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Stealth barcodes track individual items during the manufacturing process
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Stealth barcodes track individual items during the manufacturing process

Hitachi Power Solutions has developed an item management system, which helps to improve traceability in manufacturing facilities.

This system uses item IDs printed in stealth ink, which is hard to see with the naked eye. The ink is made visible and read using UV light, and each ID is associated with production data. Even in lots with thousands or tens of thousands of items, this system enables every single product to be managed individually.

"Usually, manufacturer's codes don't need to be seen by everyone. So, we've decided to use stealth codes. A feature of these is, they can be printed anywhere. So, they don't affect product design."

"The scanning speed is currently 78 meters per minute, but that could be increased to 160 meters per minute. The codes can be read anywhere, but what we want to do is to make it possible to read the codes, and associate them with data during manufacturing, at speeds that have so far been considered impossible on production lines."

"Until now, products have been managed as lots, so if customers make a complaint, manufacturers have only been able to tell them the results of tests within a lot. But now, each item on a production line can be scanned, and data can be associated with its code, so manufacturers have evidence regarding complaints. For example, items can be given serial numbers, like with consumer electronics. So, if there's a complaint, the manufacturer can immediately check where the item was made and what the problem was."

The stealth codes are printed using ink-jet printers from Hitachi IES. This system offers lower costs than labels and RFID tags.

From now on, as well as food items, Hitachi will consider using the system for electronic and automotive components.

"We think this system could be utilized for lots of purposes. For example, you could use these codes to make small electronic components traceable, or to improve the speed of production lines. Stealth codes could also be used to prevent counterfeiting or unauthorized distribution."

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