The Importance of Unique IDs

Who cares about unique ID values?

Being able to capture data in any environment opens the door for meaningful analytics. In an example, we’re going to discuss what we can collect data on, how we collect data, and what it can be used for. Let’s say we’ve got multiple products being managed and taken through an assembly line. Each product is handled by several employees at different stages throughout production. Right away we have a lot of variables. We’ve got the different product types, each unique individual, and each stage–which may or may not have their own workflows and responses. 

In order to be able to differentiate any of these items, they have to be identifiable in some way so product A can be differentiated from product B. The most common way this is done on a product is via a barcode/QR code label or RFID tag. An organization that has access control, employees will usually have an RFID/NFC badge that can be used to identify them and if not, they will at least have an employee number. Lastly, each stage needs a name to identify that stage in the process. All of these will need a database that signifies when reading “CHC” on an item that it’s chocolate, for example. Typically that database exists in a company’s data collection/asset tracking system.

The only variable we have yet to define is each individual product. Often the barcode/QR code (or RFID tag) mentioned earlier will also contain a serialized value (000001, 000002, 000003, etc) that provides the ability to uniquely identify individual parts of the same type. In an asset tracking or data collection solution that serialized value is identify which product is active as it proceeds through each stage. This serialized unique ID also allows the system to create entries for each individual item.

Now that different data points have been discussed and how they’re identified, this leads to the value of tracking individual items. Most products have some rate of error that causes them to be unusable. There are a number of identifiable reasons and while knowledge is important, it’s also critical to track them.

During processing stages, when an item fails or has some a quality issue, correlating the issue to the stage or employee is critical to improving product and quality and process efficiency. Maybe a particular employee is being careless frequently or there are specific stages that a product seems to be failing at more often. When capturing timestamps at each stage tracking time/yield data provides critical production information and helps improve planning projections. This also provides statistics and standards for product assembly that can further improve process efficiency.

When looking at collected data tracking down any particular product requires the serialized unique value. By having the unique value identification between two items that otherwise look identical is possible. For example to identify between two or more widgets of type A that otherwise look identical instructions to pull item 000345 without a serialized value is impossible.

Ultimately, marking products in an identifiable way and being able to understand who was working on what gives the ability to track productivity, product yield, failure rates, and more. Data is power. The more information collected, the more informed and efficient the production process can be. Information empowers smart decision making and improves business profitability.