Understanding AIDC in
– identifying areas and processes
where the technologies can be used
Manufacturing is rightly acclaimed as a significant
contributor to the wealth creating base of any developed
economy. However, it is clearly a very competitive set of
industries and accordingly subject to varied and
demanding agents of change.
Those countries and companies that have been
responsive to change and the potential of emergent
technologies have gained precedence over those who
have not. Responding to change is not easy.
Manufacturing and production control have been
influenced by so many factors and developments over the
years and still remain vulnerable to the vagaries of change
and sustained competitive pressures.
Technology and techniques have, and continue to play, a
significant role in the evolution of manufacturing and
Information technology (IT) in its broadest sense, has
exercised substantial impact upon manufacturing and
production control methods with computer-aided design,
manufacture, management, planning and integration Increasingly manufacturing and production
being formative elements in the evolutionary process. control can be seen to be evolving within the
Techniques such as materials requirements planning wider context of supply chain management.
(MRP), manufacturing resources planning (MRP II), just- The traditional bounds of manufacturing are
in-time (JIT), modular manufacture and others have, and being extended and re-engineered into other
continue to exert their influence upon an industry geared aspects of the supplier and out-bound logistics
to increasing efficiency, flexibility, quality and speed of arenas.
response to both market and customer needs. A shift can be seen towards more outsourcing
Within the current climate of change the basic of manufacturing operations. This is
imperatives remain. Companies still need to improve particularly noticeable within the electronics
efficiency, quality and speed of response if they are to manufacturing arena and modular
meet the continuing demand for lower prices on the manufacture. Such shifts are facilitated by
goods that are produced. developments in communications, software
The communications facilities support rapid
and reliable information exchange between
business partners. Software platforms provide
operational support for disparate functions,
while confident collaboration is required to
allow the overall operations to function
Indeed the emphasis now being placed upon
collaboration is manifest in yet another
business acronym known as C-commerce –
However, by directing attention to slow, error-prone
paperwork support activities, a lot can be done to achieve
Virtually any process involving the handling of items will
require some information about the item to be generated
and handled in some way. Back-office order handling
through to main-stream manufacturing processes a great
deal of paperwork, along with key-board data entry and
other forms of manual processing. Each process or task of
this kind provides an opportunity for gaining benefits
While isolated applications can provide significant
benefits, it is important to consider that added-value
process-linked applications supporting effective
information flow within the manufacturing system as a
whole, can offer even greater benefits.
With all these changes and the ongoing
demands for lower costs and improved
productivity, manufacturers are faced with the
need to review and consider where
improvements can be made and opportunities
seized if they are to achieve competitive
advantage and higher profit margins.
Despite the changes taking place at the very To achieve such results it is useful to consider
core of manufacturing and associated improvements in areas where AIDC has already been
processes along the supply chain, there effectively applied:
remains an intrinsic need for items to be
! Work in progress.
physically handled and the data associated
with them to be appropriately managed. ! Raw materials and component-handling.
Now, more than ever there is a need for ! Automated processes - Item selection, machining
effective and efficient item and item-data and assembly.
management. ! Tool identification for automation and tool
The radical benefits that AIDC and other management.
item-attendant technologies can provide are ! Quality assurance and test.
key to satisfying the requirements. It is also
part of the confidence building partner In each case applications can be identified that are
involvement. Confidence in identifying items. appropriate to wide ranging manufacturing and
Knowing where they are. Knowing how they production disciplines, from food through to heavy
need to be handled, rapidly and effectively industry.
without errors, without delays and without
incurring unnecessary wastage of effort and Work in Progress
resources. It is probably true to say that in the majority of
With manufacturing processes as diverse as manufacturing and production companies, tracking orders
the imagination can stretch it is a somewhat and work in progress is not as efficient and effective as it
daunting task to generalise on ways in which might be. Paperwork goes astray. It gets damaged or
AIDC and other item-attendant technologies misplaced or confused when linking tasks in the
may be applied. management chain.
Where such processes also involve data manual operator involved in the tasks
gathering, written and/or manual entry into being performed.
computer systems can cause delays and The job can be efficiently linked to an
mistakes can arise contributing to diminishing individual and benefits gained through
performance. having information that can be used to
By using AIDC technologies dramatic better manage human resources and
improvements can be made even in small and allocation of tasks.
medium sized enterprises (SMEs). In its simplest form the sort of equipment
Documentation concerning orders, work tasks required to support applications in which
and work in progress can be coded, generally by bar codes are used for identification
means of linear bar codes, and linked as purposes includes:
necessary to more durable data carriers
accompanying items in the manufacturing or ! Printers to print bar code labels or
production process. documentation containing bar codes.
By using suitable data capture terminals work in ! Hand-held or fixed position bar code
progress can be tracked and data captured readers with data collection facilities
automatically at appropriate points in the to read bar coded labels, or
process. documentation at appropriate points
in the manufacture or production
! Interface facilities for linking bar
code reader data collection facilities
to the manufacturing information
! Support software to allow transfer and
appropriate usage of the data
The choice of bar code reader / data
terminal, data transfer and associated
interface will be largely determined by
how quickly information is required, and
how flexible the data gathering point
needs to be. Hard-wired, optical or
wireless data transfer options may be
considered. The latter will provide more
freedom of movement. Where speed of
data entry is less critical, batch delivery of
data may be considered using cradle-based
In choosing the data terminal it does of
course make sense to select a system
based on common data carrier devices,
such as bar codes, for each of the
identification requirements involved
(item, location and individual as required).
Where manual handling of work items is
involved various techniques can be used for
distinguishing stage and status within the
process. This could include for example,
machine-readable location codes and menus to
allow rapid selection and entry of data into the
This can be particularly appropriate for tasks
involving checks to be made and reported, such
as those to be found in quality control systems.
By using AIDC data capture techniques the
facility is also provided for identifying the
By exploiting the opportunity to identify the Through customer-supplier collaboration, consignments
job, the stage location in the progress of the of materials / components can be accompanied by
job, work item and operator involved in a machine-readable data carriers. These are often in the
manual work or operator assisted tasks the form of bar code labels, and are used to speedily identify
facility is provided for knowing the status for and handle them as they arrive, with the information
any work in progress. directed immediately to the information management
Customers enquiring about progress can be system.
rapidly and confidently informed. By
automating or semi-automating the data
collection tasks, work planning can be better
achieved and controlled and productivity
gains can be made.
Some operations exploit bar code materials handling
labels and a number of industries now have application
standards specifying both human-readable content and
the use of bar code symbols. Examples include the ANSI
materials handling label, MH10.8 and the equivalent
Raw materials and component- European Multi-industry Transport Label and the Serial
handling Shipping Container label, incorporating the EAN.UCC
Manufacturing and processing functions can Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC-18).
generally be seen as operations requiring an
appropriate balance between raw materials
and/or components coming in and products
going out. This is usually determined by
customer, or consumer pull or estimates of
demand. The procurement of these items is
an essential and potentially critical part in the
manufacturing or production process. Since
the balance of input and output cannot be
perfect some degree of storage or warehousing
is invariably required. But this of course is a
cost and pressures are invariably applied to
reduce such costs.
More effective identification and inventory
control through AIDC can in some cases
dramatically help in this respect. It can also
better support the management of items and
preparations for entry into the manufacturing
or production processes. Such preparations
might include kitting for components or
batching of materials
While networked communications is now
playing a significant role in the ordering and
acknowledgement of the procurement
process, the physical movement and receiving
of items can benefit from the use of AIDC to
improve the acquisition processes.
General Motors specify a materials handling label, Where items and batches are not
GM1724A, which is serving as a model for a Common accompanied with data carriers at
Global Supply Chain Shipping Label template. It is source, these may be applied to items
being developed jointly by the Automotive Industry when unpacked and populated with
Action Group (AIAG), Odette (Europe) and data from the information management
JAMA/JAPIA (Japan) in which some of the linear bar system.
code symbols appearing in earlier AIAG labels are Where, for example bar codes are
replaced by multi-row bar code symbols. appropriate, the labels can be printed
Where shipment labels are being considered at the using information derived from the
supplier end or outbound at the manufacturer end, it consignment list, possibly by means of
is important to establish if there are existing or hand-held printers. Components, or
developing industry-specific application standards materials so identified, may then be
that may have to be complied with to satisfy open- transferred to store or directly to a
system usage. production line. Inventory management
While shipping labels can be effectively applied for can effectively become a real-time or
identifying consignments and content there is a need near real-time function.
for further details to be obtained from forwarded The facility can also provide for more
information held in the information management effective KANBAN / MRP systems.
system. Similar details can be transferred with the This would be via AIDC supported
consignments or individual items using portable data inventory management, electronic
files in the form of machine-readable two- communications and other system data
dimensional codes. carriers applied to containers and
The multi-row bar code symbols now being locations.
considered for consignment labels are representative Within a flow-based, repetitive
of such carriers. They are capable of carrying more manufacturing system AIDC can assist
data than linear bar codes – often in excess of 2,000 the KANBAN linking between
characters. A suitable reader can provide immediate production stages. Here the customer is
information on what the consignment contains and pulling stock from the warehouse using
deliver that information either in batch form or KANBAN while advisory schedules
directly to an information management system via a indicate the likely requirements in
wireless link. terms of materials and capacity. These
are in turn pulled down by the
KANBAN links within the supplier and
manufacturer stages of the process.
With synchronization being a key
requirement for effectively operating
such systems it is important to apply
appropriate technology to satisfy that
requirement. AIDC can assist in this
Radio frequency identification (RFID) data carriers
may also be used for consignment identification,
particularly where returnable containers and pallets
are involved. These can also provide added benefit in
applications where read-write capability is required.
This would particularly apply to returnable
Once the consignment data is read or entered into the
management system the opportunities are presented
to achieve a range of item support activities. The
individual items may be separately identified, sorted
into batches and batches identified, by use of
appropriate data carriers.
While KANBAN is effectively confined Examples include selection and matching of
to repetitive and balanced mixed model toleranced machined parts, different sized garments,
manufacturing systems, AIDC for item or different weights of process ingredients.
and container identification can be used
to facilitate improvements in mass, batch
and ‘jobbing shop’ production. Small and
medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have
benefited from such technology, using
linear bar codes, for example, to help
manage processes, and identify and track
jobs through the manufacturing process.
Where data carriers are being considered
for use in manufacturing processes the
data carrying requirements invariably
determine the type of data carrier
required. However, read-write
requirements, durability and longevity
also have a bearing upon the choice of
data carrier required.
! Item-specific process or machining operations – in
which machine settings, machining or process
requirements are held in a suitable data carrier
attached to or accompanying the item concerned. It
can be read when required and used to initiate the
necessary item-specific operation. Examples include
drilling, milling and other machining operations,
coating and spray-paint functions and forming
Automated processes – item
selection, machining and
In addition to supporting manufacturing
and production processes through item,
location and operative identification
AIDC may also be effectively applied in
more direct support of automated
processes. Data carrier technologies can
be particularly useful in supporting
processes in which there is a need for:
! Item sortation – data carriers being
used to identify or carry item
specific information that can be
captured and compared in order to
achieve selection based upon a
requirement or set requirements.
! Assembly operations - requiring automated assembly, test and quality control.
identification of assembly items, including Two-dimensional code (read-only), contact
orientation and other assembly support data. memory and RFID data carriers may be
considered for such uses. The choice is again
depending upon application-specific needs.
! Portable data files, with processing capability
(smart tags), to handle data transfer
functions. On-tag processing could avoid
excessive communication exchange between
tag and host and accommodate faster
conveyor speeds and efficient process
Within these operations the item-specific operating or set-
up instructions may be derived from a centralized
management system or from the item-attendant data
Various data carriers can be considered for automated
process support, typically in one of the following forms:
! ‘Licence-plate’ carriers for applications requiring
rapid identification of items. Any further item-
specific information is derived from a host
information management system in response to the
‘licence-plate’ data. Such carriers may also be used
for carrying control data which, when read, can be
used for directly activating a control mechanism,
such as a tip tray or line selection in a multi-line
Low cost bar code, contact memory and RFID data
carriers are typical choices for such purposes The
actual choice is dependent upon application specific
needs and conditions under which they are expected
to be used.
! Portable data files, which carry item-specific data or
instructions for flexible handling of assembly
operations. These would include matching of
components, selection of components and process-
specific control instructions.
Using read/write data carriers the opportunity is
there for controlling assembly and recording of
assembly line data for use in subsequent processes,
Generally speaking, the data carriers are used to engineer confidence and food safety support purposes.
more efficient processes through appropriate partitioning Traceability can also be recognized for warranty and
of data and the benefits of rapid, accurate capture of data analytical purposes concerning a diverse range of
as needed within a process transaction or control function. products. Pumps for the oil industry require component
A further and significant role that AIDC data carriers can castings and parts to be traceable, often with details on
provide is in the realization of traceability systems. With the component formation processes. Similarly, traceability
many products being produced that are safety, business or needs may be recognized for medical and aero-space
process critical the need is often recognized for products. Such systems may be achieved by cascading
traceability. This may be traceability of raw materials or identification data into progressive item-attendant data
components. carriers. These would include code keys to traceability
Food traceability is a case in point where the origins of information stored elsewhere, possibly accessed via the
food products need to be identifiable for customer Internet.
In some cases data may be assembled into a final product
using a suitable data carrier and maintained as an escort
memory. These data carriers may be used for the
management of item maintenance and possibly product
disposal or re-cycling.
By suitably structuring the data encoded in the escort
memory the carrier may be used as an effective
maintenance support tool. This would carry data keys to
allow access to maintenance manuals and product-specific
information (including maintenance histories), through
communications networks or computer-based storage
media. Read-write or write-once-read-many (WORM)
capability does, of course, allows life-cycle updating of
Specific applications would need to define the
requirements to be satisfied in terms of speed, complexity
of function, data and data transfer requirements, range
and environmental issues concerning the application of
data carrier technology. These requirements would form
the basis for selecting the appropriate technology and the
Tool identification for automation and Quality Assurance and Test
tool management Just as AIDC can assist in improving paper-based work-in-
With continued emphasis being placed upon progress activities AIDC may also be applied effectively to
automated processes, computer controlled support quality assurance and test activities involving the
machining opportunities have and continue to be collection of data.
seen for applying data carrier technology to Quality assurance procedures involving forms and other
enhance them. Where components of an documentation requiring checks to be made, to assure
automation system need to be identified for conformance, can readily be re-engineered to allow automatic
purposes of selection and maintenance, the capture of data, possibly based upon bar-coded ‘menus’.
prospect is presented for applying AIDC
Such developments can also allow the quality assurance
technology in realizing a use-service cyclic
operatives to be identified through appropriate individual
identifiers, together with locations and time-stamps as
Characteristically AIDC has been applied in this required.
way to the management of computer numerical
The support may be extended to more detailed data
control (CNC) machine tools. By using RFID
acquisition and verification procedures, including those for
data carriers with read-write capabilities
providing statistical process control (SPC) - linked with
embedded in the stock of a machine tool, the
automated sensory inputs for SPC data gathering.
specific tool can be automatically identified and
carry data relevant to its use and maintenance. Defect reporting and control
Once a tool has been used it is automatically of rework is a further area of
returned to its tool store cradle. The tool is then quality assurance in which
selected, examined and measurements taken to AIDC supported processes
determine its condition and requirements for can improve management
sharpening. The tool is then sharpened checked performance.
by measurements to ensure it is fit for purpose Where defect codes can be
and returned to tool store cradle ready for use. assigned to particular
When required for use the tool changer can manufacturing defects or
automatically identify the correct tool to use from mistakes, such as damage, wrong component, or faulty
those available on the cradle, irrespective of mechanism, providing the code listing is not too long they
where in the cradle the tool is situated. can often be accommodated in bar-code ‘menus’. As a defect
is identified an item code can be captured from the defective
Having identified the tool by means of the tag
item or its physical carrier and entered into the information
identifier the tool changer can also derive from
management system together with a selected defect code.
the tag other data, such as minimum and
maximum rotation speeds, dimensional features The data entry can be time-stamped and, as required, the
and correction figures. This information can then operator may also be identified. The defective item can be
be fed into the controller to allow appropriate and diverted for rework and with the information already in the
effective use of the tool. By identifying and using system the rework requirements can be appropriately
data in this way the machining processes can be balanced and managed. Such systems can often be achieved
better managed and machining wastage reduced with a modest amount of hardware. There is of course the
or eliminated, as part of a statistical process need for appropriate software, but as with any of these
control facility. Moreover, care of the tools in this applications advice and support can usually be gained from
way can assist in avoiding tool breakages and knowledgeable suppliers and systems integrators.
longer effective use of the tools. Set-up procedures and other process support functions tied to
Other manufacturing assets may be similarly quality assurance can also be achieved through the use of
better managed by means of machine-readable appropriate AIDC systems, such as two-dimensional portable
identification and asset-specific data, utilized data files. These can be used to accompany items requiring
within use-service cycles. specific set-up instructions for particular measurement or
As manufacturing evolves . . .
With perhaps more emphasis upon out-sourcing, further
opportunities will arise for using AIDC as integral part of the
systems. The availability of other item-attendant
technologies, such as sensory, location and local
communication technologies will provide the foundations for
Use Cycle – Service or maintenance new and innovative process developments. Integration and
asset identified cycle – asset identified intelligent processing will further expand this potential.
and data obtained and data recorded as
for user-defined appropriate to achieve A look at the case studies will provide insight in what can be
process a maintenance record achieved now, with the prospects of radical improvement.