All posts by Miles

Don’t Let Your Labelling Hold You Up

Don't Let Your Labelling Stop You.

Labels are critical to modern organisations and with most labels printed on site, there are dozens of things that can make your labelling system vulnerable.  

90% of these reasons can be eliminated or mitigated.

You can’t afford to stop shipping because of something as simple as labels.

Complete your assessment and see how you can protect yourself from  label stoppages.

Managed Labelling Service

Concentrate on Running Your Business and Let Us Concentrate on Printing Your Labels.

Zebra ZT230 Barcode Printer

Expert Labels provides clients with a complete on-site labelling service. 

We cover everything to ensure maximum uptime, so your labels are printed when you need them.

You pay us to get your labels printed and we manage everything else.

Let us do what we do best, so you can do what you do best.

Leave us to handle:

    • label and thermal ribbon stock management,
    • Thermal label printer procurement, installation and training,
    • Software configuration, integration and training,
    • Hardware maintenance and support
    • Support desk
    • Finance arrangements – turn capital expenses into operating expenses

 

Off the shelf labels

Labels & Inks

You get optimum stock levels and the right labels when you need them.

Industrial Label Printer

Hardware

You get configured and supported label printing hardware as part of your managed labelling service.

Bartender label software

Labelling Systems

You get integrated labelling with your corporate IT systems. Your printer and label usage is monitored using software. You get trained staff and supported software.

Chris Day is an IT manager. He started at his company on the helpdesk, having got a degree in Business Studies. Gradually he worked his way up and now, in his early 40's, is the IT manager for his company.

His key objective is making sure the computer systems remains operational.

Chris' team is small - just three of them. They are stretched thin and he doesn't want them using their talents looking after label printing.

Chris doesn't want to have to deal with thermal label printers. He has a service company look after his multi-function laser printers and appreciates the advantages the simply ringing the help line and having the printer fixed gives him.

Keeping up to date with the latest thermal printer models and knowing how to support them is the last thing he wants to bother with. Keeping on top of label and ribbon stocks is easy enough, but a real nightmare when it goes wrong.

Chris wants someone who understands thermal printers to take them off his plate. He wants to concentrate on the next generation of software and hardware that his company needs to grow and prosper.
Chris Day
IT Manager

And you thought Desktop Printers couldn’t be Portable Printers!

On a recent visit to the Zebra Experience Centre (you might be mistaken for thinking I’m writing about a zoo) – a large demo room that Zebra Technologies have set up to showcase their complete range of products – I spotted this.

Zebra ZD410 with battery base
Zebra ZD410 with battery base

These are desktop printers equipped with battery packs.

These are chargeable battery add ons which fit to the base of the ZD420, ZD410 and ZD620 printers.  Designed to provide power for a complete 8 hour shift, this now means your desktop printers don’t have to be used on a desk.

Imagine: a trolley or even a vehicle can now become a printing station.  Charge the battery pack, fit the battery to the printer base and start printing.

In fact, you don’t need to remove the battery to charge it.

ZD400 Printer Charging Bases and Battery Packs

The charging base and battery are separate items and cost around £60 for the base and £300 for the battery.  For up to date prices contact us for a quote.

Slde the battery into the ZD400 printer

Fits the ZD410, ZD420 and ZD620 – both the standard and healthcare printer models.

Zebra ZD620 HC printer with battery pack
Zebra ZD620 HC printer with battery pack

If you’d like to know more, contact us or press the chat button in the bottom right of the screen.

Useful Links

Interestingly, the Zebra website doesn’t mention these battery packs, but they are genuine Zebra products.

Typharm gets up and running with the FMD.

Typharms Products
One of Typharms products

Typharm is a family owned pharmaceutical manufacturer located in Norwich.  They have been making ointments and treatments since 1985.

“The EU’s Falsified Medicines Directive came into force in February 2019 and part of that was a need to print high quality barcodes. We understood thermal label printing but needed a fully tested label printing system which verified the labels and worked with the data hub”.  Tom – Typharm

The Problem

Whilst Typharm could print thermal labels, it didn’t have up to date software in order to design Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) compliant labels – i.e. the Datamatrix code.  Another requirement of the FMD was to have barcodes that had been quality tested.

The Solution

Typharm contacted Expert Labels and a meeting was organised.  During the meeting BarTender label design software was examined and we talked about how they could overcome the barcode testing problem.

A year earlier we had worked with Identify Direct, a company that implements Omron Microscan in-line barcode verification solutions.  Using camera technology and software, it is able to compare what should have been printed with what was coming out of the printer.

It was able to work so quickly, it was able to stop the printer and warn the operator if the label being printed was wrong.  Typharm decided to use the Printronix T8304 thermal label printer.

Printronix Printer with Inline Barcode Verifier
Printronix Printer with Inline Barcode Verifier

Using this printer the inline verification system is able to stop the print, retract the label and print hash marks over it – marking it quite clearly as rejected, eliminating the possibility a non-compliant label makes its way onto a product.  It even had a warning beacon attached to the printer.

Inline Verification System
Inline Verification System On A Zebra ZT600 Printer)

The Printronix printer, IVS barcode verifier and BarTender software were installed and set up on the same day.  Expert Labels specialised in the BarTender software whilst Identify Direct handled the hardware and verifier.

The label design in BarTender appeared simple at first glance but below the surface, needed to combine a simple to use data entry form along with a data matrix 2D barcode which brought together the data that the FMD requires.  What was also important was printing the same FMD data in ‘human readable’ form on the label.

We set it up so that when the user came to print their label, the form was displayed and prompted the user to enter the various pieces of data demanded by the FMD.  Things got easier for the user but more difficult for us, the label designer. We wanted to check the data entered was correct – so we needed to set up data entry rules.

Another component of the label that BarTender handled was a unique serial number that needs to be included on the FMD label.  Typharm used a company to generate the random serial numbers. The numbers were sent to Typharm as a CSV file. BarTender took the CSV file and used the data on the label, printing different labels for each number in the file.

The project was completed in two stages.  First: printer, verifier and BarTender software installation and training – done on site.  Second: setting up the serialisation data from Tracelink when it was available for testing.  The second stage was done remotely.

Training in the BarTender label design software took place in person at Typharm.  The users were given a workbook to fill in as they worked through various exercises that practiced the features they needed for their label but also demonstrated other features that could help them in the future.

The Result

Thanks to Typharm putting the project together in good time before the FMD deadline, we were able to complete the project with time to spare.  There were a few problems with the data received from Tracelink but these were resolved by Expert Labels, working remotely, in a matter of hours.

How to make your labelling systems reliable

Ever woken up in the night in a cold sweat.  Your worst nightmare is playing out. Your label printer has stopped working, and you can’t print labels.  Your product can’t be shipped and the factory grinds to a halt.

No – I can’t imagine you’re kept awake at night thinking about labels – but perhaps you should.

Everything from label and ribbon stock outs, printing the wrong data through to printers breaking down can stop production.  I can list 30 reasons why your labelling might stop and for most modern production processes, no labels means no production.

Whilst the chances are relatively small – I’ll bet you’re like most UK manufacturers – you’ve not given this insignificant but critical part of your production process a second thought.

Labelling is one of those lesser thought-of but critical points in an organization. Not being able to put labels onto your products means that your customers can’t accept your products and your goods can’t be shipped.

Test your Labelling Resilience

If you’re concerned about bringing your operation to a grinding halt because of your labelling  – here are five things you can do to reduce the risks to your organisation:

Spare Printers

Having just one printer opens you up to risk.  It breaks and you stop printing labels.  Eliminate that risk with a spare printer.

The good thing about spare printers is that they’re not redundant. Having more than one printer means you can share the workload across your printer fleet – reducing wear and tear at one single point.

As long as you can print labels with another printer if primary printer gets dropped and damaged, you eliminate that risk.

Single Manufacturer Printer Fleet

13 Zebra label Printers
13 Zebra label Printers

Having one make of printer means interchangeable ribbons, labels, printer language and parts.

Spare printheads can be used by any one of your printers so you only need one spare.

Maintaining label and ribbons stocks are more simple.

Printers can be redeployed without needing to change printer drivers and software.

Your operators and support team know how to operate and maintain them and don’t need to spend time learning the quirks of each type of printer.

Networked PCs for up to the second status reports

For a modest increase in cost, you can network your printers.  Most industrial class printers come networked as standard.

Having a printer visible on your network means the printer fleet can be managed more effectively.

Plus, of course, you can to print from any computer on the network.

Back ups of Label design software and templates

With larger organizations, an IT manager’s neck is on the line if backing up is not done.

However, with some smaller businesses, back ups, especially on a standalone label printing computer, are not always in place.

This is a schoolboy error but could stop printing.

Automated Data Entry

An almost invisible error is where a label looks right but the barcode contains the wrong data. It might be something like the wrong use-by date or product serial number.

Industrial grade labelling software like Seagull Scientific’s BarTender enables you to automate data entry.  Date codes can be calculated and included in printed labels. Product serial numbers can be taken directly from your database or scanned from an existing barcode.

To make sure though, a quality control process that checks labels should be in place to spot data entry errors.

But there’s more

We’ve got 25 other ideas to either reduce your labelling risks or improve the efficiency of your labelling system.  Visit us to assess how resilient your labelling system is.

Summary

There’s lots of reasons why your labelling system can break down. Whilst they’re uncommon, the consequences of labelling failure can be catastrophic.

Thermal label printing is a complicated, specialist area of expertise that can be made much more efficient, effective and reliable by working with thermal labelling experts.

Servicing thermal label printers is different from standard office printer servicing.

Roll labels are made in a different way to sheet paper and buying them is different. With the likelihood that you’re using different materials such as plastics and thermal coated papers – purchasing labels is more complicated than paper.

Thermal ribbons are different from toner-based or liquid inks.

The capability of a thermal transfer printer is significantly different to that of a flat sheet inkjet or toner-based printer.

All these factors can mean a much more efficient process or a chaotic or inefficient labelling solution.

Protect Your Labelling System Today

Test your labelling Resilience

For a no commitment chat to see if you could be getting better results from your labelling or help identifying potential danger points, give Miles a call at Expert Labels Limited, click the chat button in the right bottom corner or email info@expertlabels.co.uk and ask for Miles.

This Week (in the Exciting World of Label Compliance) – BPA-Free Thermal Labels

Are You Ready to be BPA Free?

Compliance is a part of doing business and I thought I’d take the chance to update you on BPA free labels.   BPA will be banned in the EU next year and this is a chance for you to be a step ahead of your competitors with your BPA compliance.

What is BPA?

BPA (Bisphenol-A) is a chemical used in plastics and is also used in some thermal label materials.

BPA Free Thermal Labels
Thermal Labels like this contain BPA

Thermal labels, if you remember, are the kind that don’t need an ink ribbon to print.  They are usually used in short life labels like free food or courier labels.  If you’re not sure what yours are – hit the Web Chat button in the bottom right of the screen or Phone us on 01359 271 111

BPA is thought to be involved in a long list of health conditions from cancer, brain problems, heart conditions – in fact it could be blamed for pretty much every ailment that affects us.  Whilst there’s little actual medical evidence to prove beyond doubt, it has been decided by regulators around the world that the world is probably a better place without BPA.  So, on 2nd January 2020, BPA will be banned in Europe.

Is BPA in all thermal labels?

No. It only appears in some economy grades of thermal labels.  There are too many label brands to list here – but if you contact us, we would be happy to confirm if you are compliant or not.

What do I need to know about BPA Free Thermal Labels?

Many of our suppliers are working hard to remove BPA from their thermal labels and be BPA free before the UK deadline.

Certainly most of our direct thermal labels will be BPA free in the next few months, if not, there will be BPA Free thermal labels alternatives we can help you with.

After January 1st, 2020 it will be illegal for us to supply Thermal Labels containing BPA.

Where can I find information about the changes?

Contact us here at Expert Labels Ltd – on the chat button on the right of the screen, by phone on 01359 271 111 or email at info@expertlabels.co.uk and we’ll be happy to help.

Useful Links

Take a look at the UK Food Safety Agency’s page on BPA in plastics.  Click here.

Updated 13 Jun 2019.

Choosing the Right Label Printer

There are hundreds of different thermal label printers available from dozens of different manufacturers.  The aim of this article is to help you decide which thermal label printer suits you the best.

If you want to talk this through with one of the team, click the Chat button at the bottom of the screen, call us on 01359 271 111 or visit the contact us page.

Alternatively, follow our Printer Chooser – a simple questionnaire that will guide you through deciding what printer you need.  Click here.

We’ll cover:

  • Printer size – mobile, desktop or industrial
  • Print width and label size
  • Durability
  • Connectivity
  • Performance
  • Label Life – direct thermal or thermal transfer
  • RFID
  • How it will be put to use.

Printer Size – Mobile, Desktop or Industrial

Mobile Printer

Typical portable label printer
Typical portable label printer

Deciding if you need a portable label printer is pretty obvious. I guess you know that early on in your buying journey – just in case you don’t – portable printers are generally small enough to be carried over the shoulder or clipped to a belt.  They are perfect for shelf edge labelling or printing sample labels in the field – where you want to print and stick labels when you’re standing next to where the labels are used.

Generally portable printers are no good for long life labels or labels subject to high temperatures – as portable printers are mostly direct thermal printers.

Desktop Printer

ZD620 Desktop printer
Typical Desktop printer

If you’re limited in space then a desktop printer will be your preferred choice.   Less durable (because they’re made of plastic) and need refilling with labels and thermal ribbons more often than a larger industrial printer, they cost less and are perhaps a little easier to use.

Industrial Barcode Printer

Zebra ZT410 Industrial Printer
Industrial Printer

Industrial printer – generally metal cased, fast and can keep printing for longer without needing to change ribbons or labels.  They’re more expensive and take up more space.  They’re durable and will keep printing 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

Print Width and Label Size

Once you’ve decided on the size of printer you need, the next consideration is the width.

Most printers will print labels 100mm wide.  If you need (wider or narrower) then you have two options.

1 Inch wide label printer ZD420
6 inch wide ZT420 thermal label printer
6 inch wide ZT420

Buy a wide printer (like this 6 inch wide printer) or turn your labels around so you print narrow edge first (if the narrow edge is no wider than 100mm).

Wider printers cost more.  The printheads cost more when they are replaced.

Durability

Are you using your printer in a clean laboratory and only printing 100 labels a day – compared with a dusty factory where the printer is printing 10,000 labels a day 365 days a year?

If you have a clean environment with low print volumes – a desktop printer is our recommendation.

Where the number of labels printed is high then an industrial printer is a must.

In the middle ground there are plastic cased, industrial size printers that can print reliably for years.

There is a lot of grey area here – so best to contact us for our opinion.

Connectivity

Connection Options on a label printer

In other words – how is your printer receiving its printing orders?

Options include:

  • USB (the usual)
  • RS232 – Serial (usually found when printers need to connect to older systems or other electronics such as scales)
  • Ethernet
  • Bluetooth
  • Wifi
  • Memory cards
  • NFC (Near Field Communication)
  • Parallel
  • Applicator Interface or Applicator Port

Pretty much all printers come with a USB connection.

After that, different printers have differing options.  Some come with Ethernet as standard.  Others have bluetooth built in as standard.

If it’s using an out of the ordinary connection, such as Parallel (this used to be the standard printer interface back in the 1990s) or Applicator Interface (a way of connecting to computers or industrial electronics such as label applicators or PLCs to your printer) – your choice of hardware may be limited.

Ethernet provides a number of benefits that you might not think of.

The obvious benefit is being able to print from anywhere on your network but additionally – software is available from most printer manufacturers that will allow you to manage your printer fleet, providing you have a network connection.

Using printer management software you can receive warnings by email if your printer runs out of ink or labels. You can remotely configure the printer. You can see its current state – in other words – has someone left the printhead open or is it jammed?

This is most convenient if you have an Ethernet connection from your printer to your network.

Performance

Printers range in print speed from 4 inches per second to 14 inches per second.

Speed isn’t an issue unless you’re waiting for your labels.

Typical scenarios where you don’t want to wait for a label is with production lines where every second spent waiting costs money. Another situation might be where staff need to wait for a batch of labels to be printed.

If you’re printing labels for a high speed production line or you have people waiting for batches of labels then buy a faster printer.

Larger industrial printers are faster than smaller desktop printers.

Label Life

Labels fall into two categories:

  • Heat sensitive direct thermal labels or
  • Thermal transfer labels/tags.

Direct thermal labels typically have a shorter label life and are not good in high temperature situations i.e. direct sunshine.

The benefit of direct thermal labels is that direct thermal printers are more straightforward. They don’t need to use a thermal ribbon so the ribbon handling mechanism is removed.  That brings the printer cost down a little.

Direct thermal printer open
Direct thermal printer – no ribbon mechanism
Thermal transfer printer with ribbon mechanism
Thermal transfer printer with ribbon mechanism

However, if you want to print long life labels or scratch resistant labels then you will need a thermal transfer printer. You can’t print waterproof plastic labels or tags without a thermal ribbon.

Direct Thermal printers can only print onto specially coated paper or labels.  Thermal transfer printers can print onto a whole range of different label materials including direct thermal paper (you simply print without a thermal ribbon loaded into the printer) – so they’re more flexible.

If you have a specific short-life paper labels task for your printer, (for example address or fresh food labels) and you don’t plan to change the use of the printer – then a direct thermal printer makes sense.

Perhaps you could use our Printer Chooser – to guide you through deciding what printer you need.  Click here.

RFID Label Printers

RFID Label printer
RFID Label Printer

If you need to print Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) labels then there are label printers that will print the label and write data to your RFID tags.

This is something only a handful of label printers can do so you need to choose a specific printer that prints onto RFID labels.

Zebra Technologies have a range of RFID label printers.  Within the range you’ll find a portable printer, industrial printers to print 4 or 6 inch wide labels, high speed printers capable of printing at 14 inches per second and a desktop printer, for small spaces.

RFID printing is a specialist area of expertise and Zebra have a lot of resources in this area.  If you want to learn more about RFID contact us here for help.

Updated 10 May 2019

Seagull Scientific BarTender 2019 Editions Summary

Seagull Scientific recently released BarTender 2019.

What’s different is they now have a free edition of their label design software. The question we often get is: what is included in the Free edition of BarTender 2019?

Free

Supports all document design for a static label layout.  No variable data of any kind or conditional printing.  Limited use of the Administration Console in terms of companion applications.

Professional

BarTender Data Entry Form
BarTender Data Entry Form

Supports all document design, but the key difference with the free version is that you can connect databases to your labels.  Also includes conditional printing (i.e. if you have the word German in the language field of a database, print the German version of the labels).  Professional includes entering  variable data using a data entry form (see above), weigh scales or a webcam/flatbed scanner etc.

Automation

Supports all of the above, plus anything to do with automation such as form actions (i.e. updating a database if a label has printed) and Integration Platform (triggering label printing based on emails, updates from web pages or updates from databases).

Enterprise

All of the above plus document management, printer management (tracking when printers are paused or not working and what blank labels are printed), Print Portal with mobile apps, print job redirection, centralised security (with users given different permissions) with electronic signatures and encryption.

Zebra Regional Partner Summit

On May 22 Zebra hosted it’s regional partner summit at the Belfry golf resort in Sutton Coldfield, England.

It was a chance to hear Zebra’s strategy for the near future, about their products and learn where they see the market moving to.

They started by telling the assembled resellers how Zebra is performing in the market.  Number one in most parts of the world for hand held terminals, printers and scanners.  Growth is in double digits in most sectors and revenue is up significantly.

A couple of common themes appeared.

Zebra’s DNA concept came up regularly.

This is a suite of software and design philosophies that tie together their hand held terminals and printers.

The rush towards Android powered handheld terminals has begun and Android is replacing Windows Mobile.

Zebra described how its range of terminals outperform the competition in terms of durability and security.

Not much was said about printers. Zebra’s focus is on its handheld terminals.

Put your feet up and outsource your label printing

Let’s take a look at the economics and practicalities of printing labels in house compared with outsourcing label printing to someone like us.

What you need to print your own labels

For a start, you need a printer, labels, labelling software, ink ribbon.

Depending on the volume of labels you’re printing and the size and durability of labels will determine what printer you need.

Desktop label printer, labels, ribbon and CD
What you need to print your own labels

Likely costs – printer, labels, ribbons and software.  A small desktop printer, a box of paper labels and ribbons and basic software will cost you up to £550.

Then there are the unseen and unexpected costs –

  • Repair costs – the printer needs fixing every couple of years (unlikely as thermal printers are very reliable – but you never know).  The printhead which costs a few hundred pounds (on a larger printer) wears out over time. This needs to be factored in to the costs of printing.
  • Support costs – getting someone to set the printer up or the time you spend reading manuals, training costs – and the costs of not training (such as discovering one of the warehouse boys cut a vital part of the printer when they were using a knife to get a stuck label out of the printer),
  • Management Time – trying to hook the printer up to the network or deciding what model of printer would be best suited to a particular situation and
  • Time spent supervising the printer. Reloading labels and ribbons and keeping an eye on the printer.
  • Time spent rolling labels – time spent taking printed labels and re-reeling them back onto cardboard cores.
  • Storage and printing space – keeping boxes of labels and a large printer can use up precious space you could use for other things.
  • Label printing accessories – label rewind units, label counters and slitters spring to mind.  They make label printing more efficient but they cost money.

Pros and cons of printing in house.

Pros

  1. No delays – print them when you want them
  2. Print dates and batch codes – difficult when your labels are printed in advance
  3. Economical if you have high volumes to print.  That said – talk to us about high volume label printing – the difference in cost between in house printing and outsourced might be closer than you think and you can use the staff you have to focus inside your business and leave us to concentrate on your labels.

Cons

  1. If you print them wrong you only have yourself to blame
  2. You might need to invest in large amounts of labels – when you only print a few hundred labels at a time.
  3. It takes time to learn the software and how to operate the printer
  4. You are vulnerable to printer breakdown.  If you have your labels printed for you – make sure the printing company has more than one printer (we do).
Label Printing Centre
Three printers for printing labels is better than one

Summary

If you have a need to print unique labels to match a particular item, you need labels with a date on them or you print lots of labels – I recommend you print them in house.  Otherwise – click on the chat button in the bottom right corner of the screen or contact us and get a quote for us to print your labels for you.

Weigh the costs against the convenience of having us print your labels.

If we have suitable labels on the shelf your labels can be printed today and with you tomorrow.

Useful links

Label Printing Services

Published 15 Apr 2019