Merce Select

Automating a card manufacturing unit
  • Summary

    Industry Manufacturing, small-scale unit

    Client A business unit making government-mandated photo ID cards

    Requirement This organisation gets batch data from its customer (the National Securities Depository Limited, the principal entity in the process chain). This data specifies full details of photo ID cards to be manufactured. It then manufactures the cards. The cards are similar in size to credit cards, but have no electronics or magstripes. They are security sensitive since they are recognized as proof of identity in all financial transactions and some other security-critical areas in India. The requirement was to completely automate the information processing and manufacturing workflow to reduce overheads, tighten quality control, and improve timeliness of delivery.

  • Our solution

    Process flow The processing of data for card manufacture starts with downloading of data files (CSV format) from the principal's servers. This download has been automated, with automatic retry in case of transfer errors. Downloaded data is uploaded to local databases. There are sixteen different types of data files with different structures. Some files may contain photographs or images of signatures, which are processed specially. Validations are applied and all records; those with inconsistencies or errors are kept aside for later resolution. A simple workflow allows records to be moved into different queues based on checks and special processing requirements.

    Photographs and signature images are manually processed using GUI tools to clean up poor quality images. To facilitate this, image files are automatically placed in a directory on the server and exported over a CIFS file service so that operators sitting at MS Windows desktops can work on them using GUI applications. After manual processing, these image files are re-integrated automatically into the server-based workflow.

    After all validations and manual processing of the data, the system generates spreadsheets which are fed into card printing machines which prints card labels in a fixed format, including photographs and signature images. The system also generates word processor files containing the covering letters which are issued with each card. After cards are manufactured and covering letters printed, a detailed manual QA stage filters out any errors or manufacturing faults, reconciling final outputs with initial inputs received from the principal. The system generates data files (CSV format) for logistics companies and automatically creates batches of cards and covering letters for each logistics carrier. Cards are then shipped out straight to the card-holders.

    Scope of work Our work included specifications capture, study of file formats and communication with the principal organisation, software design, coding and testing, technology choice, infrastructure setup (OS, servers, network communication tools) and user training. The actual machinery and processes used for card manufacture were not part of our scope of work. After project deployment and system stabilisation, the relationship has moved to support and application maintenance.

    Technologies The system runs on a single server with a backup server for business continuity. It runs on the Ubuntu Linux OS and MySQL. The UI uses Java servlets under Apache and Tomcat. Photos and other images are edited manually using off-the-shelf Windows-based image manipulation applications. There is no need to run any command from the Linux shell prompt during normal operations.

    Each card carries text in Roman and Devanagari scripts; the system handles both scripts and generates bi-lingual files in MS Office file formats. Perl and Java modules for MS Excel file generation have been used. Third-party libraries have also been used for barcode generation.

    The database has been configured by our team to replicate automatically from the primary server to the backup server. The servers communicate with an APC UPS over Ethernet and trigger an orderly shutdown in case of mains power failure.

    The card manufacturing process uses various technology components which our team was not involved with. The cards carry holograms as specified by the Government of India and their usage and wastage have to be tracked for audit purposes.

    Deployment Since our team was responsible for complete infrastructure setup and deployment, they have been involved in troubleshooting problems in the production systems, repairing data and systems after hardware faults, etc. Support of production infrastructure is our responsibility and our customer has tight SLA in place with their principal for the manufacturing pipeline. Therefore our team is required to respond promptly to production support tasks.

    The system was initially developed in 2006 and has been in use six days a week since then without a break.