BARCODES WITHOUT BOUNDARIES
International logistics company, Kühne & Nagel relies on bar code systems to move freight, so the labelling technology is a critical element.
Bar codes represent a key component in the organisation and execution of freight delivery. Labels that do not have bar codes are unthinkable – they contain the most concise information and offer the only real guarantee that supplier, freight company and delivery end-customer are completely aware of the route a package will take. Kühne & Nagel decided to implement fully automated identification systems in mid-1998. They received support from Symbol Technologies who supplied them with bar code label printers from Zebra Technologies.
Kühne & Nagel currently employs over 13,000 people across 480 locations, and is one of the world’s leading freight handling and logistics companies. It uses nearly 1.5 million metres square of warehouse storage space. Kühne & Nagel relies on all modes of transportation to deliver the goods and the company ensures that all freight from wood and paper to spoilable foods reach their destination safely and on schedule. Needless to say, the volume of freight handled is vast.
To ensure that all shipments arrive on time and at the correct destination, each package is marked with destination and source data, as well as information about the contents. Bar code labels are ideally suited to carry all this information. To implement bar coding for all of its global freight, Kühne & Nagel had to find software that would best meet its specific demands and reliable bar code printers for a wide range of applications. It was also important that the bar code supplier could provide local support and cover all relevant countries.
‘It’s fairly easy to sell products,’ explains Nikos Simou, head of the bar code project at Kühne & Nagel. ‘However, it’s a lot more difficult to offer total maintenance and support. We really needed to find a supplier that was in a position to provide us with a service contract that covers regions like Bangladesh and Vietnam. If you’re based there, you can’t just send a broken printer to the UK – the costs are simply too high. In our experience, Zebra printers have always proved to be solid and durable across all environments. We also took into consideration Zebra’s broad product range – for us, this means we’re always able to select the right printer for the right job,’ Zebra’s Z4000 thermal transfer printer is one of the many Zebra products currently in use at Kühne & Nagel. The printer is modular, which means it is easy to accommodate new features or upgrades, further extending its working life.
Bar code printers must be durable enough to perform a wide range of tasks, including labelling performed in offices and complicated applications in warehouses. The bar code printers at Kühne & Nagel have to handle dust, excessive sunlight and severe heat and cold. In tropical countries like Indonesia or India, the printers must also withstand high humidity. Nikos Simou is impressed with the way Zebra printers have withstood aggressive environments: ‘We haven’t experienced any difficulties to date. The printers are as reliable as the ones we use in our offices.’
In the freight warehouses where the shipments are received, registered and moved around, the company frequently has to use the printers up to 24 hours a day. The freight usually arrives late evening or early morning. It is registered and then forwarded immediately to its destination. The bar code labels must therefore be available round the clock. Simou explains: ‘If our printer ever requires maintenance during a critical phase, we always have access to a backup printer. This system allows us to complete our freight processing on schedule and with minimal disruption.’
Each bar code label contains all tracking information necessary including the destination and source details. Kühne & Nagel will not transport a piece of freight if it does not have a bar code label. In most cases, customers are asked to label their own freight using the international standard EAN (European Article Number) 128 SSCC. If there is no bar code label on incoming freight, one is automatically produced. ‘Potentially, a customer could leave us with 10,000 unlabelled pallets on a Friday evening. Faced with this, we would have to rely on our Zebra printers to produce 10,000 labels on demand so that the goods can be delivered on time,’ Simou notes.
Kühne & Nagel utilises the Windows-based Bar-One software to generate the bar code labels. Once the layout of the label has been determined, it is loaded onto Kühne & Nagel’s software system. As sonn as a piece of freight has been registered, the respective label is automatically printed. A shipping order is then produced, together with the number of labels required which are printed out at the correct location. Kühne & Nagel takes great care to ensure the label is suited to the application. For instance, air freight requires labels that provide superior adhesive qualities and offer resistance to significant temperature changes. Television and PC packaging requires labels that do not adhere too strongly in order not to damage the boxes on removal.
Kühne & Nagel increased the size of its labels to incorporate additional information. Now, the bar code not only contains information on the delivery route, but also details of each package – valuable information even after the shipment has been delivered. This type of data is particularly helpful in locating missing packages and can be crucial in the computer and electronics industries where unit prices are often high.
Air freight labelling is subject to Resolution 606 of the IATA (International Air Transport Association) which stipulates that shipments must bear a standardised label containing the name of the airline abbreviation and the total number of units being shipped, these labels also include the Air Waybill Number (AWB) provided by the airline with airline information, identification and freight number.
Such procedures mean that the airline has access to all of the relevant data it needs to be able to forward the goods and the freight company is able to track the route a shipment takes just via a number. As a value-added service, Kühne & Nagel allows its customers to check the status of their shipments using the Internet.
Consistent labelling of incoming and out-going goods allows for maximum security in freight carriage. If a package is mislaid, Kühne & Nagel can use the information from the last scan to find out where it was last handled. Looking to the future, Kühne & Nagel hopes to extend the project to include more internal tasks and will further improve shipping efficiency and reliability.