The Digital Age of Labeling

By Lee Patty, Vice President & General Manager at NiceLabel Americas

Labeling has come a long way from its humble beginnings, when labels were still hand painted or created using lithography. Since then, we have seen countless advancements like the self-adhesive label in the 1930s, laser printing in the 1960s, thermal printing in the 1970s, and of course, inkjet printers in the 1980s that revolutionized the industry. And though these advancements have made label printing more cost-effective, quick and easy, we are now at another step in the evolution of labeling where new challenges of the digital age must be addressed for companies to compete. In an increasingly connected world, where high-quality products must be delivered faster and to more markets, it has never been more critical for every company to make the labeling process more effective.

A Landscape Fraught With Challenges

Today, labels are considered a business-critical process widely used across extended supply chains. They’re essential in a multitude of industries, from food and beverage to pharmaceutical, retail and more. But until recently, the process was complex, expensive and simply not feasible for many, if not most, small to mid-sized businesses. Now, the process is more democratized.

Labeling is also data intensive, quality sensitive and thoroughly regulated. And while there are unique challenges for every industry, everyone faces the challenge of ensuring their labels are compliant and their revision history is transparent, both domestically and internationally. Meeting these requirements in today’s age requires ensuring that labeling is aligned between suppliers, sites and locations with centralized visibility and control. And as one can imagine, assuring quality, accuracy and productivity in an environment with countless stakeholders and label variations can be overwhelming.

A Cloud-Based Solution

Though the challenges involved may seem daunting, they can be overcome with the right solution. Digitally transforming the labeling process, for example, can eliminate the chance for human error – significantly reducing IT costs, promoting end-to-end operational efficiency, increasing consistency and scalability, and centralizing and streamlining quality assurance.

Going one step further, cloud-based capabilities can democratize labeling by making it affordable and feasible for companies of all sizes, not just large enterprises. SaaS solutions also enable companies to store label templates in a central location. Therefore, changes and updates are logged automatically, making it easier to send label designs and information across an entire supply chain (including factories, distribution centers, retail stores, or even to suppliers) with assurance that labels will be correct and current.

A cloud-based label management system is also more traceable and secure. This can enable multiple tiers of role-based security so only people with the right access can amend data or label templates. It can also provide an extensive audit trail, detailing when and where changes were made and labels were printed, as well as the people behind those activities. This ability to track assets can be a critical success factor for meeting compliance in regulated industries.

Use Cases for the Cloud

One example where a cloud-based system is particularly important is in allergen and food labeling. When it comes to food safety, the consequences of getting a label wrong are too high to chance. In this case, a cloud-based labeling solution could eliminate the need for human intervention, ensuring greater compliance, traceability and accuracy. Additionally, compliance can be easier to maintain as access rights can be limited to those authorized to design and approve labels, reducing mistakes and unintended errors. This brings risk down and lowers costs in an environment where one small mistake can endanger countless consumer lives or result in a costly recall.

Another scenario where correct labeling is essential is in the apparel or garment industry. In these businesses, it’s vital to get merchandise to a destination as quickly as possible, especially when online competitors are shipping at increasingly fast speeds. Before digitalization, a retailer would have had to wait weeks for a bureau to provide tickets and tags. However, with a centralized database information can be found easily and efficiently, and labels can be printed quickly and accurately either at a distribution center or in-store when re-tagging or re-ticketing is needed.

A New, Digital Age

A cloud-based label management system provides businesses of all sizes with the ability to keep centralized control of their labeling while eliminating time delays and bottlenecks, minimizing errors, and improving traceability and accuracy.

With digitalization bringing improved systems at a cheaper, more accessible price, we are experiencing a watershed moment in labeling. And with improved logistics processes and technology, consumers now have higher standards for speed and quality of delivery. Label accuracy and compliance are critical for safety and success, so having a streamlined and agile process for labeling is essential to not only survive but thrive in the business landscape of today and tomorrow.

About the Author:

Lee Patty is vice president and general manager at NiceLabel Americas. Prior to NiceLabel, he co-founded Niceware International, LLC, a NiceLabel distributor, where he was responsible for marketing, healthcare product development and professional services. NiceLabel acquired Niceware in 2013, adding him to the global executive team. Patty has over 20 years of AIDC industry experience.