By Kristine Blackburn and Patrick McGuane, Allsafe Technologies
At card manufacturing leader, Allsafe, we believe that the key to success is flexibility. By this, we mean both ‘flexibility’ in terms of what we offer customers and in turn, ‘flexibility’ providing the watchword of how we tool our organization to meet changing customer demands as unlimited as their imagination. Two key pieces of card manufacturing chain–the card punching system and the automated inspection system–were selected for their quality but their flexibilty has also proven key to their ultimate value.
When Allsafe Technologies was founded in 1966 under the previous name of Allsafe Company, we started out manufacturing and programming cards for the parking industry. From the beginning, a major priority has been keeping up with changing technology so that we can adapt quickly to changing market demands and the needs of newly emerging market segments. Fast forward to today and you will find Allsafe products for nearly every major card market: parking, time and attendance, door access, telecommunications, healthcare, library services, dining and vending, gift and loyalty, photo identification, university/college, etc.
Today more than ever, customers in markets such as these need cards that can serve a variety of sophisticated functions. Given Allsafe’s interest in applying the most up to date technology to card manufacturing, we placed a special emphasis on the developing RFID market, and the engineering of cards and hang tags that not only incorporated RFIDs, but other technologies such as bar codes, magnetic stripes or barium ferrite inserts.
While each of the technologies added by Allsafe through the years has required R&D investments for each new capability, our ultimate manufacturing flexibility probably has just as much, if not more, to do with the flexibility of our equipment for core processes such as card punching or card inspection.
Consider the demands on our card punching system, for example. We run a wide variety of plastic card types including PVC, PVC/Polyester Composite, Polyester, and Teslin. Card thicknesses range from 0.020″ – 0.051″ for both conventional plastic cards and RFID products. Because of the variety of embedded technologies that these cards employ, we need to ensure that we get the maximum yield to ensure costs are kept in line. Moreover, with an average order size under 10,000 cards (130 sheets), we can expect to need up to 15 changeovers in one day. From 24-up to 66-up to 33-up, then 33-up to 24-up— all this can happen before lunch!
Since 1995 we have relied mainly on Spartanics M500 Card Punching systems to get the type of flexibility demanded in our card punching (see www.spartanics.com). In fact, the M500 was instrumental in the growth of our RFID volume. Its ability to cut a wide range of card thicknesses within tolerances of +/-0.005 inches has proven crucial to cost effective production. This type punching system also provides for quick changeover between different formats because a long mechanical changeover is not necessary. We can change back and forth from cutting a 66-up format to a 24-up format with just the push of a button. Secure card production is also streamlined by this type system because it keeps cards in order such that there is no hunting for missing cards in order to complete a secure card audit.
As with card punching, we also sought automated inspection equipment that could not only run standard CR80 ISO thickness cards, but also thinner and thicker cards. We run from 10 mil to 60 mil in both a CR79 and CR80 card size, for example. In 2002, we were pleased that the maker of our flexible card punching system came out with a similarly flexible system for inspection, the Spartanics M930 Card Inspection System. Considering our needs to handle so many jobs every day, the easy-to-use self-learning capabilities of this type inspection system provide for an extremely valuable addition to our plant tooling. We merely need to provide the system with a set of “good” cards that it can use to train on and define reject standards. This makes it cost effective for nearly any run length. We then save files for a nearly instantaneous set-up any time we inspect the same type job. To date, we have already saved hundreds of files along these lines, such that our quality controls on repeat orders are relatively pain-free.
Of course, flexibility alone doesn’t define which production tools make their way into Allsafe’s doors. We look for all around standout performers. With inspection, we would not settle for anything less than single run inspection technology, i.e. one in which the rejects from the first pass remained rejects from a second pass. Our decision to purchase a M930 system was also the result of a comprehensive comparison of automated inspection options vis-à-vis their handling mechanism. We found that both the feed and belt transfer were less likely to scratch a card with this system than any other that we viewed.
Allsafe knows that where it is today and what it makes today will almost certainly change with time. Our advice to fellow card manufacturers is to scrutinize all possible equipment purchases through the lens of how flexible they are to change with changing job requirements.
Kristine Blackburn is Operations Manager and Patrick McGuane is Plant Manager of Amherst, New York-headquartered Allsafe Technologies allsafe.com