| Written by Mark Buzinkay

This paper delves into the transformative impact of Automatic Identification (Auto ID) technologies on manufacturing processes. Auto ID encompasses a range of technologies designed to enable machines to identify objects automatically, thereby facilitating automatic data capture and enhancing operational efficiency. The implementation of Auto ID systems in manufacturing has led to significant advancements in product tracking, inventory management, and the automation of manufacturing supply chains. By providing real-time data on products, these technologies support the development of digital twins, enable rapid product customization, and foster the emergence of self-organizing production systems. Additionally, the article explores various Auto ID technologies, such as barcodes, RFID, biometric systems, and NFC, and their applications in improving asset utilization, inventory tracking, and labour productivity. Comprehensive analysis underscores the critical role of Auto ID in driving manufacturing innovation, efficiency, and adaptability in the contemporary industrial landscape.
automatic identification

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Automatic Identification in Production Processes

Automatic identification, or auto ID for short, is the broad term for a host of technologies that help machines identify objects. Auto identification is often related to automatic data capture (AIDC).

Systems that automatically retrieve the identities of objects became a reality for monitoring items moving through the manufacturing supply chain. In general, automated identification allows accurate, punctual information about a specific item to be stored, retrieved, and communicated. This information assists in automated decision-making and control functions relevant to that item. 

Supposing the reader used to extract the product identity is connected to a local network, automated identification permits a direct link between the physical product and networked information about that product in real time (digital twin). It removes the necessity for a product and the information stored about it to be collocated.

The ramifications for such a capacity in a manufacturing environment are powerful. Near-term benefits include product tracking accuracy, reduced stock levels, and automated inventory management, which are possible simply through the availability of real-time product data. In the long term, benefits can be obtained from support for the ability to rapidly customize products and develop self-organizing production (see below), distribution, and inventory systems, leading to a paradigm shift in the manufacturing organization.

In this regard, multi-agent control systems are substituting conventional centralized decision-making systems. Such techniques permit increased adaptability of the control system environment in the face of unexpected events (such as disruptions or reorganizations) and provide a "deregulated" control system for supporting the rapidly customized products and self-organizing production, distribution, and inventory systems discussed earlier. For such systems, the location and state of the physical products and resources must be available. To date, earlier shortcomings of these approaches have been the lack of a standardized means for linking the product software modules (agents) to their physical counterparts, which is solved today.


Automatic Identification Technology

For a better understanding of automatic identification capabilities, let's explore the core technologies that constitute AIDC, detailing their mechanisms, applications, and unique advantages.


Barcodes are one of the most widely acknowledged forms of AIDC technology. They consist of small images of varying bars and spaces affixed to retail store articles, ID cards, and postal mail to identify a particular product number, person, or location. Barcode readers scan and interpret these to retrieve the encoded information. A barcode reader uses a laser beam that is sensitive to the reflections from the line and space thickness and variation. 

RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification)

RFID uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags attached to objects automatically. The system has three elements: an antenna, a transceiver (often combined into a single device), and a transponder (the tag). The antenna shares a signal that triggers the transponder, which then transmits data back to the antenna. Because RFID does not need direct contact or line-of-sight scanning, RFID tags are substituting barcodes in numerous applications. The tags manage electronically stored information, which can be read several meters or more away.

Biometric systems

Various biometrics systems identify individuals by comparing captured biological data against stored data for that individual. Biometric systems consist of a reader or scanning device, software that converts the scanned biological data into a digital format and compares match points, and a database that stores the biometric data for comparison. 

The unique physical or behavioural markers include fingerprints, facial recognition, and iris scans, offering increased security and personal identification.

Optical character recognition (OCR)

Optical character recognition (OCR) recognizes text characters by a computer. The process includes scanning the text character-by-character, examining the resulting character image and decoding that image into a machine-readable character code. OCR technology transforms documents, such as scanned paper documents, PDF files, or images captured by a digital camera, into editable and searchable data.

NFC (Near Field Communication)

NFC enables short-range communication between compatible devices, typically requiring a distance of 4 cm or less to start a connection. It's used for secure data exchange and contactless transactions. NFC allows two-way communication, enabling applications such as mobile payments, electronic ticketing, and access control.

Learn more about auto identification technology here...


Asset Utilization

Asset utilization is a key driver of a manufacturing operation's overall effectiveness. Auto-ID can affect asset utilization in several areas. This paper will focus only on reusable asset utilization. 

Reusable assets are the containers, bobbins, trays and racks that manufacturers use to move the raw materials, work-in-process and finished goods through the production process. The availability of these assets is critical to production efficiency. However, reusable containers lack visibility.

As a main advantage, auto-ID identification tags enable companies to track and trace reusable assets through the supply chain - where an asset is at any time, who last was in charge of the asset, what its contents are, whether it needs to have maintenance performed on it and numerous other pieces of information. With better visibility of each asset, fewer assets will be required, and less time will be spent tracking the assets. When assets are disposed at the end of their usable life, they will be accurately tracked and eliminated from the company's register. This can increase inventory accuracy, increase labour productivity, reduce losses of containers and reduce fixed asset costs.

Because tagging of reusable assets can be used in many different applications, it should be the first spot where businesses look to apply Auto-ID technology. Reusable assets may not be the area that provides the largest return over the long term, but it provides a way for companies to obtain advantages in a controlled, closed-loop system in the short term while gaining an understanding of the technology.

This will better prepare manufacturers for further deployments of automatic identification across the broader value chain.


Inventory Tracking and Visibility

Manufacturers have sought practices such as lean manufacturing to obtain the benefits of reduced inventory in manufacturing operations. However, the best-laid plans can be affected when significant disruptions to the supply chain emerge, such as the Suez Canal blockage by the container ship vessel "Evergreen" in 2022 that impacted not only trade routes but manufacturing processes. Preparation for such circumstances forces companies to build up a buffer of inventory so they can better deal with unexpected events and because they lack visibility to in-transit materials and products. In these situations, automatic identification could provide detailed visibility and help ease those concerns.

Auto-ID could enable manufacturers to reduce stock and buffers through real-time tracking and automatic synchronization, thereby improving response time and inventory management. 

Some of the specific areas where automatic identification could improve inventory visibility, tracking and control within manufacturing operations include:

  • Inbound raw materials 
  • Internal logistics through a yard management system
  • Location of work-in-process inventory within the manufacturing operation
  • Alerts of sensitive raw materials/work-in-process in danger of expiring 
  • Sequencing of materials
  • Disposition of scrap/rework
  • Prevention of shrinkage


Labour Productivity

Many processes and activities still use some form of manual data capture ("paper & pen"). For example, a lot number could be recorded on a form that is later typed into a data terminal right at the manufacturing operation. In these instances, automatic identification significantly improves speed and data accuracy.

As suppliers provide raw materials with barcodes, work-in-process contains barcodes, this technology is predominant throughout manufacturing operations today. However, issues with accuracy still need to be addressed. In most cases today, an operator needs to scan the correct label. Any labels that are outside of sight must be found. Conversely, with automatic identification, the technology saves the time it

takes to scan each individual barcode, which has a significant impact on high-volume operations.

If employee ID badges are tagged, users, machines and tasks can be linked together, verifying that only qualified and properly equipped people are maintaining/operating the equipment. Additionally, such a system could help to maintain and improve work place safety. Adding sensor functions would also alert to improper heat, gases, humidity or lack of oxygen.


The impact of auto-id on manufacturing

As discussed throughout this paper, the integration of automatic identification technology into a manufacturing process and supply chain can streamline production operations through improved information and automation. There are numerous specific impacts of automatic identification technology, including but not limited to:

  • Increasing capacity utilization and yield
  • Reducing cycle time
  • Increasing labor productivity
  • Improving product quality
  • Ensuring timely preventative maintenance
  • Reducing product obsolescence costs
  • Tracking and managing spare parts inventory
  • Facilitating statistical process control
  • Enabling lot/batch track and trace
  • Ensuring worker safety
  • Reducing returns and warranty claims
  • Reducing scrap, waste and obsolescence



This paper explored the impact of automatic identification on manufacturing shop floor control, enhanced by the availability of accurate, timely information about an item. 

The benefits described in this paper are obtained from tagging the assets and equipment used to hold, move and process the raw materials and work-in-process being manufactured. There are soft benefits associated with manufacturing gained from the ability to track and recall a product once it leaves the four walls, and there are further benefits from improvements within the manufacturing process, which justify the implementation of an automatic identification system. 

Automatic Identification

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(1) McFarlane, D., Sarma, S.and others (2003): Auto ID systems and intelligent manufacturing control.
In: Engineering Applications of Artificial Intelligence, vol 16/4, pp 365-376. Online:




Mark Buzinkay, Head of Marketing

Mark Buzinkay holds a PhD in Virtual Anthropology, a Master in Business Administration (Telecommunications Mgmt), a Master of Science in Information Management and a Master of Arts in History, Sociology and Philosophy. Mark