Enterprise Resource Planning software (i.e. ERP) are great tools for managing data. They can provide one software platform to simplify and consolidate the software and data throughout the organization. Using your ERP system print labels with some additional tools, however, takes this 'one platform' concept one step too far. Even the larger companies, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics, Epicor, etc. do not have sophisticated tools for label creation, printing, and compliance. To meet more challenging labeling requirements, several software companies design tools for label creation, management and printing. These tools, or software applications, generally offer several ways to integrate with all the major ERP software providers. Since these labeling applications are written to optimize the label creation, control, and printing processes, using them provides several benefits to the operation.
Managing Data vs. Designs
ERP systems do not do a good job of managing label designs. The task of incorporating the label design with other elements of the label (fixed text, graphics, barcode, etc.), translating it into printer code, and then managing the process of sending the print job through your network to the printer does not have to be done by the ERP software. In fact, in our experience, it should not be done by your ERP system.
A More Expensive System to Deploy
If you put the burden on the ERP system to do all the work of transforming the data into a printable label, you put a lot of stress on your ERP deployment team. They need to 'reinvent the wheel' by recreating the features that come with common label printing software to produce and manage label designs. We have seen clients try to use report writing tools (e.g. SAP Forms) but these tools were not made for designing and maintaining labels.
A More Expensive System to Maintain
Over time, your labeling needs will change. Key drivers to this change include:
- Customer requests (requirements)
- New government regulations
- Changing industry standards
- Printer obsolescence
- Evolving printing and application methods in your manufacturing process
Each of these changes will require changes to your label designs. Common label design changes include:
- Use of new barcode symbologies and data structures
- Added and changed symbols or images on the label
- More complex and dynamic label design
- Addition of label design control and approval process
- User permissions and controls
- Label approval and printing history for traceability
The label system maintenance means that each time a change needs to be made, experts of your ERP system will be required to customize the ERP software. In most cases, the customization is being done just to replicate what is already being done by off-the-shelf labeling software application.
A More Efficient Way
A more efficient approach is to let your ERP system do what it does best...manage the data. Asking your ERP software vendor to adapt the ERP system to render newly released barcodes, adapt to changes in labeling regulation, new labeling techniques and new printer features, and manage label content, security, and traceability is asking them to reinvent the proverbial wheel.
All these changes and adaptations are already being done by the major software brands...usually well before the mandates and deadlines. When new versions of these labeling software apps are released, they are all available to your organization at a fraction of the cost that it would take to design or configure them into your ERP software. You can take these new label software upgrade and immediately apply the updates WITHOUT upgrading your ERP system.
Integrating the two (ERP and labeling software) is simple. The ERP system just transfers the critical variable data for the label and the labeling software does the rest. This transfer can take many forms and most off the shelf labeling applications can support most if not all methods. These include:
- Drop file (XML, ITF, TXT, etc.)
- TCP/IP client/server
- Web Services (SOAP, etc.)
- Serial Port
- Database table monitoring
Your ERP system spits out the data and the labeling system makes the labels!
Labeling Software - Specialized for Labels
The most widely used labeling applications are:
- TEKLYNX CENTRAL
- CODESOFT (and LABEL ARCHIVE)
- LABEL MATRIX
Each of them is designed to help users design to quickly and easily make changes to label design. All the major brands are regularly updating thier software to comply with:
- Industry standards (GS1, HIBCC, PTI, etc.)
- Goverment requirements (GHS, UDI, UID, CRF 21, etc.)
- Customer requirements (Walmart, DoD, LLBean, Sears, etc.)
- Shipping standards (FedEx, UPS, USPS, etc.)
Benefits of Integrating Labeling Software
Faster and Easier Printer Replacement - Industrial labeling software can render the label to print the same on different printer brands and even printers from different manufacturers. Thus a company does not need to worry about being 'locked in' to a particular printer model number. Any printer can easily act as a drop-in-replacement for any other printer.
Lower Cost of ERP Development - ERP system implementation and maintenance costs can be very expensive. Hard-coding your label designs into your ERP system mean these costs need to be paid during the initial implementation so the development team can recreate the functionality needed (but already developed) in industrial labeling software applications. Then, as the labeling requirements evolve, these development costs need to bepaid out over and over again to keep pace with changing needs.
Lower Cost and Complexity of ERP Upgrade - Upgrading the software for an ERP system can be painful and expensive. When the software has been customized, all the customization needs to be retested, sometimes, redeveloped to work with the new programming code. By maintaining the label designs outside of the ERP system, you can drastically simplify the task of upgrades because:
- Only the data output from the ERP system needs to be tested (not each label design)
- You can upgrade the labeling system WITHOUT upgrading the entire ERP system
Control User Access - Users access can not only be controlled based on role (printer user, design user, administrator, etc.) but the login process can be streamlined. Most industrial labeling applications can link to Windows Active Directory and thus:
- Make it easier for the user to authenticate into the labeling by using the Windows login
- Save time for system administrators who can link permissions in the labeling system to existing Windows user groups
Reduce Errors - Labeling software applications include some sophisticated tools like:
- Prevent users from making simple typos
- Formula driven error checking routines (e.g. logical errors)
- Force users to send label print requests ONLY to certain printers or locations
- Make sure the label job is printed on the correct label type and size
Increase Transparency - The 'enterprise' features of many industrial labeling applications can track and monitor labeling jobs requested by the ERP system. Problems with printers, media, etc. can be monitored and audited since this information is recorded and stored in log files and often in a SQL database.
Faster Label Throughput - Since the developers for industrial labeling software applications specialize in printing technology, they include features in their software that can avoid printing bottlenecks (i.e. load balancing) and speed printing. Some common speedy features include:
- Sending special codes to the printer to increase printer speed
- Load parts of the label design (or the entire label design) into printer memory
- Utilize printer features such as printer resident fonts and barcodes symbols stored in printer firmware
Document Control - Companies that use quality systems to control documents can find enterprise features in many industrial applications that can meet stringent label document control policies. This can include:
- Label version (and revision) control and audit history
- Approval workflow
- Reporting tools
Backup Printing Systems - Most clients design in a backup system for printing. Thus if the ERP system fails or the connection to the system fails, users at the production level can manually launch the print jobs and keep production moving.
Traceability - Increasingly labeling systems are being used as a key component to product traceability. Enterprise industrial labeling software not only stores the label designs and controls the printing process, it also keeps track of what was on the label including serial numbers, lot numbers, etc. and, in some cases, can even render on the screen the image of exactly what the label looked like at print time. It acts as the product's 'birth certificate.'