Manufacturers of label application equipment provide brand owners – and converters – with machinery built for speed and efficiency.
By Steve Katz
In each issue of L&NW, readers can find a wealth of information on the labeling industry. Featured stories cover everything from the latest marketplace trends to the most recent developments in label printing technology. Machinery and the advantages they offer converters is often a theme, as is coverage of the converting trends of the day.
A great deal takes place from the moment a brand and converter conceptualize a label to the time a consumer selects a product off the shelf. There are the marketing strategies the brand will employ on the label itself, the entire converting process, and the container that holds the product – the item the label will eventually adhere to. And the adherence of the label to the container is perhaps an overlooked step, but it is indeed an important one. A label’s value, and a product’s attractiveness, certainly decreases when a label is applied incorrectly. And both brand owners and converters would not be pleased if the hard work they put it into the job is for naught due to careless, ineffective and inefficient application.
The simplest applicator, and also the first, could be considered a pair of human hands. This machine can carefully and meticulously get the job done. Of course, questions about the practicality and efficiency of the human labeler arise. So, to meet the needs of the labeling community, manufacturers develop and market machinery designed for the specific task of label application. Below you’ll find information about a variety of product offerings from label applicator manufacturers.
Weber Marking Systems
Weber Marking Systems, Arlington Heights, IL, USA, is a manufacturer of applicators, and also a full-service label converter. Serving dual purposes to the label industry provides the company with a unique perspective on the applicator market.
Mike Soloway, labeling systems manager, says, “Since Weber is a major converter of pressure sensitive labels, we get a chance to see an extremely wide range of label application requirements throughout the industry. In fact, it’s that experience that has driven the creation of our line of label applicators. As a result, we provide PS label applicators that address both simple and complex labeling needs. For example, we offer a number of standard label applicators that can apply labels to the tops or bottoms of cases, packages or products as they are delivered to the systems via conveyor,” he says.
For more complex, higher-speed labeling, Weber’s Tronics Series 3 label applicator features the flexibility to be set up to label the front and/or back of products, tops and/or bottoms, plus, it can apply wrap-around labels. In addition, Weber also manufactures a selection of label printer-applicators, systems that combine both the printing of variable information on labels with the actual application.
Soloway says the principal advantages the machinery provides the user is accurate label placement and improved productivity for virtually any labeling operation. “Our standard label applicators can fit into almost any packaging line that’s conveyor-fed. The labeling machinery is simply positioned through the use of an adjustable stand, or it can be mounted directly to the conveyor line itself,” he says.
The company’s high-speed Tronics systems can be integrated into an existing conveyor-fed arrangement, or its built-in conveyor can be used as a stand-alone labeling system. “This system also has the flexibility to address numerous labeling needs and label configurations,” says Soloway, adding, “The addition of any type of automatic label applicator will improve productivity, particularly if it replaces a formerly manual operation.”
Soloway points out that as PS labels continue to become more and more popular for all sorts of labeling, applicator technology has focused on higher and higher labeling speeds coupled with pinpoint accuracy. “In addition, companies are very interested in fully-integrated labeling systems that could include conveyors, bar code or RFID scanners, label verification equipment, plus associated software. Weber is able to provide virtually any component that might be required of a particular labeling operation,” he says.
There are challenges in the application stage of production that can arise – and it’s often due to how the products are handled. “One of the challenges we run across on a regular basis is inconsistent product handling, which makes it very difficult to provide accurate label placement. As a result, we try to overcome that challenge by recommending a label applicator system that includes a conveyor, rails and other handling equipment that can provide a consistently-positioned product for label application,” Soloway says. “Higher product throughput, sometimes with random-sized products to be labeled, is another consideration today. We address those instances by offering labeling systems with variable-stroke applicators and – again – customized product-handling solutions.”
Weber’s labeling equipment can handle a wide range of label sizes, shapes and constructions – including both paper and film label materials. The company also provides direct service and technical support to ensure its systems operate at peak efficiency.
LabelPack Automation, headquartered in Bradford, PA, USA, manufactures a full line of label applicators, including semi-automatic and fully automatic machines for both pre-printed and thermal transfer labels. Jerry Dawson, sales engineer, says “the semi-automatic labelers are typically tabletop machines with which an operator loads each product one-at-a-time, while fully automatic labelers are typically inline with other packaging equipment, so no manual product handling is necessary.”
Like most label applicator manufacturers, LabelPack has a standard line of applicators for bottles and boxes, however, LabelPack offers custom-designed applications where an off-the-shelf labeler won't do the job. Some examples of custom labelers they've built have been for labeling beer kegs, car windows, makeup compacts, applying internal membranes to air bag deployment tubes, transferring labels onto new webs, bundling rods, and wrapping tapered products.
There are three reasons to use a machine to apply your labels, says Dawson, one being to get consistency of appearance of your labels on the store shelf. “If you want a professional product presentation, consistent label placement is essential; you need a machine.”
Labelers also reduce costs, he says. “A labeler is a one-time purchase that replaces ongoing labor expense for hand labeling. Also, your volume is so high that you have little choice in the matter. People can label only so fast – maybe 30 labels per minute for an hour or so, but a machine can apply well over 100 labels per minute, and do so indefinitely,” Dawson says.
A big challenge to today’s automatic labeling is the increasing variety of packages that run on a single line. “The best way for a company to minimize problems with this is to provide samples of every potential product to the labeler manufacturer. Because LabelPack emphasizes custom design, we start with the products and design the machine around them, while other manufacturers are more likely to start with a standard machine and modify it as necessary to accommodate additional products. Either way, the manufacturer needs product samples up front to work with,” he says.
Dawson points out that another challenge today is thinner-walled bottles that do not present a decent surface to apply a label. He says, “Companies should emphasize their need for a good labeling surface to prospective bottle suppliers and ask for samples. If you can’t lay a straight edge along the label panel without gaps underneath, you can expect labeling problems. No machine can overcome that. The solution here is with the bottle manufacturing. Label-friendly bottles are easy to make but are not the cheapest bottles you can buy.”
LabelPack works with label companies to jointly sell labelers to their customers. This is one way for a label company to bring additional value to their high-volume customers and not give them a reason to speak with their competition.
Label Mill, Savana, IL, USA, offers semi-automatic and fully automatic label applicators and printer applicators. “These solutions cover applications from primary product labeling to case level and pallet level labeling. Today about 40 percent of our machines are customized to meet a customer’s specific application or request,” says Rob Wienhoff, director.
“All of our systems are truly modular. If you look at the industry, and almost all the brands offered in the market today, our competitors all carry a large number of models. Typically each model is unique to an application or methodology used to apply the media. Label Mill has designed its platform of labeling systems to meet all of today’s needs with only four models of labeling systems – two entry level and two high end platforms. Within each platform our systems are truly modular allowing us to meet almost any application within our standard machines.
Weinhoff says that these days he’s noticing more systems in contract packaging applications. “These applications are rapidly changing from day to day or run to run. A contract packaging facility never knows what items will be run next requiring them to be highly flexible. Label Mill excels in this environment due to our design approach and overall philosophy in achieving an application. This results in greater freedom for our customer.”
One of Label Mill’s top sellers is its LM#1510 model, one that Weinhoff says is one of the fastest applicators on the market. “The LM#1510’s high-speed servo motor drive outperforms stepper and clutch/brake applicators in speed, accuracy and dependability. With up to 1,500 linear inches per minute and depending on label and product size, approximately 250 labels per minute, the LM#1510 has features normally only found on high-end custom systems.”
Label Mill’s applicators are made in the US and Weinhoff says are built for quality like no other machines on the market. “You can look at a Label Mill applicator and see the solid, heavy-duty industrial design,” Wienhoff adds.
KarlvilleKarlville Development Group, Miami, FL, USA, develops and manufactures both shrink sleeve converting as well as application equipment. For application, the company features its SleevePro 600. Maria Caparroso, sales representative, says that one of the machine’s advantages is its versatility, because the labels can be applied to different types and sizes of bottles by adjusting only the heat levels in the shrink tunnel. She points out that successfully applying these labels is a collaborative effort. “On the technical side, it is important to work closely with the machine manufacturer and the label provider and perform shrink tests before making a purchase decision. This is very important because applying the label is one thing, but getting a perfect shrink is another,” she says.
“Some of the most significant features of the SleevePro 600 are its six-blade rotary cut for quick and precise cutting, its start/stop technology, its bullet technology, and its servo driven cutting block and label shooting. It is possible to perform maintenance remotely via IP. It comes with enhanced fault detection and easy troubleshooting, as well as an enhanced motion control that decreases mechanical wear,” says Caparasso, who adds that the best thing about the machine is that the cost of spare parts is low compared to other machines in the industry.
The machine’s performance is 600 bottles per minute with a speed change integrated to full line. It operates quietly and with a changeover of less than 15 minutes.
The Sleeve Pro 600, offers complete integration with the filling line, minimizes operator intervention, and has a system to recall past work. The machine was developed with a high performance tension control system that allows up to 600 pieces applied per minute.
“When developing this specific machine, Karlville wanted to bring to the market a machine that was able to enter high end production lines,” she says.
Shrink sleeves have been growing in popularity in recent years, as they offer brand owners a label with a 360 degree view of graphics and information. And these labels need applicators, too. However, due to the inherent nature of shrink labels, the application machinery is different from its conventional counterparts.
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