Label Print & Apply (LPA): Intelligent Systems Improve Productivity

Friday, March 19th, 2021

Products that are bundled, boxed and ready to begin their journey along the retail supply chain require an identifier. A box of product without this will not get very far, and will certainly not reach its intended destination with any form of ease, therefore a label detailing its contents is necessary. In order to achieve this, LPA systems print and apply labels to outer cases as they roll off the production line.

Today, consumer demand for choice has led to many variations of products being required. This has fuelled the need for nimble, flexible LPA systems that can be adapted quickly and efficiently where many fast changeovers are required.

The regulatory landscape, too, has been an important driver in improved technologies around LPA. Food safety concerns are a high priority across the board and regulations require products to be labelled with accurate, readable codes. This enables batches to be isolated should a fast product recall be required and could significantly reduce the negative impact of that recall if the company in question can demonstrate the ability to identify and remove unsafe product straight away.

The obvious choice

There are two main ways to print labels onto outer cases. One is via a process called flexography, which is the printing of the entire outer case before it is filled. While this is a reliable process, there are obvious drawbacks in modern manufacturing operations in that it requires that manufacturers hold enormous quantities of stock for each SKU produced. Every time a product changeover is effected, the packaging will also need to be changed at the same time, making the process more time consuming. This downtime leads to loss of operational time, which will inevitably affect profitability.

With an LPA system there is no such issue, as the label itself can be changed with very little input from operators. Intuitive systems enable new information to be added with little or no chance of error, meaning a changeover can be carried out on-the-line. This in turn negates the need to carry an inventory of packaging for the various SKUs and the associated storage and downtime expenses.


Addressing common challenges

Misapplied labels, label jams, wrinkled labels and the need for constant mechanical adjustment of labelling equipment are common issues manufacturers face.

In order to maintain maximum uptime, which can be detrimentally affected by these issues, systems such as the 9550 Print & Apply Labeler have been developed to alleviate those issues with minimal operator involvement. For example, Intelligent Motion direct drive can enable label speed and position to be controlled without clutches, rollers or adjustments, and a simplified web path means label changes can take place in less than 60 seconds.

Tension can also be automatically adjusted via an electronic supply reel, which maintains the correct tension irrespective of speed and label size from the start to the end of each reel. Printhead pressure is automatically regulated to ensure optimum quality and maximum printhead life, while labels are applied using a simple, single roller wipe action to wrap case corners, removing unnecessary complexity and time from the process.


Uptime is critical

Uptime is highly critical and manufacturers may want to look at three areas of interest when looking to purchase an LPA system.

The first is design. A well designed LPA system should eliminate mechanical adjustments, wear parts, and any failure points that cause everyday operational problems, such as label jams. Through automatic and precise mechanical control, it is possible to eliminate downtime issues commonly associated with labeling systems, and the ability to design these features into a labeler comes with many years’ experience. For example, plant air is a common cause of misapplied labels, as are tamp applicators. Through direct apply advancements and the removal of plant air from the process, design has helped to improve uptime levels for many manufacturers.

Secondly we must look at technology. Code Assurance™, reduces operator error with intuitive touchscreen interface, while Intelligent Motion technology reduces the top five causes of downtime (label, web, ribbon jams, mechanical failures & adjustments), improving end-of-line efficiencies. By also eliminating more than 80 percent of wear parts, there is no need for constant ongoing maintenance.

Finally, there is usability. The focus of any manufacturing operation should be on production, not the printers tasked with applying labels to outer cases. As such, it is important to know that the systems installed to undertake a specific job will do so without issue and with the minimum amount of interaction by human hands. The aforementioned advances in technology will allow this to become a reality, ensuring that what is delivered from a labeling system are three of the most important manufacturing must-haves – accuracy, reliability and efficiency.

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