Holiday Woes: How Seasonal SKUs Complicate Production

December 09, 2019

From peppermint to gingerbread, the holidays bring a bevy of unique products specially produced for just a few short weeks. While customers can find holiday-themed goods on store shelves every year without fail, the manufacturing and logistics required to deliver these festive offerings is surprisingly complex. We take a look below at how holiday SKUs impact production efforts and what manufacturers can do to ensure quality is maintained throughout the supply chain.

Materials & Sourcing

From food & beverage to consumer goods, manufacturers across multiple industries must source a variety of holiday-specific ingredients and raw materials not typically used throughout the rest of the year. Materials can span a wide range of processing levels and require highly specific quality inspections, for example:

  • Ensure vanilla bean lengths are within a 4mm tolerance band

  • Verify food coloring is a specific shade of red

  • Scan spools of thread to validate SKUs

  • Check boric oxide for contaminants or impurities

Given the amount of time and money manufacturers spend to procure materials for holiday products, they need to ensure the quality of these materials meet their production requirements. An incorrect or contaminated ingredient can easily invalidate an entire batch of finished goods and cause substantial production losses. To avoid these issues, materials suppliers can install Samsara Machine Vision along their assembly lines to verify quality for full production runs, while downstream manufacturers can utilize Samsara Machine Vision to perform pre-production quality checks. 

Production & Changeovers

Holiday products and other seasonal goods require manufacturers to significantly change their production setup, from drastically increasing changeovers to utilizing new machinery or processes. Not only do holiday products incorporate features that require production adaptations, customers oftentimes expect new holiday products each year, meaning manufacturers can’t simply copy their production processes from previous holiday seasons. In order to be competitive, companies must predict holiday trends ahead of time and implement quality inspection processes that are highly adaptable.

In addition, some holiday goods offer customization options such as unique colors, custom stitching, optional engravings, or other personalization choices. For example, many home goods retailers are currently offering custom monograms on holiday stockings with the ability to specify font style, thread color, monogram text, and stocking color. All of these customizations require separate machinery, processes, and inspections, further complicating production efforts. In addition, quality managers must ensure that edge cases around customizations don’t create production issues — what if a customer enters text that’s too long to print on the stocking? What if a customer enters an emoji?

Finally, creating holiday products requires a high volume of changeovers. Production managers must carefully plan out when to produce which holiday SKUs and be ready to adapt quickly in the event of demand changes. To reduce downtime and minimize production losses, managers need to ensure that changeovers can be done efficiently, and floor workers must be properly trained to handle changeovers without incident. In addition, quality inspections must keep up with changeovers and be able to handle a wide variety of potential use cases:

  • Inspect the stitching on holiday stockings to check for defects

  • Read ingredient labels to ensure allergens are properly printed

  • Ensure a candy cane set contains exactly 8 candy canes

  • Verify a personalized etching is properly applied to jewelry

The time, effort, and cost needed to train and staff manual quality inspectors can quickly spiral out of control during holiday periods given production volumes and number of SKU types. Fortunately, quality inspections can be entirely automated with Samsara Machine Vision. Samsara cameras installed along the production line provide real-time inspections and traceability while being easily configurable for different use cases. From label matching to barcode reading, all inspections with Samsara can be set up in just minutes. A manufacturer looking to verify the labels or assembly of 30 different holiday SKUs can quickly program them in and simply select the appropriate one when performing changeovers, thus streamlining the changeover process and reducing production downtime. 

Packaging & Gifting

In addition to specialized materials and production, many holiday goods require unique packaging as well. Production managers must account for a range of potential issues as holiday goods are prepared for shipping:

  • Verify the correct packaging is used for each holiday item

  • Check for any tears, rips, or defects in the packaging

  • Read the product barcode to validate SKU

  • Confirm personalization options are present and printed correctly

Similar to production inspections, packaging inspections for the holidays are complicated and require frequent changeovers. To ensure products make the best first impression on customers, production managers can use Samsara Machine Vision to easily automate a wide range of packaging inspections while gaining full visibility into production runs. For example, manufacturers looking to verify labels can simply upload their holiday labels to train the camera on what to look for. With the all-in-one inspection platform that Samsara offers, manufacturers can instantly catch errors and reduce scrap rates and rework. 

The holidays offer manufacturers tremendous bottom line potential, and Samsara helps them navigate the unique production challenges that accompany the festive season. From easy-to-use inspection tools to full data visibility, Samsara Machine Vision helps manufacturers streamline changeovers, reduce production downtime, and minimize losses. From raw materials to final packaging, Samsara helps ensure your holiday products are ready to being joy to your customers.

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