Printer Applicators Drive Cost Savings and Efficiency

Printer applicators print and apply labels with high-quality bar codes, product identification information or graphics. Image courtesy of Peak Technologies

Benefits Include Labor Reduction, Inventory Control and Accurate Product Tracking and Sorting

By Chris Cocanig, Manager, Enterprise Printing Solutions, Peak Technologies

Wherever there is a label on a food good or product, there is a potential need for printer applicators. These products need to be tracked to their final destination or retail shelves. With bar coding and radio frequency identification (RFID) mandates dictated by major retailers, the decision to use printer applicators over a hand labeling “slap-and-ship” method for high volume or high value items is an easy one, especially when unreadable bar codes or incorrect label placement can result in retailer chargebacks.

What is a printer applicator?

Printer applicators are primarily used to print high-quality bar codes, product identification information, and graphics onto labels and apply the labels directly onto products, packages, or pallets. Printer applicator solutions have repeatedly proven to increase productivity, lower operating costs, provide reliable product identification, and ensure proper label placement. In addition, the effects of printer applicators on day-to-day operations can include other benefits such as labor reduction, inventory control, and more accurate sorting.

Printer applicator solutions have repeatedly proven to increase productivity, lower operating costs, provide reliable product identification, and ensure proper label placement.
Image courtesy of Peak Technologies

Determining the need for a printer applicator

Printer applicators are used mainly for content identification, bulk packaging, and case/pallet labeling. In order to identify if a food manufacturer or distributor would benefit from a printer applicator solution, it is important to look at the number of labels and how those labels are being used in the manufacturing plant or distribution center. Volume is a key factor in the decision to implement printer applicators. For a company that churns out over five to 10 products per minute, printer applicators are a quick and efficient way to print and apply the labels and keep the items moving along the supply chain.

When presented with a scenario where a printer applicator may be the solution, consider the following:

  • What is the food manufacturer or distributor required to do? Do they need to meet specific labeling requirements or radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking  mandates?
  • How does the food manufacturer manage and sort inventory? How much of this process is automated? How much labor are they using to apply labels?
  • How is the food manufacturer moving the products/cartons through the supply chain?
  • What volume of food product is being manufactured or packaged?

Case in point

For a large distributor of books, videos, music and artwork, speed and uptime are crucial to its distribution line. Therefore, when both the United Parcel Service (UPS) and the United States Postal Service (USPS) informed them it needed to rearrange the shipping labels on its boxes, the company looked for a solution that could print and apply labels accurately and at a high speed.

Originally, they had been printing its labels on the sides of the boxes, but in order for the company to receive a significant discount based on shipping volume, its labels needed to be repositioned to the box tops. Efficiency and speed were top priorities when looking at printer applicator options because the company was experiencing bottlenecking on the conveyor line. Printer applicators increased line speed by 15 to 20 percent while reducing downtime and loss of labor.

In another example, for a leading chemical company, accuracy and readability were crucial to its operation. Initially, the company’s UPC labels, being printed onto foam board (a product used under exterior siding), were unreadable and the company’s retail outlets were threatening chargebacks and supplier changes. Further adding to the problem, the company had four plants all applying the labels differently. Ultimately, it needed process uniformity with near perfect label readability.

After careful evaluation of the overall requirements, a custom dual applicator redundant system with bar code verification was the chosen solution. With a redundancy system, the UPC labels are applied, verified by a bar code scanner, and reapplied by a second applicator if the first application is not readable. This company was able to increase its read rates to over 99.8 percent, eliminating the amount of labor required to hand re-label suspect foam boards off-line, and also preventing chargebacks from retailers.

The size, shape, material, and durability of the product or package being labeled typically determine the label application method.
Image courtesy of Peak Technologies

Printer applicator integration

Printer applicator solutions are beneficial in many different environments. A variety of label application methods (such as blow-on, tamp-blow and wipe-on) exist for different types of applications. The size, shape, material, and durability of the product or package being labeled typically determine the label application method.

After determining the need for a printer applicator and selecting the best printer applicator solution, it’s important to figure out the best way to integrate the new solution into the factory environment, either on an existing conveyor or as a total self-contained customized system. Offerings range from piece part (jig fixture) labeling to semi-automatic labeling to custom-designed label applicators that may include RFID.

Tying RFID to printer applicators

RFID printer applicators make smart label printing and encoding easier because of their ability to encode, verify, and print in a single pass through the embedded encoder, reader, and print head components. Essentially, they function like traditional printers to create bar codes, graphics, and text, plus they encode the RFID data onto the paper-thin RFID chip that resides between the paper and adhesive layers of the RFID label. The tag is verified for data accuracy and then printed and dispensed onto an application pad or rejected to a reject mechanism if the data is not accurate, preventing bad tags from being applied.

RFID mandates by major retailers are making some companies rethink the processes they have in place. With the requirement to increase the number of stock keeping units (SKUs), or a rising volume of products that require RFID tags, companies are realizing the costliness involved with applying labels by hand. RFID applicators present a new set of opportunities to increase productivity with increased accuracy, to gain visibility into key information about products that are produced, as well as to obtain the benefits of online, cost-effective encoding, printing and label application.

RFID printer applicators make smart label printing and encoding easier because of their ability to encode, verify, and print in a single pass through the embedded encoder, reader, and print head components. Image courtesy of Peak Technologies

Linking printer applicators to ERP environments

Many companies are also linking printer applicators and RFID printers to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. ERP software technology provides a link to a variety of mission-critical hardware components and allows collection and analysis of valuable data to ensure that crucial resources are deployed where and when they are needed. For example, information provided on the labels gives companies a glimpse at what items are being shipped. An ERP system gathers and analyzes this data so companies can know in real-time how many items are left on the shelf and when it is necessary to restock the products.

For proven, long-term solutions that provide quick return on investment and minimize disruption to current operations, companies should consult with experienced integrators with years of applicator implementation expertise and a high-quality line of applicators. Companies should investigate the systems integrator as well as the applicator company the integration company supports. High quality, well supported hardware can make or break the complete system operation.

About The Author

Chris Cocanig is manager of Enterprise Printing Solutions for Peak Technologies. Based in Oakbrook, Illinois, Chris has over 20 years of experience in the integration of automatic label application systems, laser- and camera-based barcode scanning systems, and general custom product identification systems using barcode and RFID automation solutions in manufacturing and warehouse operations. For more information, visit www.peaktech.com.

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