Best practices for part labeling and tracking

Best practices for part labeling and tracking

As we are becoming better known in the sequencing industry, we are being asked about some fundamental best practices that are built into our shopfloor 4.0 architecture.

The latest one that came across my desk deals with the “best” design for part serialization/tracking. Because of the quality conformance requirements needed with manufacturing in sequence, this level of part labeling/tracking is a standard within our business solutions (Shopfloor 4.0)

The part label (standard within all Blackhawk ShopFloor 4.0)

Within the Blackhawk architecture, we strongly suggest that the label be printed through a machine interface (PLC). This enables a high degree of error-proofing the label to the fixture, to the part, as well as the accurate recording of production (Good, Scrap, Reject and Finesse.)

The most common part activities that we find are:

  1. Automated production recording (and scrap/reject/finesse management)
  2. FIFO inventory movement (at the part/container level)
  3. Aging (Part/Container obsolescence) engineering change management
  4. Part quality conformance validation when used in assembly (good part/correct part)
  5. Part production error-proofing at the operation level (must finish 0010 before 0020 etc.)
  6. Part recovery (from scrapped components)
  7. Additional Parts consumed (from rework to good)
  8. Correct part placement into the correctly labeled container
  9. Correct part/container on customer shipment

So from the initial printing of the part label, every activity of that part is easily and correctly error-proofed, recorded, and individually tracked.

For those workstations that need to produce part labels without a machine interface, the UI (user interface) should accomplish the printing of the part label through the simple use of a touchscreen-based pre-configured user interface.

General rules in the printing of the basis 2D part label…

  1. The serial number (license plate) used in the part label must be unique to the life of the part.
  2. The fixture (PLC code) generates the part label with an integrated part label print verification (and reprint with supervisor override.)
  3. The UI needs to allow the printing of the appropriate part label with an audit flag that the part was labeled outside of the automatic label print by the fixture.
  4. The UI needs to identify downtime event when the cycle time between the part label prints exceed two (2) times the normal part labeling cycle. (Most plants use the same UI to identify on-demand upstream/downstream downtime events as well as work instructions, quality alerts, etc.)
  5. The UI needs to automatically record production when the label is printed (or scanned.)
  6. The UI needs to enable the user to identify scrap/reject/finesse through the scanning of the part label.

We have found that the content of the part label enables a high level of error-proofing/part tracking.

  1. Our “Standard” 2D part label is a 3 character production line identifier, 3 character part code, the Model Year, Julian Date, Shift, and 5 digits sequential counter.


  • GM3:TS4:21:101:3:00011 – Production line “GM3” / Part code “TS4” / Model year “21” / julian date “101” / shift “3” / sequential counter “00011”
  • MA1:001:21:001:1:09922 – Production line “MA1” / Part code “001” / Model year “21” / julian date “001” / shift “1” / sequential counter “09922”

  1. The production line identifier and the part code enable easy engineering part rev level changes without changing the PLC label printing code.
  2. The model year: Julian date: Shift enables production (good/reject/scrap/finesse) to be properly recorded for parts that need to be queued.
  3. The 5 digit serial number assures the uniqueness of the part label.

Note: A few OEMs have their own specifications for part labeling and you may end up dealing with serial numbers that are not unique. If this is an issue that you are dealing with, contact us and we can discuss the issues that will arise and how we work through them.

Note: For machine interfaces, Blackhawk uses a standard UI (touch screen pre-configured user interface,) that interacts with the fixture’s PLC through a Kepware driver.

Every good introduction leads to even more questions – so please drop me an email if you have any questions.

The Red Zone

The Red Zone

I was recently asked what services Blackhawk provides and it caused me to ponder on what we accomplish as a custom software solutions provider within the repetitive manufacturing community.


In short, we provide the services needed to increase the opportunity for companies to win in today’s highly competitive environment.


In football, there is a colorful term that is used to describe the twenty yards closest to the end zone. It is the starting block from where the vast majority of points are scored. The more often you work to get into the red zone the more often you will score and have that winning season.


There is a similar behavior in the repetitive manufacturing world. It is where the opportunities for excellence are found and change implemented. It is where efficiency improvements are measured in improving efficiency percentages not just meeting what management has determined as a minimum. It knows that the paper process is the acceptance of inefficiency and the building block of every great manufacturing decision is fundamentally digital.


This is the red zone for the manufacturing community and those who do not excel in these areas of digital excellence will never compete.


So, what does this mean when it comes to what are the services that we provide?


As a group, my team enjoys the challenges that come when we need to automate (digitalize) the highly critical aspects in the repetitive shop floor. We enjoy building sequencing solutions because of their multi-focused nature. We also specialize in solutions like kitting and manufacturing in sequence, machine (PLC) interfaces as well as automated production recording, production ANDON boards, and scheduling. These intense manufacturing requirements demand a new level of accuracy in inventory control and warehouse management.


Do we custom write solutions for every customer? Well no, but twenty years ago we started developing a tool kit that we use to serve every digital automation need of the plant. These tools (and in some areas full applications such as sequencing and warehousing) provide a quick start to providing what the customer wants on a solid base of well-designed/fully tested code.


So, for those plants who either do not want to get into the arena of shop floor software development or would rather be using their staff to make quality parts, we are the ideal solution for repetitive shop floor manufacturing automation.

Re-Inventing the Gap Analysis

Re-Inventing the Gap Analysis

Just What Is a Gap Analysis?

Gap analysis simply refers to a method of examining the performance of an information system or software solution to identify whether the requested requirements have been met.

 I was recently in a conference call where one of the key players responded that the gap analysis of a proposed software solution “did not discover anything worth mentioning.” In my notes of that moment, I put this phrase into my top 10 Darwinian business quotes. Purchasing decisions should not be made without an accurate and in-depth gap analysis.

There are a couple of key takeaways…

 First: If there are no gaps, did you ask the right questions?
Gap analysis is often one of the last chores in the purchasing decision and most prone to be inadequate. When you are purchasing critical systems (such as sequencing,) your success is often determined by how quickly you make a decision (without skipping the business-wise purchasing steps) usually leaving no time for the critical gap analysis.


Second: Every gap needs to have a costed business case – “Can you live with it or live without it?”
Even though you may identify many gaps, it is important to answer the question above before you purchase. When these gaps are identified beforehand, the implementation will go smoother because you will have already discussed the workaround.

Third: A quarterly gap analysis should be a scheduled effort by every supervisor in the plant.
Your plant personnel often just live with issues that they are experiencing. Encourage them by implementing a reporting process for those issues and then implement a plan for change.

A final thought: 
The gap analysis should be a never-ending business practice. Your team knows how to make their jobs more efficient. It is important to listen for “all I want is…” and “this is stupid” and “why can’t it (the software) just do this?” Remember that within every criticism there is a treasure or two that can be found.

Warehouse Management System

Warehouse Management System

Warehouse Management System

Since we introduced our WMS (Warehouse Management System) a decade ago, it has gone through many revisions and enhancements. So why are we proclaiming our “old” WMS solution as a new product? Because with its latest release, the Blackhawk WMS solution can run completely independent of an ERP.

But why have a Warehouse Management System at all?

First, it provides an easy-to-use tablet-based scanning solution that gives real-time visibility to where every container is at in your plant.

Second, it enables unheard of inventory accuracy. Last year, one of our plant’s reported a 99.97% accurate physical inventory, a 17-million-dollar inventory with a $5,000 variance!

Third, for those plants who are using fixed part locations in their warehousing model, the Blackhawk WMS allows the plant to move to floating part/locations and improves the overall use of warehouse floor space by 20% to 30%. (We had one plant reduce their warehouse requirement from 125,000 sq. feet to 75,000 sq. feet.)

If you are interested in implementing a successful WMS into your plant please give us a call…

Blackhawk Production Andon Board

Blackhawk Production Andon Board

Blackhawk Production Andon Board

We recently had a plant manager state that the “Blackhawk Production ANDON board” was the best piece of software that he ever purchased. A truly significant complement considering the range of automation that he has implemented across his three facilities.

The characteristics that make this product so successful is that it provides both the visual aspect of a real-time ANDON board and the exception based electronic notification to the plant management when the schedule is being impacted by production issues. Not a day later, not a shift later, not even an hour later but immediately!

This ANDON display is an example of the information that can be displayed. Management notification is determined by the needs of the plant. For example, some plants want to notify the material’s group when a line is experiencing lost time (downtime) due to material shortage. They also may want the production supervisors’ group to be notified when a line’s production attainment percentage has fallen below 90%. Or an “expedited” text message to plant management when a line has been down for longer than 30 minutes. The opportunities to provide real time notification of production issues are endless.

Also, with the availability of large touch screen displays, we can provide direct user interaction that allows many additional tools such as EWO (Emergency Work Order) generation and issue escalation management to be easily available at the line.

If you like what you see give us a call with any questions or to set up a WebEx demonstration.

Blackhawk is 20 years young!

Blackhawk is 20 years young!

Blackhawk is 20 years young! 

Blackhawk is celebrating its 20th year of successfully serving the automotive parts supplying community. We are a rare breed when it comes to software service providers. A small company who has grown and prospered because we listen to our customers. Agility is our middle name and leading edge is how we provide success. We are a “can do / done that” solutions provider. “Cloud based?” – sure if that is what you would like. A “phone app” interface to see the status of your manufacturing floor – not a problem. Physical inventory disaster – we can help. Automated replenishment – absolutely. 3PL integration with an ANDON schedule/display – certainly. A full build in sequence instrument panel production line with loads of PLC interfacing? Sure – done that many times. What about Ford ILVS sequencing for a dozen lines? Yup. Honda small lot sequencing? Again – many times.

What about – I don’t want to replace my ERP but it looks like I will need to… what can you do to help? Quite a lot as it turns out. The drive to replace an ERP comes from recognized weaknesses in the business behavior (plant culture). By automating and enforcing the proper best business practices, these re-occurring difficulties are replaced by re-occurring successes.

We at Blackhawk have learned a few things over the last 20 years. Give us a call. Let’s talk.

Ease-of-Use software solutions

Ease-of-Use software solutions

Ease-of-Use software solutions

Over the decades that Blackhawk has been serving the manufacturing community, we have provided many plants with solutions where the first sentence spoken in the initial meeting was “all we want is.” It wasn’t that their ERP or MES solution didn’t have something that could have worked, it was that it was just too difficult or time consuming to use. (Hence the continual rise in the plant’s use of spreadsheets!)

This is where we come into the picture. We deliver ease-of-use automation where the real benefit to having us on your team is that you get all the perks of an in-house developed solution with none of the worries about long term support.

One of our most popular solutions is our WMS which was born of an ease-of-use automation request. The plant just wanted to be able to scan the serial number on the container label and then scan the barcoded location that the container was placed. We added a label re-print for unreadable labels and the plant was off and running (and the materials group had the next step in their plan for inventory accuracy). Over time our WMS has evolved to become a state of the art product and it remains very easy to use. What also makes it an easy success is that it runs perfectly well with or without any interaction to the plant’s ERP or MES.

Presently we are designing a couple of Ease-of-Use solutions:

  • Fork lift/crane Inspection audits with email alerts…
  • Dunnage inventory using phone apps…
  • Outside processing inventory using phone apps…

If any of these projects are of interest or if there is some other ease-of-use automation that would make your plant more successful, please give us a call.

Inventory Accuracy over 99.97%

Inventory Accuracy over 99.97%

Inventory Accuracy over 99.97%

Blackhawk is a software solutions company whose focus is in inventory control for repetitive manufacturing plants. There is a success story that occurred recently that clearly displays what inventory control is all about that we wanted to share with you.

Just before the holidays, we made a phone call to one of our largest customers who uses our Warehouse Management Solution.  We were calling to see how their latest physical inventory went.

When we asked, it caused a chuckle. “Management thinks we are doing a great job!” Our customer responded.

“That’s good,” we replied “What were your numbers like?”

Our customer shared this. “Over our three facilities, 16 million dollars in inventory, our variance was 5k.” “Our inventory accuracy was over 99.97%!”

We were certainly impressed and congratulated them on all of their hard work and their management’s effort in this success and asked them what they thought made the difference.

The number one reason for their new found inventory accuracy was the implementation of our Warehouse Management Solution and the fact that we enforce their best practices within the culture of their plant.  In their words, “Blackhawk enforces the process that drives inventory accuracy.”

This is the level of accuracy that your plant could achieve with the use of Blackhawk’s WMS system.  It is the driving force that enables the plant to enforce your inventory management best practices.

Every repetitive manufacturing facility needs the highest level of inventory accuracy to remain competitive in today’s environment.

Taking Advantage of WMS in Sequencing

Taking Advantage of WMS in Sequencing

Taking Advantage of WMS in Sequencing

Not to long ago, one of the plants who use our WMS solution asked me to work with their engineers to develop a way to decrease the number of pick face locations that provided finished good inventory for their sequencing line. They simply did not have the space needed to provide 260+ shelf locations.

Since we were already providing the replenishment solution for their sequenced line pick face, the engineer asked could we simply identify a half dozen low runner locations and “swap” low runner parts into these locations based on the next 90 minutes of the broadcast.

Worked like a charm.

With our “look-ahead” replenishment solution, they reduced their shelving requirements by 40% and we are now in the process of retrofitting every sequencing line in the plant.

If a sequencing line is in your plant or in your future, you may wish to consider making how you replenish your pick face a value add rather then simply a cost.