Technology Review: Label Printer Applicators
Ongoing advances in Label Printer Applicator (LPA) technology have led to rugged, high-performing workhorses that are smart choices — even in highly demanding environments. So in a world where time is money, more manufacturers and processors are looking to automate their labelling with LPAs, which are more reliable and efficient than ever.
With their excellent print quality, LPA’s have several benefits, including streamlining the label printing and application process, being simple to use and integrating within the production line.
Here are some good applications and how to choose the right one.
Here’s how LPAs work
LPAs print onto pressure-sensitive labels then automatically apply those labels to a product, using a pneumatic applicator. This differs from Label Applicators, which apply pre-printed pressure-sensitive labels.
There are two types of labels for LPAs:
- Thermal direct labels (thermal sensitive)
- Thermal transfer labels (these use ribbons to transfer the ink onto the labels)
Some benefits of LPAs
- Streamline label printing and application process. This is certainly up there as the biggest benefit of LPAs, because they give manufacturers the opportunity to drive efficiencies in the line; g.: the Matthews A-Series, a ‘Best New Product’ finalist at the APPMA Awards 2015, is specially designed for more uptime, quicker changeovers and easy operation.
- Excellent print quality. Ensuring barcode labels and pallet labels (SSCC labels) are fully compliant with strict GS1 and retailer quality standards, minimising the risk of retailers rejecting your stock. (You may find this quick guide to proper barcode quality and grading informative, and learn more about barcodes in our Barcode 101 blog or visit our Barcode FAQs. These articles on barcode quality’s importance in manufacturing, how to use barcodes and pallet labelling made easy are also interesting.)
- Easy to use. Today’s LPAs come with integrated software so the machine can be easily programmed without a PC on the production line. This is ideal for logic programming (think dates). Unit design lets operators easily see how to change labels and ribbons, resulting in less downtime, e.g.: the Matthews A-Series features on-board software and a colour touch-screen to make printer control and message editing easy.
- Integrate within the production line. Some LPAs (again, the Matthews A-Series is a great example), can be fully networked using software integration, which allows easier label design, format changes, quick product changeovers and real-time line status monitoring. (Here are some examples of Matthews’ software integration: iDSnet, Ignition, Clarisoft and Label View.)
Their high versatility means LPAs are used for applying human-readable and barcode information on a wide range of products. Having said that, their main use is on cartons or pallets, this is particularly so because barcode labels are the preferred method in Australia for applying barcodes to generic cartons and pallets.
For example, on automated production lines, LPAs are typically installed at or immediately after the pallet stretch wrap station. The LPA can then be interlocked with the stretch wrapper to apply an SSCC label on each fork-entry side of the pallet. An unattended scanner can automatically read each carton barcode so the LPA can print the appropriate pallet label.
LPA’s are also used for primary retail products and even metal delivery stillages, timber, pipes and steel. Some LPAs can also print RFID Smart Labels. (For another interesting view of smart labels (this time using NFC), check out Trend #3, smart labelling, in this blog.)
How to choose the right LPA
Not all LPAs are created equal, so weigh up the range of features when choosing the right one for your business:
- Robust design. Some LPAs are designed to withstand heavy and prolonged use. For example, the Fox IV Standard LPA range features a rugged gear-driven design for rugged, reliable performance where 24/7 running is critical, and a single rugged, pressurised industrial housing to protect it from extreme dust, temperatures and wash-down environments.
- How much space do you have for your LPA? If you’re looking for a compact unit, consider one that is machined as one piece to provide a smaller footprint on the factory floor, such as the Matthews A-Series.
- Will you need to label various products? Look for a machine that is fully programmable, like models in the Fox IV 2010, 3010 and 4400 series. They can scan products, look up the data, then print and apply labels, without needing a PC on the production line. They also have built-in intelligence to support a wide variety of barcodes, fonts and graphic formats.
- How fast is your production line? Look for an LPA that can match the speed without compromising quality and reliability. The Fox IV delivers throughput up to twice as fast as other printers in its class.
- Right connections. Work out which connections you need for your line. You might need your LPA to connect directly to barcode scanners, weigh scales, keyboards and other peripheral devices.
If you’re looking to drive efficiencies on your line and print compliant labels onto your primary products, cartons or pallets, there’s no doubt that a Label Printer Applicator is a sound option. With the range of high-performing models available today, it’s the perfect time to invest in an LPA for your business.
Contact us to find out how Matthews can help if you’re wondering whether an LPA is right for your application. You can also call 1300 CODING (1300 263 464).