By Marsha Frydrychowski, director of marketing services, Resource Label Group.
Establishing an efficient labeling system can streamline operations, lower costs over the long run and lead to a more consistent product. When chosen correctly, a versatile label applicator is an investment that will lead to a healthier bottom line.
But it's not always easy to find the right applicator for your operations. Some businesses will require highly application-specific equipment, but for many, the right piece of equipment for applying pressure-sensitive labels can serve as an all-around productivity enhancer, greatly simplifying the process of bringing new products to market while maintaining consistency for your brand.
Label applicators: What they are and how they bring value to your operations
Label applicators are machines for automatically applying pressure-sensitive labels to products. Rolls of labels, which have either been pre-printed or are printed by the applicator directly, are loaded onto the label applicators before being applied to product containers, bottles, packages or drums.
The popularity and heavy presence of label applicators in packaging operations stems from their ability to be customized to a manufacturer's operations, while still remaining flexible enough to be configured to many different types of products and handling systems.
When compared to sleeve, cut-and-stack or mold labels, automated label applicators have the potential to drastically increase productivity and lower operating costs. A well-built, thoughtfully implemented label applicator that's easy to operate, fast and accurate will easily recoup its cost over time, providing return on investment by reducing the need for manual labor while still increasing the rate of output. But it's important to choose the right system in order to realize all of these benefits.
Types of label applicators
Integrated, automated label applicators
These label applicators are directly integrated into your manufacturing operations, another step on the conveyor in your existing product handling system. These turnkey applicators can be set up in-line, where they're automatically placed on a conveyor for labeling, or off-line, where they are manually added.
Semi-automated label applicators
Semi-automated label applicators function via an operator who places a product into a fixture or jig assembly and then applies the label with a foot pedal or a sensor located within the machine. These label applicators often feature a tabletop design for added portability and ease-of-use, but are not usually integrated into a, existing product handling system.
Stand-alone label applicators
Stand-alone label applicators utilize a modular design for maximum versatility. They can be integrated into existing, third-party product handling systems and may include a portable head mount. They may also be installed directly onto a conveyor or another machine.
Choosing the right label applicator
Now that your familiar with some of your options when it comes to label applicators, it's important to know which factors from your own label design should be most prominent when evaluating which one is the right choice for your operations. Of course, and labeling solution must first-and-foremost be cost-effective. That means the equipment must perform at the necessary application speed, reduce labor costs and earn back its value over time.
But beyond those concerns, there are certain technical requirements that must be considered when selecting a label applicator. Some of those concerns include:
- Product surface- It's important to make sure the label applicator can handle the shape of your packaging, whether that's flat, concave, convex or some other, more irregular shape.
- Label sizes- In addition to shape, a label applicators length and width minimums and maximums must be able to account for your specific label dimensions.
- Label location capability- Once you've verified that a label applicator can accommodate the shape and dimensions of your brand's label, confirm it's capable of reaching the correct surface of the product's packaging, whether that be the top, bottom, side or some combination of those.
- Material compatibility- Your label applicator needs to work well with the material you've chosen to print your labels on, whether that's paper, film, foil or some other material.
- Application rate- You need a label applicator that can keep up with your business. Application speeds, measured in products per minute, should conform to your present rates or offer an opportunity for improvement, provided accuracy isn't sacrificed.
- Accuracy requirements- Perhaps most importantly of all, a label applicator cannot come at the cost of accuracy. Continuously misplaced labels have the potential to reflect poorly on a brand and can even negate some of the production gains made by streamlining labeling operations.
Modernizing the labeling leg of your product handling procedure has the potential to deliver serious results for your business. But it's often not a matter of selecting an off-the-shelf label applicator and forcing it into your product line. There are a lot of factors to consider and the right product should be supplemented by the advice of an experienced professional. But when the right product and expertise meet, label applicators have the power to deliver real return on investment for brands.
About the author
Marsha Frydrychowski has more than 15 years of experience working with consumer packaged goods companies in marketing, packaging and branding. She leads marketing efforts for Resource Label Group, a leading full-service label manufacturer with locations throughout the US and in Canada.