In the recent weeks, we’ve had some really interesting conversations with brands, consulting companies working on behalf of consumer goods companies, brands and manufacturers around their interest in implementing solutions which require some level of product digitization. These discussions have revolved around using “connected product” technology to address counterfeiting issues, enabling authentication to build trust with consumers, incorporate tracking & traceability of raw materials and ingredients that go into the products, tracking components & material movement across the factory floor for better visibility and efficiency to being able to deliver batch level information to consumers. There is an air of enthusiasm among everyone involved in these projects and excitement about the direction in which these technologies are taking the business towards. These are exciting times!
However, this is often followed by a little apprehension and hesitation when there is a realization that implementing most of these technologies requires some kind of identifier / trigger / tag / connector with the physical product or product packaging. Many solutions around digitization of products are not purely software implementation projects. They can involve serialization, installing of scanners, cameras, readers, RFID gates or devices on the production line. They could involve some level of integration with ERP systems, printing software, labeling systems or QC systems. It could involve embedding NFC tags or smart packaging sensors to the components or finished products on the assembly line.
“Does this mean having to slow down or stop or disrupt the production line for implementation?”
This is a question which triggers fear putting the brakes on such technology implementation for many brands and manufacturers. And, understandably because disrupting a production line or making changes to the manufacturing process or packaging process is no small ask. On the other side of the argument, Industry 4.0 is happening and moving ahead regardless. Digitalization is happening. The need to enable products as connected products, enable digital identification & digital twins, smart packaging, data driven processes, greater traceability, transparency and trust for products….it’s all happening. All the recent business and industrial global standards released to guide this global digital transformation from the EPCIS traceability standard, GS1 Global Data Model to the GS1 Digital Link Standard for standardizing product URL formats…they all point to a future in which products will be connected & updating data about themselves while enabling smarter business processes. Most brands and manufacturers have already realized, they can put it off or delay it but eventually, product digitization and the host of solutions that it enables is moving ahead. At some point, each brand or consumer goods manufacturer is going to have to lay the groundwork in enabling this next generation of connected products.
In this moment in time, we maybe at the opportune moment to make that bold decision and get started.
If the fear of disrupting the production line and pausing to make some of those big changes was a showstopper, Covid-19 has already done that. Across a large part of the world, the pandemic did shut down many production lines and right now, we’re in the middle of a disruption. While many are back up and supply chains are beginning to return to some sense of normalcy, it isn’t over and we’re going to be in this ‘disrupted’ state for sometime. This just might be the best opportunity we have to look at how we want to set up the groundwork for a better future. If there is a need to add some extra reading devices on the production line, begin a new process of tagging components as they enter the factory, putting digital identifiers on products that would enable several applications in future, now maybe the best time. Possibly the best time and opportunity we will have for years to come once the world finds it’s rhythm and goes back on track.
This maybe the right moment to put in place the right technologies today that will drive the future.