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How to save on labelling consumables

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Labelling consumables can be a hidden, yet significant cost when it comes to printing, but there are smart ways to save. Jamie Wade writes for Packaging.

It’s a challenge all packaging manufacturers face: how to save money on labelling consumables without compromising quality.

At a fundamental level, says Julian Duxberry of Codeway , “Don’t order too much.”

“Keep about three months worth of consumables in a cool dry place - not the hot factory floor.”

insignia product manager - variable information printing Brad Jeavons says if manufacturers need to label a variety of products, and currently purchase and hold inventory of pre-printed prime labels for these products, they could look to a standard overprint label to run through a Datamax high resolution label printer.

“This would reduce the inventory of labels to as little as one label, increase the manufacturer’s purchase volumes for this label, reduce costs through larger purchase quantities, and reduce the number of printing plates and costs in art design the manufacturer would have to pay if they were to stay with pre-printed labels,” Jeavons told Packaging.

“With a Datamax high resolution label printing system all changes can be made on a smart simple-to-use labelling software known as Bartender by the manufacturer, saving time and the costs of multiple plates and art designs.

Maintenance and service

The key maintenance and service factors to consider in labelling equipment, says Jeavons, are cleaning of the printhead and platen roller using ISO Propyl Alcohol.

“This should be done after every roll of ribbon when using thermal transfer labels or after each roll of labels when using thermal direct labels. It is also a good idea to weekly clean out any dust inside the printer,” he said.

“The Datamax range of label printers are designed with minimal parts, and are very simple to maintain mechanically.

“If a user was to perform the above functions of in-house cleaning they would not necessarily require any further scheduled maintenance. Preventative maintenance programs are also available.”

Duxberry says most problems occur at label/ribbon loading.

He says the operator is the most important person in the applicator selection in loading the equipment and conducting frontline maintenance.

“Every operator needs a loading cart, or one should be available at the machine,” he said.

“At label loading, a test print must be produced by the operator to prove the machine is in running mode.

“An alert system is required, so operators have adequate warning before replenishment of consumables is required; loading in a panic causes problems.”

The best maintenance, says Duxberry, is preventative maintenance. Thoroughly cleaning an applicator weekly will do more to maintain uptime than anything else.

Jeavons agrees and adds that servicing and other special considerations should include site location, type of servicing i.e. on site by supplier technicians, or managed internally by in-house maintenance staff.

“Look at where the environment printers will be located and decide if this is a harsh environment which may require a higher level of servicing, or a clean environment which may not require such a high level of support,” Jeavons said.

Before buying a printer…

Buying a label printer can be a big cost let alone the lifetime cost of consumables.

Jeavons says it’s important to start with the end result - the label.

Some questions to answer include: how many labels are printed daily? How big are the labels? What is the label quality? Is the material Thermal Direct, or Thermal Transfer? How would the customer like this label to be presented?

“After thinking about the end result being the label look at the features and options needed on the printer to allow production for this label,” Jeavons said.

“Things to consider include print resolution, print speed, printer memory, thermal transfer assembly for ribbon, internal rewinder to rewind labels, and peel and present assembly to allow the machine to operate in peel and present mode.”

Another key factor, says Jeavons, is communications.

“How would you like to communicate from software to the printer i.e. Ethernet, RF Ethernet, USB, serial, parallel?”

“Is label design software needed? Will this software be linked to a Database, or integrated with ERP or WHMS software? Will the labels be loaded on a network for access by multiple computers, or just stand alone on one PC?

Also think about the information required on the label.

“You may need to print a serial number for traceability or SSCC pallet labelling, or enter additional data into the label at the time of printing such as batch numbers which programs such as Bartender can simply and smartly facilitate.”

Duxberry offers five key factors to consider before buying an automatic print and apply label applicator. “These devices should have a life more than seven years,” he said.

“We have plenty running that are well over 12 years old.

“The key issue relates around the operator. Operators change, need training, get tired, forget things et cetera. That’s why the MECTEC engines are superior - they’re the easiest to clean and maintain, far easier than Zebra and Sato engines for example.”

Maintenance on-line, says Duxberry, is impossible with SATO and Zebra engines, but very easy for MECTEC engines.

“There’s a big open jaw to clean the head, no electronics in head, and it’s all in a controller box. It’s a totally modular system with easy changeover of labelling head if required,” he said.

“For larger systems with pallets and drums, invest in cabinets. Over 10 years, the cost is nothing compared to the savings and benefits in keeping the equipment clean.”

Provision for a good supply of clean dry air is important, as well as protection of mains supply and opto isolated digital interfaces to PLCs.

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