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Controls advance bar-code print/apply systems

Printer/applicator systems equipped with advanced computer controls are helping manufacturers produce more complex, customer-specific label information on cartons, cases and pallet loads.

In this dual-panel pallet labeling application, the applicator arm swings out to apply a label to the front of the pallet. The
In this dual-panel pallet labeling application, the applicator arm swings out to apply a label to the front of the pallet. The

That's gleaned from a white paper written by Dan Gilmore of Forte Industries (Mason, OH) entitled Integrated Bar Code Printer-Applicator Systems. Available at no charge, the 22-page paper is an update of an earlier version (see Packaging World, Feb. '97, p. 50). Unique to the update are sections focusing on box labeling in manufacturing, pallet labeling systems, and case labeling in distribution. For example, in tracking cases in the warehouse, "newer printer technology featuring 32-bit microprocessors have minimized the delay between the application cycle and the printing of the next label," writes Gilmore, Forte's director of material tracking and control systems. Here he refers to a scenario in which not only the data for each label differs, but so too does the label format, with one label formatted and processed for one retailer such as Kmart, the next for Target stores. This, he says, slows down application rates. "In the recent past it was sometimes challenging to produce even twenty four-inch by six-inch variable compliance shipping labels per minute," he notes. "Today thirty or more per minute is certainly possible." Gilmore mentions that print-and-apply systems also play an important role in tracking palletized loads when used in conjunction with an inventory control system. "Since it is imperative that the pallet loads be properly identified, and that the system does not separate pairs of labels supposed to go on a single pallet, sophisticated controls are often required," he writes. "The need for a host interface is also more likely than for batch carton labeling systems." Gilmore believes that the most common use of printer/applicator systems today is labeling individual cases or containers. He notes that increasing requirements for container-specific information and increasing numbers of SKUs and box sizes make printer/applicator systems a more flexible and economic alternative to preprinted stock. Most of these applications print and apply in batches where label format and data are the same. This system usually requires a dedicated PC and off-the-shelf software. A simpler alternative, Gilmore says, is the use of a printer controller or intelligent terminal, which he defines as a small, rugged device with a keyboard and display that holds label formats and communicates with the printer/applicator. Another tidbit: Gilmore sees the use of corner wrap labels on two adjacent panels becoming increasingly common, with application speeds of over 20 products/min for 12"-long corner wrap labels.

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