This is a question that we often hear, and it is understandable that customers would ask such a thing. The problem is that there is no single answer. Rather, we have to answer this question with a number of our own questions.
From one operation to the next, labeling requirements vary greatly, and these requirements can cause major differences in the time needed to label.
A complex or large label is one thing that can impact the labeling process. Printers can only produce labels so fast at their current level. The preprinted route for labels can help out a lot in this scenario. If all of the labels are going to be roughly the same format, you can have them premade onto a roll of labels. You can still print dates and weights onto those preprinted labels if the machine is set up correctly, and the print time is greatly reduced.
The next big thing is the type of labeling and quantity of labels needed per item. Many packages are labeled on the top and bottom, which can go relatively quickly with tamping and wipe-on labelers; but what if you need to label the front or back of the box?
For back and front labels, a swing arm applicator is really the only viable method. These tend to take a lot more time and space than a tamping piston would. First of all, they need to have room between products to be able to swing out. Second, the action of their application simply takes more movement than the top and bottom labels. A tamping piston takes just a second to apply and release the label. The arm needs to rotate from the side of the conveyor, apply the label, and return to its original position before being ready again.
Corner-wrap labels are even more complex and take more time. The box is pushed into an arm that applies the label in part on the front. As the box or case moves forward, the applicator pivots around the corner of the box and pushes the remainder of the label onto the side. Products requiring this sort of finesse will take even longer as a rule of thumb.
Speed is regularly impacted by the size of your product and number of labels required. If a box has multiple labels, the system might need to run slower to make sure that they are all being placed accurately. Box size could limit the operation speed just because a heavy box might require the conveyor to move at a slower pace to reduce system stress.
There are a lot of questions to be exchanged when designing an automatic labeling system, but the benefit is worth it.
The simple answer to this question is “yes,” but there are dangers that come along with forcing different systems and software together.
We run into this problem very regularly with automatic box labeling because customers understandably have their own software and databases. This is most often old 3rd party software which has been used for some time in the plant, possibly even before automatic labeling was used.
There can be a number of problems with software like this. If it was made pre-automatic labeling, it is probably missing out on a lot of features that get the most out of automatic labeling. If it is 3rd party, it could have been created by programmers who have never been anywhere close to an environment like yours. With no personal experience in a plant where labeling is actually occurring, they probably don’t have the understanding to provide you with what you need.
When asked to interface or share the work with proprietary software for labeling, we try to shy away because, in reality, this can actually hinder the labeling process.
Here is a regular example of how this workflow goes when we are requested to integrate software together. Most quality automatic box labeling scenarios involve a pre-identification scanner. This tells you what the product in the box is and any important data that needs to accompany it on the label. Normally, we would just cross-reference that product with data stored in our labeling machine’s database, but proprietary software often throws extra steps into the works.
With other software, we are often required to query a separate database for that product data after scanning the product for its PLU number. Adding this step adds communication time, but it also runs the risk of data loss and down time.
If your facility encounters any sort of network problems, the labeling system might be unable to get the appropriate data from the customer database, meaning that labels couldn’t be applied with the correct data. This system would effectively be down for the count when a network goes down.
With our system and software, the process can be contained to that unit, so as long as the labeler’s database is updated whenever PLU information is changed, it can run regardless of network troubles because it has a drive which can store information until the network is again active.
Using our software greatly simplifies the process and keeps the labeler running even when your network drops out on you
, and we can work with you to get the information that you need.
Throughput is obviously one of the most important things in modern industry. Supply has to meet demands, so it is important that choke points are efficiently taken care of. Labeling can be one of those areas because of speed limitations.
Because of printer limits and depending on label complexity, there will likely be a maximum throughput attainable with a given print & apply system. If that doesn’t necessarily meet the standard you have for throughput, there are ways to get around that.
One of the best solutions to this problem is using a combination of multiple labeling systems on the same production line. To see how this helps, let’s look at an example of a line with one labeler first.
Once you have the automatic labeling system set up, you run it and it seems to label your products with ease. Eventually, you see the need to increase your throughput and turn up your conveyor speed. You start noticing misplaced and missing labels on your packages. Why is this?
This is hypothetical because many labeling systems would stop or throw off an error to indicate that it can’t keep up, but the fact is that the printer doesn’t necessarily increase in speed to match up with the rest of the system. Once it reaches its maximum output for that label, it might seem like there is nothing you can do besides simplify the label design, but there are more options.
If you have multiple print and apply systems on one line, the solution is rather easy. When one machine can’t keep up, you can simply use the multiple labeling systems in an alternating fashion so that the print times can overlap. While one machine is printing out the next label, another one can be applying which can greatly increase throughput.
All the systems run through a single controller which will tell each system to print and apply at the appropriate time based on photo-eye triggering or encoding for proper timing.
The throughput can greatly benefit from this. Conversely, it also adds the ability to apply multiple labels to a single side of the box which is nearly impossible for a single labeler.
If you can’t get enough speed out of your current labeling setup, rest assured that there is probably a way that we could help you with your throughput problems.
The answer to this question is dependent on several factors. You must consider whether you are doing print and apply or application of preprinted labels and characteristics such as the size of the boxes and the applicable belt transfer speed. Obviously, you can apply more labels per minute on smaller boxes than larger boxes based on area and distance requirements.
The type and model of equipment utilized can be a driving factor on the number of boxes labeled over time. For example, one of the models we utilize, proclaims the fastest dispense speed in the industry. With a dispense speed of up to 3900 inches per minute, several labels can be applied in a moment of time. Keep in mind, when an information exchange is required, such as weight and product identification to be placed on the label, the label application time will be affected and the functional belt speed is adjusted as necessary.
The method of application is also a major factor in determining the “label per minute” ratio. You could have a requirement for a corner wrap-around label or simply a side tamp, top tamp, or blow on affixing method. The blow on method uses a puff of air pressure to direct the label onto the package. The action and reaction time will vary with the application method. Direct roll on application of pre printed labels as a box passes will provide for the greatest number of labeled boxes per minute possible.
Regardless of method, an adherence brush is often placed in line with the label application. The intent is for applied pressure from the brush to ensure that the label is affixed well and stays put.
Often, manual box labeling is the method of choice where volume and speed is not relevant to daily operations. This type of box labeling is of course dependent on people as well as the equipment. Often, a box weight is associated with a print and apply label. An individual places a box on the scale, and when the weight settles, the print button is pressed, and a respective label is output and applied by the individual. Here again, time is required for print action and application. A comfortable average for medium size 10 lb boxes could be 5 to 7 per minute based on operations and abilities of the individuals tasked with the responsibility.
As you can understand, the number of actions and interaction desired or required for a label system will determine the through
–put or number of boxes labeled.
One question that frequently comes up when we begin consulting with a customer for a labeling project is some variation of, “what is the highest number of boxes you can label per hour?”
It’s a question that suggests there is a clear, simple answer. There is not. In actuality, the answer to the speed question is that it depends on both label factors and operational factors.
Some label factors are:
- Placement location
- Amount of printed information
Two operational factors are:
- Does the line stop for label stock changes?
- Where is the database and who controls it?
In general, smaller labels are faster than larger ones, placement on one side takes less time than a corner wrap that places a label on two sides, and printing more information on each label requires more time than printing only a little information or applying pre-printed labels.
In the same manner, if your operation has back
–up labeling equipment on the line that allows you to seamlessly switch over when one machine is out of labels, then your system will be able to label more boxes per hour than if you have to stop a line to replenish label stock.
Another operational factor has to do with your database. When our customers have asked us to supply a labeling system that captures gross weight information in-motion and then send that information to a remote database that is supplied or maintained by an outside software company, things get complicated and labeling speed throughput is compromised.
For maximum speed and throughput, it is best to have a stand-alone system with the database, or a copy of the database, stored in the controller we supply. In that way, net weight calculations, label format selections, and printing responsibility is clear and fast. Trouble
–shooting is also straightforward.
From there, our controller can communicate production information via your network. Database updates and label format changes can be efficiently managed and communicated to our controller.