Labelers: Most packaging lines feature one or more, and everyone wants to know whether they have the right kind. Determining that suitability takes careful planning. Here is a checklist:
1. Apply due diligence.
Because there are so many types of labeling machines, it is essential to do your research and determine your needs, specifically based on the type of labeling and the volume of output. Other considerations include label placement, label design, and the type and amount of variable data to be placed on the label. Compare your answers to the latest available manufacturer specification sheets, sales team responses, and feedback from industry colleagues who might have already put such machines to the test.
2. Gauge flexibility of equipment for other applications.
Don’t assume you’re developing requirements just for this particular package. Marketing may come knocking a year later with a request to go to a different package size. All your assumptions in the beginning are no longer valid; suddenly, your equipment has limited capabilities. Always think about what’s coming next.
3. Look for robust machine design.
Machine design should be robust and facilitate fast changeover. If adjustments are too sensitive, it will take too much time to dial in the proper settings. Look at ease of material change and downtime, splice capability, and waste web. The capability to detect missing labels is important. With large labeling systems, specify adhesion specifications in terms of a pull test. Placement tolerances on your product or package may be key to whether a labeler performs well or not. Also look for these qualities: overall hygienic design, easy to clean and maintain, and easy access for operators and maintenance personnel.
4. Determine with your supplier the correct label sensor to use.
Traditional photoelectric label sensors cannot detect the edge of clear labels, and an alternative technology is required, such as capacitive or ultrasonic sensors. Artwork can also mess up the ability of a particular sensor to detect the edge of the label. Have a discussion now about the best type of sensor to use for your application, and whether others may be required for future label constructions.
5. Set speed requirements.
Take into account throughput (nominal, jog, surge), as well as the conveyor speed through the labeling area. Devise two speed requirements: one required to produce enough product for the initial launch, and one for ongoing production. Make sure the labeler speed for normal everyday operation will be 15% to 20% lower than the maximum speed of the equipment, to avoid extra wear and tear. Also, build in excess capacity (15% is a rule of thumb) for future growth. The speed of the label sensor should be considered separately.
6. Compare apples to apples.
When initially canvassing vendors, don’t eliminate a machine right away based on cost before you know what that includes. One manufacturer’s price may include all aftermarket service, another’s may not. Also, don’t automatically choose the lowest-cost machine, because you may pay an additional price later on in reliability.
7. Insist on follow-up training.
It’s common to train operators and mechanics when the equipment is installed. But it’s critical to schedule follow-up training, either to reinforce certain things after the equipment has been running for a time or to address issues that have cropped up. Be sure to specify this follow-up training as part of your vendor requirements.
8. Arrive at a spare-parts strategy.
Make sure to identify common wear parts and stock them in-house. Examine wear components for continuous improvement programs. For labeling machines, that typically includes belts, sensors, and air cylinders.