Zebra Printing Using InterForm 400


Parts labelling in the automotive sector is a complex, yet essential, part of the Industry's manufacturing and logistics, as NSK's AS/400 Operations Manager found out.

NSK Steering Systems Europe Limited is the manufacturer of steering systems for companies such as Nissan, Honda, General Motors, Ford, Toyota and BMW. Each individual client may have its own specifications regarding the documentation of the parts they are supplied with, or use European automotive standards.

The challenge facing NSK Steering Systems was to be able to provide each of their clients with a different format of documentation, if required. This included the packing lists, despatch notes and the labels, which are applied to the finished product containers.

The company that enabled them to solve these issues is SpaceTec who are the UK supplier of InterForm400 an electronic forms and intelligent output management solution for the IBM i.

NSK Steering Systems had originally consulted SpaceTec a number of years ago when changes made to the company operation in Europe, resulted in the inability of their incumbent electronic forms software to deploy across their WAN and remote VPN users. NSK steering Systems runs its manufacturing systems on an IBM i and therefore this was their preferred choice of platform for their electronic forms package.

The initial installation of InterForm400 was to solve a specific problem, however it was soon realised that this package offered NSK Steering Systems many additional advantages and features. One such element was the ability to add extra data to any outgoing document, which averted changes to the core software package, Mapics (Now Infor XA).

NSK Steering Systems has made great use of the product. When the company initiated a name change, it was only a small task to re-design all the documents in house without the need to involve any third party suppliers.

Kevin Wainwright, NSK Steering Systems IBM i operations manager said

“We had a very tight deadline to meet when the company changed name in 2001 and InterForm400 allowed us to meet this. Templates for all documents were created by out technical department, with minimal time and cost.”

NSK Steering Systems were then able to provide individual layouts for all of their documents matching the client requirements exactly. Just one example of this is Honda who had requested to receive a packing list rather than a dispatch note with their orders. Under the old system the warehouse employees would need to be aware of this and react accordingly to every Honda order. Using InterForm400’s API, NSK Steering Systems were able to design the process so that it is totally transparent to the warehouse staff, who call the same option regardless of which client it is for.

Patrick Race MD of SpaceTec said

“A major requirement for NSK Steering Systems was to be able to simplify tasks in house and ensure all their procedures were the same whilst also meeting the client’s requirements.”

The next challenge arose for NSK Steering Systems when some of the clients wanted to move away from the ODETTE (European Automotive labeling standards) to bespoke labeling that they could integrate into their varied manufacturing resource planning (MRP) and logistics and supply chain management systems.

NSK Steering Systems use Zebra printers within the manufacturing. The labels produced by Infor XA were only to the ODETTE standards. After further consultation with SpaceTec NSK installed the ZPL (zebra label printing) module of InterForm400. This allowed NSK Steering Systems to design the labels in the same way as they design their electronic forms and produce any type of label the client required.

“If a client requests a label change we can respond quickly, which can be in minutes for minor changes. A major change to a label format will still only take around half a day. The alternative solution was to employ an external consultant to write the ZPL code, in an RPG program, every time a change was made” said Wainwright.

More recently changes were made to the internal structure of NSK which meant that the finished manufactured items, which were previously the property of NSK Steering Systems, would now become the property of the parent company NSK Europe. Everything now had to show the parent company logo and branch office bank details. These changes need to be in place by 1st Jan 2005, Again it was a task that was easy to achieve with InterForm400.

The comment made by Wainwright was:

“Without InterForm400 we would have struggled to be operational by 1st Jan. We have been able to become self sufficient with no need to rely on third party suppliers to implement these changes. We now print invoices directly to the printers in the parent company offices, over our WAN links in the UK, Italy, France, Germany and Spain all from our IBM i in the UK.”

NSK Steering Systems has seen a number of major changes to their organisation over the past years however by using InterForm400 document & label changes have been seamless to the users with no need for retraining.

The conclusion drawn by Wainwright was:

“Interform400 has proved indispensable for us. It started as a replacement solution for an incumbent which couldn’t handle the change to our technology and has grown from there. The benefits that we have seen far out way any investment made and have ensured that Interform400 is an integrated part of our operational structure.”

“NSK Steering Systems is the perfect example of how a company can utilise the InterForm400 modules to its best advantage. As each new business issue arose we were able to show NSK a solution using software which was already installed. There are very few software packages that once installed for a specific reason offer more than a quick fix to other problems seen at a later stage. Interform400 However is feature rich and flexible ensuring a more solid and reliable solution.” said Race

About NSK steering systems

NSK is a global leading supplier of bearings, automotive components and steering systems, precision and mechatronic products. With a turnover of 5 billion euro, the NSK Group employs more than 23,000 people worldwide. The NSK Group’s European arm, NSK Europe, brings together: pan-European sales operations; Manufacturing bases in the UK, Poland and Germany; distribution centres in the Netherlands, Germany and UK; state-of-the-art technology centres; and a comprehensive network of local Authorised Distributors. The sales operations consist of three autonomous business units focused on Bearings, Precision products and Automotive markets with local sales offices throughout Europe.