Do-it-yourself Barcode Automation

Do-it-yourself Barcode Automation

All types of barcodes can be used in automating print manufacturing. QR codes, 2D barcodes or inventory style linear barcodes can be used to control production, information flow and machines. Here are the basics to automating your existing workflow and equipment:

Step 1 Print a barcode on something

Start by downloading a barcode font. You can find a code39 or a 3of9 font for free on the internet. This is a linear barcode used in inventory systems and it is perfect for this application. Once installed it can be applied to a copy of an order number, job number, docket number or other code. Print it on a digital slip sheet, docket, proof or on a plate and you are ready to scan.

Step 2 The basic barcode reader

It can be purchased at a local electronic store, online or there may be one kicking around the office. Cell phones have apps that can read barcodes as well. There is no need to buy anything fancy it just needs to read the barcode and if it is capable of using macros that is a good thing. Hook it up to any PC and set it up to save a file with the text of the barcode as the name. This can be accomplished by saving the text data into Word and have it save the file automatically and open a new document. If you are using a cellphone you can use bluetooth to send the data to the PC (there are instructions on the internet on how to do this part). The text file has a date and time stamp and you can direct it to any folder on your network.

At this step alone anyone could setup their platesetter to print barcodes on their plates, scan them when they go on press. Now you have a folder of data showing what jobs have made it on press and when.

Step 3 Add Switch which can run multiple flows to watch any of these folders. When a barcode is scanned and its file drops into one of those folders Switch can take over.

Picking and packing orders is a hands on task. A barcode scan can show items that belong in the same order. Switch can put together a picking list on demand with job thumbnails and details. Up to date information when needed and no chance of losing or mixing up picking lists.

When a job requires a reprint because it has become damaged, a Switch flow can be triggered to reprint the digital items without interruption. The Switch Client can be installed on any Mac or PC and can received the barcode scan as part of its data. This can be set up for all types of printers: inkjet, large format, copiers, digital presses. A popup menu in the client can help direct the item to the proper machine. A copy of the reprinted item can be renamed in the flow to flag it when it arrives at the machine. The operator can see that it needs to be bumped ahead.

At a shipping station, customized packing slips, waybills or invoices can print out at the time of packing up. Switch can create the paperwork ahead of time, just as the job comes in. These files can be saved as pdf files for later printout upon scanning the barcode.

One scan of the barcode can trigger multiple tasks. Switch has the ability to make copies of a file and this barcode file can perform a second or third task. This can include automated emails, status updates to databases or website, printouts of different files at multiple locations. Switch can provide a status update to a database or website that a job has started printing, is in the bindery or ready to ship. Jobs can be moved from the job server to an archiving folder automatically.

The trick to making this a success is matching the data in the barcode with the data contained in the names of your files and folders. Switch only needs a small amount of data and with the best use of file naming, the flow can decide where files need to go.

The Switch Client module can create easy to use forms with popup information and can incorporate a barcode scan easily. This can be installed in any part of your shop on a Mac, PC or even iPad. The Switch client automatically creates an xml file of the barcode scan and other data and incorporates it into a job ticket that can pick up a job file and place it in a job flow.

Without changing your existing equipment or workflow you can increase your information flow and automate simple tasks on your own with the use of barcodes and barcode readers.