How to use QR codes in manufacturing

Brief intro to QR codes

A QR code, also known as a quick response code is a type of barcode that can be scanned using phones or tablets. QR codes are useful in many different ways, including tracking and tracing production batches and retrieving information on products.

QR codes can be used for all types of industries, but they're especially useful for businesses, like manufacturers, that want to track their products through the supply chain. The most common use case is tracking individual products from their creation until they reach the end customer's hands.

This article will solely focus on how QR codes can be used in the manufacturing process.

QR codes in manufacturing


How QR codes can be used in manufacturing


QR codes are a great way to track and trace the manufacturing of your products. If you're manufacturing a product that needs to be tracked through its entire supply chain, use a QR code to do so. The codes can be printed on the product itself or on packaging materials. When scanned by a smartphone or tablet, they will display all the necessary information about where it came from and how far along it has come in its journey from raw material to finished product.

Tracking and tracing products using QR codes enable you to verify that your products are being made correctly and meet all the specifications that your customers expect. Using QR codes together with a traceability system helps you identify if there's a problem with a batch, and helps you find out quickly who made it and how it was made in order to prevent similar defects from occurring again.

In manufacturing, a QR code is typically used to easily identify numbers such as:

- Lot numbers of ingredients
- Batch numbers of productions
- Expiry dates etc.

QR codes in manufacturing are used to help avoid human errors, ensuring that batch numbers and lot numbers are correctly input and linked together. (Something that easily gets messy when written manually)

Use QR codes to help avoid human errors

How to get started using QR codes in your manufacturing?


A QR code can be generated as part of an inventory management or traceability system and can be generated for different processes along the supply chain.

The two most common scenarios for generating QR codes in manufacturing are:

  • Inventory Management: When you receive a new ingredient & raw material in stock, you can generate a QR code to save the serial/lot number of the material.
  • Batch tracking: When you create a new production batch, you can generate a QR code of the batch number, that helps you track and trace the production as it moves along the supply chain.

In a nutshell, a QR code is used to link any physical asset in the manufacturing process to its digital twin.

How do you use a QR code for a product?


To explain how QR codes can be used for products in manufacturing, let's look at a more practical example.

Imagine we are the owner of a cherry pie production.

In the morning we receive a fresh delivery of cherries, sugar and eggs. Each of these products have a unique lot number that we need to save in order to document where they have come from.

A lot number is an identification number assigned to a particular quantity


When adding each lot number to our inventory management system, we generate a QR, which we stick on each of the ingredients packaging. That way we can easily trace back when we received the ingredients and from which supplier.

After lunch, we start a fresh new batch of cherry pies. Our traceability system generates a unique batch number to help us track production. Just like the lot numbers we generate a QR code of the batch number that we print out and deliver to the cherry-pie operator.

The operator can now scan the QR code and start adding ingredients to the production. Linking the ingredient lot numbers to the batch number is easy, as we have already made sure that all ingredients have QR codes that can be scanned.

QR codes can be used to link ingredients to production batches



When the operator is finished baking the pie he can scan the QR code from his phone and take a picture of the pies and perform a visual quality inspection.


When the pies have cooled, the packaging team can now start packaging the pies. Before sending the pies away to the customer, the packaging team scans the QR code and uploads a visual inspection of the packaged goods. Confirming that the pies are correctly packaged.

QR codes can be used for linking photos & comments to a production batch


The QR code system has now enabled us to have full traceability of our production. If an auditor or customer demands to see which ingredients have been used or if we have performed the necessary quality inspections, we can simply look up the batch number and see the entire production journey.

QR codes helps provide full supply chain visibility


What are the benefits of using QR codes in production?


There are three notable advantages of using QR codes in manufacturing.

1) Avoid human errors

70% to 80% of data mistakes are contributed by human errors. In a highly regulated industry like manufacturing, errors can result in expensive fines and product recalls, which increases the risk of bankruptcy.


2) Easy to implement and use


QR codes are affordable to create for any manufacturer and are easy to use for both managers and operators, making QR codes the preferred choice for many SME manufacturers.


3) Helps you save time on training


It's easy for operators to misunderstand each other and make mistakes. QR codes are a great way to ensure that the process is being followed correctly. Operators can learn how to scan in no time and will need to complete the actions before advancing. Saving you time and money on onboarding and training employees.


What is the difference between QR codes and bar codes?


QR codes and barcodes often get mixed together, this section aims to help you understand of the difference between QR codes vs barcodes

Unlike QR codes, barcodes consist of a series of printed parallel lines used for entering data into a computer system. Bar codes are like QR codes used in manufacturing to track product batches and used in inventory management to help avoid human errors.

Barcodes are great for storing simple data like product specs, price etc.

The advantages of using barcodes

Barcodes contain information that is easy to access using a scanning machine, which is why it is the default label used in the point-of-sale. (Data typically includes the product's name, price and company name)

The limitations of using barcodes

Compared to QR codes, barcodes store limited information and can easily be copied. Standard barcodes are by no means unique, items are typically coded with the same barcodes when used in inventory management. Because of it, products with the same barcodes are easy to copy. To prevent this from happening, many manufacturers resort to the use of QR codes as it helps secure the product's authenticity and can store more complex information.

Should I use QR codes or Barcodes?


It depends on your budget, needs and the complexity of your manufacturing process.


Use barcodes for simple inventory management

If you just need a simple inventory management system to help you keep track of your stock - barcodes are the way to go. Barcodes are easy to scan (if you have the right equipment) and integrate nicely with POS systems.


Use QR codes to track & trace production batches

If you are looking for something to help you track & trace production batches in your supply chain, use QR codes. The use of QR codes in your production will help you track and trace unique batch numbers as they move through your supply chain.

QR codes help you link multiple activities together including ingredients, pictures, comments and quality controls. The use of QR codes will help you get complete traceability of your production


Use QR codes to perform quality inspections

If you want to reduce mistakes when performing quality inspections, QR codes are the way to go. The use of QR codes in quality inspections makes it easy for you to identify errors in time and perform corrective actions.

A QR code is an effective way of linking visual data and comments to specific product batches. This helps Product & Quality Managers get a better overview of quality assurance processes.

4 steps for batch tracking with QR codes


Below we'll explain in 4 steps how Flows can help you, implement a QR code system that can track and trace production batches along the supply chain.  

Step 1: Create product workflows


First, you need to create your product (this can be done manually or by integration with your existing ERP system).

In this step, you need to define your product workflow including:

  • How the product should be produced? (which steps?)
  • Which ingredients or materials to include and in which quantity?
  • Which quality inspections are to be performed and when?

When creating the workflow it's a good idea to attach photos and descriptions to help operators understand what success looks like, so that each step is performed correctly.

Step 2: Plan the production batch & print the QR code

Once you have set up your production workflow templates you are ready to plan your first production.

Choose which product you want to produce, the size of the batch and when the start date.

When done, Flows will automatically generate a  batch number for the production along with a unique QR code for you to print out and use in the production.

Step 3: Tracking production with the QR code

The QR code is now placed at the manufacturing station, and the operator can now scan the QR code from a phone or a tablet.


Once the QR code is scanned the Operator starts the product workflow that you designed earlier, this typically starts with a product recipe.


Linking ingredients or materials to the production batch

When following the recipe, QR codes are used to link the correct ingredients or raw materials lot number or serial number to the production batch. This ensures that the right materials are always linked correctly to the batch, thus ensuring full product traceability.


Performing quality controls

When a production step has been completed, the operator will be prompted to make a quality inspection of the production batch. A typical inspection involves uploading photo documentation on the batch, along with a comment from the Operator or Quality Manager.


Step 4: Tracing back production batches

Once the production batch has been completed, you will now be able to scan the unique QR code to see the full history of the production, including ingredients, pictures, comments and approvals.

Track and trace batches

Simulating product recalls for full traceability


Because you have linked all materials and ingredients to the batch number using their unique QR code, you'll now be able to see which ingredients have been used in different productions,  easily identify issues and re-call related products.

Trace back materials

Summary

We have now explained how manufacturers can use QR codes in the productions to help track and trace production batches.


The main takeaways are:

  • QR Codes are the fastest way to link a physical asset to its digital twin
  • QR Codes can be scanned by anyone with a smartphone
  • QR Codes can be used for more than just production batch tracking.
  • QR codes are an efficient and effective way to track and trace production batches.
  • Flows can help you implement QR codes to give you full traceability of your manufacturing process

See Flows
in action

Find out why Flows is the most operator friendly
traceability software for you and your business