When Jan Gravningsbråten came up with an idea for how to reduce waste in the tool production process, little did he realize the potential effect it could have on the Seco business. Several years later, his idea has the ability to track ten billion tools that in turn can generate huge amount of insight into how our products are used, the company said.
In 2018 Gravningsbråten, an R&D technician in an Innovation Lab in Fagersta, Sweden, noticed that when faults occurred in the production process, it was impossible to identify the individual tools that were affected as each tool was only identifiable by a batch number.
“You could have 10,000 or 20,000 in a batch and it was impossible to work out which ones might have been affected by a production fault, so we’d have to start all over again. That’s not really economically viable,” he said.
The challenge was to find a way to make each tool individually identifiable, and that’s when the lightbulb went on for him – data matrix codes. “We have chosen a series of ten billion numbers for our codes, and we can fully trace each tool marked with them using software where we collect all the codes from the machines that produce the tools,” he said.
Originally invented in 1987, data matrix codes are two-dimensional codes often used to track objects in industrial processes. The codes are laser printed on each Turbo 16 tool, allowing customers and Seco Tools to track it through its working life.
The codes are also compatible with the Seco Assistant, an app that allows users to make calculations and scan their tools directly to find out more about them. “Ideally, clients would input data about how they use the tool into the system – what machine they use, when it is installed, how long it is used for and for what purpose. Scanning the codes on the tool would then bring up all that data, which basically is the life story of the tool,” said Micael Baudin, specialist in digitalization at Seco Tools.
Data collected from these tools can then be fed back into the R&D process, improving the next generation of products. “If the data matrix codes are still readable they can be used to sort products that are returned to us, which makes the process of recycling much easier. We will be able to sort the different metal compounds quickly so that we can re-use as much of them as possible, which is a real plus when it comes to our sustainability work,” said Gravningsbråten.
“So far, we have used the idea with one product, and we are ironing out the teething problems, but ideally we would like to see a situation where customers agree when buying products from us that they will return them to us at the end of their useful lives. When they do so, we can scan these codes and see what has happened to them in their lifetime,” said Baudin.
The use of the data matrix codes has huge potential in terms of transforming how Seco Tools does business. “I see many opportunities based on this technology for future digital solutions, solving pain points and increasing productivity, both in Seco Tools as well as at our customers,” said Thomas Norström, senior R&D manager. “To make our products smarter by connecting information to each individual item throughout the whole product life cycle will make a difference - our smart products will be able to answer questions like who are you, where do you come from, how should I use you and how have you been used.”
The use cases on the data matrix technology will be part of a bigger initiative called Seco Beyond Hardware, and Thomas will step out of his present role as Senior R&D Manager and step into a role as program manager for Seco Beyond Hardware. “I am really excited about this, to be able to follow and support all these exciting solutions all the way, from ideas to products implemented internally or at our end customers, will be very enjoyable,” he said.
For more information on data matrix, visit www.secotools.com.