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Looking at LPA benefits

20 April 2017

Arthur Smith looks at the benefits of employing Label Print & Apply (LPA) systems in food production applications. 

Consumer demand for greater choice has led to more product variations being required. For example, you may have a chocolate bar that is available in plain, milk, raspberry and mint flavours – each will require its own unique identifier and this has fuelled the need for nimble, labelling systems that can be adapted quickly and efficiently in situations where many fast changeovers might be needed.  

Products that are bundled, boxed and ready to begin their journey along the retail supply chain will always need an identifier. Label Print & Apply (LPA) systems are able to print and apply labels to outer cases as they roll off the production line.

The regulatory landscapehas been an important driver in improved labelling technologies around LPA. Food safety concerns are a high priority 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 quickly.

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 manufacturers to hold enormous quantities of stock for each SKU produced. Every time a product changeover is effected, the packaging will also need to be changed, making the process more time consuming. This downtime leads to loss of operational time, which will inevitably affect profitability.

With an LPA system the label itself can be changed with minimal input from operators. Intuitive systems enable new information to be added, 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.

Addressing challenges
Misapplied labels, label jams, wrinkled labels and the need for constant mechanical adjustment of labelling equipment are common issues. In order to maintain maximum uptime systems such as the 9550 Print & Apply Labeler have been developed which require 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 complexity and time from the process. 

Label visibility
Visibility of labels is also of paramount importance and technology has now been developed to allow a label to effectively be placed ‘around a corner’. This is ideal for cases or shrink wrapped products where the label must be applied across adjacent panels, so that label information can be seen in various orientations. In many instances, a manufacturer’s distribution and retail partners require this.

This is typically accomplished by applying labels with duplicate information on both a side and end panel. Of course, this could be achieved by applying two separate labels but this is inefficient in terms of cost and ensuring label information is synched. A better approach is a single unit that can print the information on one continuous label and, in a single process, apply it to adjacent panels on the case. 

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. Plant air, for example is one 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.

Arthur Smith is global marketing manager at Videojet Technologies.

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