Arena Blog

Do QR codes belong on the shop floor?

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QR codes on Tablet

When it comes to product management, standard processes and theories work 90% of the time, but the last 10% is certainly an art. At Arena, we try to find a balance between listening to our customers, and looking ahead to see the possibilities of where technology is going so we can take the best advantage of it.

Our usual approach to product development is to address known application issues, then use customer requests for additional functionality to inform the design and details of future features. But in our last release, we included something you didn’t ask for—the ability to generate QR codes from Arena SmartLinks—a new feature in Arena BOMControl that creates a static, unchanging link pointing to the latest effective revision of a document.

Addressing the need for a paperless manufacturing floor

The idea to provide QR codes did not come out of our normal process, but I believe there is an unrealized opportunity for QR codes on the shop floor, so I pushed to include the functionality. Manufacturers are becoming less paper-driven to improve efficiency, cut costs and reduce environmental impact. Scanners are already used for inventory control, and electronic documentation is increasing in usage on the shop floor. With the popularization of tablet computers, I believe this trend will accelerate, and QR codes will provide a great way to connect electronic documents to the real world.

Keeping documents current in a paper-dependent world can be challenging, especially as revisions frequently change. While all companies strive to maintain current documentation, for some segments—like medical device—documentation must be current. (FDA regulations for Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP) require all medical device manufacturers to remove down-rev documentation from their manufacturing floor.) Using a tablet computer for shop floor documentation combined with SmartLinks functionality could be one way for manufacturers to ensure that documentation is always current.

How QR codes could be used on the shop floor

With the ability to create scannable URLs, manufacturers can implement a point-and-browse experience on the shop floor.  For example, if work orders listing collections of parts included a QR code, a technician with a tablet could scan the work order, and immediately pull up the latest approved assembly procedure.

Manufacturers could also use this functionality to improve inventory management—with QR code-enhanced bins that provide a real-world bookmark for the latest specifications for each part.

Predicting and addressing customer needs to inform product development

As I said, the decision to adopt QR codes wasn’t obvious to any of us, but I used my “founder’s authority” to make the final call and add this functionality into Arena BOMControl, even though there were no customer requests for it. As I said, there is a delicate balance between exercising your own judgment and listening to popular sentiment when designing enhancements, and in this case I went with my gut.

So what do you think? We’ve added a technology to BOMControl because I thought it might be useful. Do you think this is a smart move? And do you agree that camera-enabled tablets will increase adoption of QR codes in manufacturing?

About the Author

Eric Larkin

Eric is co-founder and chief technology officer of Arena Solutions, overseeing product strategy, design, development and operations. He first realized the importance of managing product information well in the early ...

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