Welcome to Package This 201 — your guide to packaging machinery & materials, produced by the Emerging Brands Alliance in conjunction with Packaging World and PMMI – the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.
Today’s episode covers packaging equipment for labeling. The most common type of labeling machines are Pressure-Sensitive Labelers, which apply labels with an adhesive backing to containers, bags, or shipping cases.
Pressure-sensitive labelers fall into two broad buckets—pressure-sensitive label applicators, which apply preprinted labels from a roll or stack of labels, and pressure-sensitive printer/applicators, which are sometimes referred to as print-and-apply labelers. As the name suggests, pressure-sensitive printer/applicators print label information and graphics onto blank labelstock before applying the labels.
In this example of a pressure-sensitive label applicator from EPI, a ProMach product brand, you can see how various sizes and shapes of containers, like clamshells and bottles, are fed through a conveyor that is servo synchronized with the labeling head. The peel blade removes the label from the label liner and applies it with pressure, ensuring it is affixed to the item. MFlex systems from EPI can handle a wide range of round and non-round products, even in harsh environments.
Another common type of labeling machine is the Pressure-sensitive Label Printer/Applicator, also known as print-and-apply labeling systems. Printer/applicators combine the functions of label printing and dispensing into a single machine, and can be used in a wide variety of applications – from barcode label printing, to warning labels, or shipping information.
In this print-and-apply system from ID Technology, a ProMach product brand, shipping cases are conveyed through the labeling area, where one or two labels are printed and then applied to the package by a CarbonFlex™ carbon-fiber servo applicator.
The CarbonFlex system safely and accurately applies the labels to cases or shrink-wrapped trays, even when the product handling is imperfect – making it ideal for many real-world scenarios.
A printer/applicator can be used in a wide range of applications, from printing barcodes and batch/lot numbers on cases or cartons to printing codes for pallets. Pressure-sensitive labelers are often used for labeling primary packages such as bottles, jars, and more. When printing hundreds of thousands of labels, or even a smaller volume of mixed labels, you may prefer to have the printing outsourced, rather than spend time managing label printing and tracking.
Shrink Sleeve Labelers, Neck Banders & Heat Tunnels are machines that apply plastic film material to a container, which is then sent through a separate heat tunnel that shrinks the film, conforming to the body of the container for a snug fit, such as a full-body shrink sleeve for a single-serve bottle or can.
Neck banders employ similar shrink technology to apply neck bands for tamper-evidence in applications such as a neck band on a bottle of aspirin.
Shrink tunnels have a heating element that briefly exposes the containers to heat as they convey through the tunnel, shrinking the film uniformly around the containers as they are exposed to the heat. Heat sources include steam, electric, or radiant heat.
Here we can see an example of shrink sleeves being applied to individual cans. This shrink sleeve label applicator by American Film & Machine pulls the pre-printed sleeves from a roll, and cuts off an individual sleeve, which is dropped over each can. The cans are then run through a heat tunnel to shrink the film onto the can’s surface. This particular model, the LX-150, can apply 50-300 sleeves per minute to numerous types of containers for a wide variety of industries, and can even be used in multi-pack applications.
Alternately, stretch sleeve labelers use no adhesive or heat but apply plastic sleeves with sufficient elasticity to maintain positioning, such as a wraparound sleeve label that is stretched and applied to a plastic cat litter container.
There are other types of labeling machines like roll-fed labelers that separate and apply a continuous roll of labels typically onto cans on their sides, and pre-cut label applicators, sometimes referred to as cut-and-stack labelers, that run stacks of labels that have been pre-cut.
Specialty labeling equipment like RFID Encoders and applicators, apply label systems that can track items along a supply chain, or electronic article surveillance (EAS) technology applicators that apply security or anti-theft tags to packages after they are filled and sealed.
Keep in mind that the type of labeling machine that is right for you will vary according to different factors like package type and surface, at what point in the production line the label will be applied, and product environment from packaging, to transport, to destination.
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