Marking and identification company Traceability Solutions will soon release a lower-cost identification system for the galvanising industry, reveals sales manager Kyle Parker.
He explains that the traceability of steel becomes a problem after a product has been galvanised because common identification tags do not survive the hot-dip galvanising process, during which a product is put through hot zinc dips at 450 °C for extended periods.
Further, while embossed metal dog tags can be used as an alternative and will survive the zinc dip process, they will, in most cases, not survive the acid baths. The galvanising process, therefore, is effective in smoothing the surface of a product, but the product fails to retain its original identification, which is important in ensuring that the correct products are kept together and delivered to the correct project site.
Without a proper identification system, galvanising companies providing a service for many different clients could easily confuse materials, which is a significant problem, especially when a company is dealing with two clients that are manufacturing the same products.
“We realised that we needed to find a solution, which would allow material to be identifiable after the galvanising process,” says Parker.
In 2001, InfoSight, one of Traceability Solutions’ primary suppliers, set its sights on providing a solution for the hot-dip galvanising industry, with the goal of producing a metal barcoded tag that would be attached to a product once, either by the galvaniser or by the original-equipment manufacturer.
The aim was for the tag not to be removed during any stage of the galvanising process, remaining intact until the steel is delivered to the final job site.
KettleTag technology has been in industry in South Africa for the past 11 years and is the first of its kind to survive the galvanising process, states Parker.
Last year, Traceability Solutions launched KettleTag Plus, another one-of-a-kind addition to the KettleTag brand that allows steel going through the galvanising process to be tracked using two-dimensional barcode technology. The tags are read by means of mobile personal computer scanners, which help to track the production process.
Parker says the tags are around R3 each (depending on size and quantity), which could be too expensive for certain projects.
He explains that, at times, the tag can even be more valuable than the item it identifies.
A Low-Cost Solution
Parker recalls how, a year ago, Traceability Solutions received a request from a data company that wanted its data plates marked in reverse.
Initially, he was somewhat perplexed why anyone would want a tag marked in reverse but realised that this might be the answer Traceability Solutions was searching for.
Parker and his team tested products using a new heavy-duty steel-marking machine launched early last year with additional functionality. It is a single-pin marking system targeted at applications which require deep penetration marking.
Traceability Solutions has found that the galvanising process does not affect a steel label embossed with information in reverse. The marked indentations will still be smoothed over in the galvanising process but, when the label is turned over, the markings can clearly be identified on the other side.
“Using the current pin-marking technology, with the correct material and the correct customised machine, labels can automatically be printed out and stuck onto the material and galvanisers can finally get a real traceability solution,” he says.
Parker hopes to have a customised prototype machine ready by September, in time to showcase it at Electra Mining Africa 2012, which will run from September 10 to 14.
Traceability Solutions already has two customers that are keen to try the new technology.
However, before this can be done, Parker needs to ensure the company is using the appropriate material for the application. Price is the primary priority and he has been searching for the most cost-effective stainless steel.
“Companies are not interested if these tags are going to cost R2 each – it’s just not viable. Pricing is currently undetermined; however, we are aiming to keep the price of these tags as low as possible.”
Parker tells Engineering News about a promising material that has just been delivered to the company’s offices in North Riding, Johannesburg.
The Traceability Solutions team is testing the new material, but Parker is confident that this will prove to be the exact type of stainless steel that is required.
“Once the technology has been tried and tested by the two interested customers, I think we’ll have a solution on our hands that we’ll want to market and promote to galvanisers, who all face the same traceability chal- lenges,” he says.
Parker tells Engineering News that a full concept design has been developed for the new machine, which Traceability Solutions will manufacture. He adds that the team will incorporate software into the system that will be able to track how many labels have been made – a feature that will increase galvanisers’ productivity and internal organisation processes.
Traceability Solutions is working closely with a scanner manufacturer to find a camera that will enable the scanning machines to read the barcodes in reverse.