labeling of foods regulated by US FDA.

In the EU, these regulations are dictated by the Food Information for Consumers Regulation (EU FIC): Regulation (EU) NO 1169/2011. In the UK, the EU FIC is enforced by The Food Information Regulations 2014.

Elsewhere, event more governments are beginning follow suit with the US and EU and starting to roll out similar legislation of their own to protect consumers.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India recently launched a draft notification for the new Labelling and Display regulations for prepacked food and beverages. The new regulations will make it mandatory for prepacked food to be labelled with information including full ingredients lists, allergens, and related logos for declaration of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items.

In China, allergen labeling on pre-packaged food is currently voluntary. However, in January 2020, the Chinese National Health Commission released a draft bill, GB7718 General Rules for the Labelling for Pre-Packaged Foods, which, if passed, will make allergen labelling compulsory for all pre-packaged foods.

Even if your production goes on without a hitch, failure to adhere to these types of regulations can have significant repercussions for manufacturers beyond the bogeyman of future product recalls. In both the EU and the US, errors in product labelling related to allergens necessitate a mandatory recall of all mislabeled products.

Not just an abstract issue

In November 2019, Stericycle’s US recall index reported that undeclared allergens on food and beverage packaging were responsible for an incredible 35.5% of all mandated U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food recalls for the third quarter of 2019. This represented the highest overall cause of recall for the ninth consecutive quarter.[iii] 

The issue is not unique to the US. In the first quarter of 2020, the Food Standards Agency in the UK issues 25 recalls due to undeclared allergies including milk, eggs, nuts, and celery from many big named brands.[iv] In 2019, Finland's Food Authority (Ruokavirasto) found that undeclared allergens accounted for 27% of all product recalls. 

Of course, labeling issues are not just an issue in food and beverages: manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices are also subject to strict legislation surrounding the labelling of products on the market in order to keep consumers safe. Indeed, 9% of all medical device recall events in 2018 – to the tune of over a million units – were due to labeling issues.

Labeling compliance obligations

Legislation and best practice recommendations surrounding the labeling of consumer products have become stricter in more recent years, placing increase pressure on businesses not just to ensure that labels adhere to safety regulations, but also to put in place systems to identify and solve possible product labeling mistakes before they occur. 

Since January 2011, businesses in the US have been required by law to implement preventative measures to avoid labelling mistakes in food and beverage manufacturing. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), requires manufacturers to implement and monitor effective measures to prevent risks in production, including errors in product labelling.

Globally, the International Food Standards and the Global Food Safety Initiative require that manufacturers and retailers implement procedures for label checking to ensure that products are labelled correctly, and within the necessary scope of the laws in which they are sold.

Meanwhile, in the UK, retailers wishing to be a part of the British Retail Consortium, must demonstrate that they have a system of checks in place to ensure check and ensure against product labeling errors. This includes having documented processes in place following product changeover, and changes in batches of packaging, to ensure that labels applied are correct for products packaged.  

How do you stop the errors?

Having identified that the primary cause of labelling errors lies in manual data entry, the first step towards reducing errors like this comes from reducing the need for manual data entry on production lines.

How is this even possible? Well, the answer lies in switching to an integrated system to ensure alignment of your product labeling with your current production order. 

At the most basic level, companies can utilize a label design software that is capable of automatically populating product labels and managing their distribution across multiple printers from a centralized location - such as a singular production office or even from the operator's own home.

This reduces the number of data entry points on the line itself, simplifies the data entry process, and ultimately, reduces the chance for errors. Furthermore, by replacing individual messages with a template tied to a product database, potentially one can reduce the number of labels being managed from hundreds to only a handful.

Domino industry 4.0 factory and cloud tablet interface

Introducing label templates can vastly streamline your coding and marking process. Templates can actually help reduce the total number of labels required on production lines. This can make it easier for manual workers involved in code selection and, in turn, can make it significantly easier to introduce changes to labels when there are inevitable legislation changes.

To take a recent example, a Domino Amjet customer involved in manufacturing pre-packaged food and beverages needed to make changes to their existing labels due to a change in barcode mandate. The company had over 1500 labels and making the changes to every single label would have taken an entire week to complete. However, integrating their existing database, which already contained all the required label information, into label templates, allowed them to reduce their label count from 1500 down to just 5, reducing the time spent implementing updates to a fraction of the original.

The next step in error reduction is in establishing good label management. With the simple application of IIoT methodology, it is possible to integrate automated coding solutions to automatically populate labels information obtained from a production management system – this can further help to prevent mislabeled products arising from issues in label creation. 

Integrated label management solutions can be anything from a simple barcode scanner used to select data from a UPC or production order, to full integration with an existing MES or ERP system – enabling label creation directly from a centralized management system.

Populated labels can then be automatically pushed through to a printer without any manual intervention, mitigating the risk of labelling errors and helping to grow efficiency on production lines. 

Validation and vision control

The final step towards error-free coding is in establishing a validation system to ensure that all information on product labels is present, correct, and readable.

Today, high-speed manufacturing environments have made manual inspection of every product impossible and unreliable – an integrated vision control system (VCS) can instead be used to validate a product label, and further reduce the risk of the product reaching a retailer with improper information. 

Integrated cameras and a VCS can work alongside coding automation to verify information against production orders and shift codes, to eliminate labelling mistakes. They also can be used to provide verification for item-level serialization – enabling track and trace of every pallet produced down to the case, or even the product itself.

Domino’s coding automation solutions have been developed to integrate with camera systems to verify that all the required information is present and correct, and that the label being produced meets the quality standards on every single product.

By checking label quality, a VCS can also ensure that preventative actions are being taken during manufacturing: for example, it can be integrated with coding automation software to automatically stop production if a certain number of ‘no reads’ (products that fail to be read by the VCS) are reached within a certain period, or if the validated label data is inconsistent to the product the system believes is being produced.

In this way, a VCS is an extremely effective quality control tool, which provides an almost immediate return on investment by ensuring that labeling mistakes and quality issues are eliminated before they cause a problem.

Your partner for error-free coding

At Domino, we understand how important your product labelling is to your business. Equally, we know that making significant changes to production processes is not always feasible. With Domino’s integrated coding solutions, you can ensure the accuracy of your product labelling, without necessitating significant changes to your production lines. 

Our coding automation solutions have been developed alongside feedback from our customers to integrate with existing processes, utilising industry standards to provide a link between your industrial equipment and our coding and marking solutions.

If you would like to find out more about our integrated coding solutions, please get in touch. Our experts in coding automation are always on hand to discuss the specifics of your business and help identify how you can eliminate costly labelling errors from your production lines.  

To discover further coding automation insight from Domino visit https://bit.ly/2YsfKQF

[i] Deloitte, “The food value chain: A challenge for the next century”, accessed 11th May 2020. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ie/Documents/ConsumerBusiness/2015-Deloitte-Ireland-Food_Value_Chain.pdf

[ii] Deloitte, GMA, FMI, and GS1-US collaborative report, ‘Recall Execution Effectiveness: Collaborative Approaches to Improving Consumer Safety and Confidence’, accessed 15th June 2020 https://www.gs1india.org/media/joint-industry-recall-execution-effectiveness-report.pdf

[iii] Stericycle “Q4 2019 RECALL INDEX”, accessed 11th May 2020. https://www.stericycleexpertsolutions.com/product-recall-index/

[iv] Food Standards Agency, “Alerts”, accessed 11th May 2020.  https://www.food.gov.uk/news-alerts/search/alerts?type%5BAllergy%20alert%5D=Allergy%20alert&keywords=&page=0

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