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HOT TAKE | QR Codes in Machine Maintenance

21 May 2024

Hot Take on the Use of QR Codes in Machine Maintenance – Yay or Nay?

QR codes to make short work of managing machines – what could go wrong? Scanning a single code to access a wealth of information sounds like an excellent idea, however our clients feel differently. Do you?


“Implementing the QR codes wasn’t too bad, it was time consuming but fairly straightforward. The nightmare began when I had to start updating them and replacing the ones that didn’t work anymore. The QR system only continued because I was spending a lot of my time…too much of my time…keeping it alive, but I’m pretty sure it died as soon as I left that position.”  – Mill Maintenance Manager 


With the exploration of innovative technology in mills, we wanted to know whether or not QR codes in machine maintenance was the right way to go. Here are the facts from our research and after speaking with our experienced partners.

Let’s eliminate the guess work with a quick comparison of  the pros and cons of using QR codes for machine maintenance.

Here is the good news – there are some areas in which QR codes in terms of machine maintenance are extremely relevant.

PROS of using QR codes

  • Limited-time Items| Let’s compare limited-time items in a Paper setting to a boarding pass or concert ticket. A QR code provides quick and easy access to a permit or printed LOTO sheet, thus allowing you to register information like implementation progress and work attendance logs.
  • General-Purpose Information | Think of using QR codes in the way a restaurant would for sharing menus or how a shopping center would provide maps. In industrial settings, a QR code is found printed on a break room poster leading employees straight to their company LOTO policy or global emergency plan.

Now for the bad news…while immediate access to limited-time items and general-purpose information are fantastic, when most people consider QR codes in an industrial setting, they’re thinking machine-related. There are many downfalls in this regard, however we will focus on the main three.

CONS of using QR codes

  • Limited Information | As QR codes have limited storage capacity, they may be unable to contain all the necessary information about a specific machine. While they’re great when used to direct a worker to a specific page or system (that contains further data), the more we explore use cases, the average machine requires multiple QR codes pointing to various systems that house that detailed information. You end up with a machine that has 10 QR codes for maintenance, inspections, LOTO, diagnostics, and so on.
  • Maintenance | This one is a big one. With technology advances, we often focus on the instant gratification, putting less thought into what it takes to keep it up and running day after day. QR codes are no different. Taking the steps to maintain QR codes is no small feat. Over time, QR codes become damaged, faded, or – especially in an industrial environment – covered in dirt or grease, making them unreadable. Regular cleaning and maintenance of QR codes is essential to ensure they work well and remain effective. At first thought, keeping a QR code in good working order seems easy. We’ve heard stories of companies that have had to create full-time positions just to keep the codes readable. That doesn’t come as a surprise if you consider an average mill has 1300-2000 machines, that each machine could have 5 QR codes for procedures and 10 QR codes for inspections, meaning a total of 30 000 QR codes requiring attention.
  • Tech Reliance | In order to access the information embedded within, aka use the QR codes, you need a smartphone or a QR code reader. Most floors in the industry are screen-restricted to prevent near misses and SIFs. Even if devices are allowed, the necessary technology is not always readily available and prone to malfunctions, which cause delays, and essentially significant downtime – especially when there are no contingency plans drafted.

If you are still sold on QR codes and plan on putting them on your machines as an access to individual Lockout Tagout instructions, we advise you to keep the following two points in mind.

  • Details | A QR code on its own will not suffice. Since QR codes are made to communicate with other tech and not for human consumption, play close attention to the information you include within. Prevent near misses and increase productivity by including information like the name of the machine on the code. Streamlining the use of multiple QR codes on a single machine allows your employees to quickly decipher which code is required, rather than scanning one by one until the correct one pops up.
  • Tagging | Tag your material to increase function and efficiency during maintenance. While this may seem like a no-brainer, many mills simply can’t afford the manhours it takes to tag and list their components. Proper planning and execution will ensure a smooth process and provide the details necessary to make the most of your QR codes. You can even see if your tagging manufacturer offers a turnkey service.


Did we miss something? We’ve seen a lot in our 35+ years of working to protect those in the Paper Industry. That said, we are open to any opportunity to gain another perspective – so, feel free to reach out and teach us something new. Your voice is one we want to hear!


Leo signs off on CONFORMiT Lockout Tagout Software


For 35 years, CONFORMiT has developed and marketed Cloud-Based Software-as-a-Service products to analyze and manage environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks to support sustainability strategies. CONFORMiT’s simple and reliable solutions also promote companies’ and workers’ excellence in occupational health and safety management.  

CONFORMiT enables its clients and their communities to provide a healthy and safe workplace while improving their productivity and profitability to build a more sustainable future.  



Written by Liz Yardley