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Data Matrix Codes Improve Product Information Flow

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 10 billion tools that in turn can generate huge amount of insight into how products are used.

In 2018 Gravningsbråten, who is an R&D technician in the 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 since 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 would have to start all over again. That is not really economically viable," he said.

Individually Identifiable

The challenge was to find a way to make each tool individually identifiable, and that is when the lightbulb went on for him-data matrix codes, which are similar to QR (quick response) codes. "We have chosen a series of 10 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," Gravningsbråten explained.

Originally invented in 1987, data matrix codes are 2D codes often used to track objects in industrial processes. The codes are put on each Turbo 16 tool, one of the most popular tools in the Seco Tools range, using a laser-printing process. Putting data matrix codes on each tool deployed in the field will in the future allow both customers and Seco Tools to track it through its working life.

The codes are also compatible with the Seco Assistant, an app that contains a wealth of useful information for clients and that allows them 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, a specialist in digitalization at Seco Tools.

Laser-Printed Codes

The team found a way to use lasers to print the codes on tools. "The vision is to be able to support the customer if there is a problem using the tool in certain ways. We can see what it has been used for in the past and, based on that, we can try to find a solution to their issue, no matter where they are in the world," said Gravningsbråten.

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."

"So far, we have used the idea with one product, and we are ironing out the 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," Baudin said.

For Gravningsbråten, the biggest benefit is to be found in the sustainability aspect of the project. "Imagine if we could say to a customer that they had to send the tools back to us when they were finished with them-there might even be a situation in the future where they are not allowed to dump old tools but rather recycle them."

"I see many opportunities based on this technology for future digital solutions, solving pain points and increasing productivity for Seco Tools and our customers," said Thomas Norström, Senior R&D Manager. The use cases on the data matrix technology will be part of a bigger initiative called Seco Beyond Hardware, and Norström will step out of his present role and become Program Manager for Seco Beyond Hardware.

For more information contact:

Seco Tools LLC

2805 Bellingham Drive

Troy, MI 48083


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