As a company begins to grow it is important to address the potential for automation on all packaging methods to ensure you are taking the best approach on every level. This includes making and taping boxes, stretch wrapping boxes on a pallet and applying labels to the boxes and/or pallets. Automating some or all of these processes will absolutely optimize your efficiency, and often the last of these processes to get automated is labeling.
Labels come in different shapes and sizes. The most common for end of line or secondary packaging is a 4”x6”, or if corner-wrapped to a box or pallet a 4”x13”. These label sizes provide sufficient space to print information from alphanumeric characters, packed weights, and various types of barcodes, along with lot and date codes.
Labeling on a box or on a wrapped pallet can be applied either by apply only or print & apply labeling systems. The only difference is where the label gets printed.
A apply only does just what it sounds. A label is pre-printed in a label room or somewhere off the production line/floor, wound on a roll, then threaded on a mechanical labeler. As the box or pallet passes by a photo eye, it triggers the label to be applied to the item while in motion. The advantage of this method is the label is already printed and the only adjustment required is fine-tuning the location on the box or pallet on which to place the label. Due to these labeler’s simplicity, they are typically less expensive than print & apply (due to less wear items) and some models do not require pneumatic air.
A print & apply actually prints the label on-demand as the photo eye is triggered. An operator threads a roll of blank labels (as compared to pre-printed labels mentioned above) and then either on the line or off the production line/floor, someone sends a print job directly to the printer (just like printing an email). As the box or pallet passes the photo eye, the label prints the information and applies it directly to the box or pallet. The biggest advantages to this method of labeling are minimizing waste and including real-time information (time/date and/or actual packed weights). Since these labels are printed on demand, should the job get canceled or get suspended before completing the current print job, someone can cancel the printing and re-use the blank labels at another time or on the next order. This is especially beneficial if the information on the labels is time and/or date sensitive.
Since both methods of automated labeling require constant forward motion, it is beneficial to have a fixed or variable speed powered belted conveyor integrated with these units. An integrated conveyor provides stability should someone or something bump into the labeler. Being one unit keeps the equipment aligned with the specific location of applying the label on the box. It also minimizes vibration created by the conveyor and the labeler during the labeling process. .
The rule of thumb on a 12 month ROI on any of these machines starts at 500 labels being applied to the top or side of a box. The print and apply side apply starts around 1000 boxes or pallets being printed. The front or corn-wrap orientation labelers start with 1500 labels a day.