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Labels for those really, really, really tough apps

Not every label carries only a bar code. Others that must survive the life of the product also have critical part data and even safety precautions. Here’s how one company has made meeting these demands its mission.

Labels for life.

While that may not be the first thing you thought of this morning, it’s an idea with some appeal. Especially if you’re thinking about durable labeling for printed circuit boards or industrial, transportation or electrical equipment.

As Bill Sima, director of strategic accounts at IDENTCO, explains, the idea, if not regulatory mandate, is to provide critical product data on those and a range of other durable goods for their entire service life. “There’s strong demand out there for “bullet proof labels that have been tested and proven,” he adds.

Quite often, direct product marking is the first thing that comes to mind here. But durable labels that carry not just serial numbers or date of manufacture, but paragraphs of critical safety information, for instance, are much in demand.

So, what exactly are we talking about here? “These are ultra-durable labels that permanently stick to the product and won’t lift, peel or wear off. They don’t fade or discolor and can be easily read and scanned long term,” explains Sima. That’s one tough label.

Interestingly enough, they don’t have to measure several inches by several inches. In the case of printed circuit boards, they can measure just 3 mm by 3 mm. Furthermore, these specialty polyimide labels need to survive temperatures to 572°F and a range of really nasty cleaning chemicals. “And, did I mention they have to be readable 100% of the time?” adds Sima.

And we aren’t talking only simple black and white labels here. Sima explains that multiple printing technologies from thermal transfer to dot matrix can put color on the labels to specific PMS colors. This is a long way from a single safety orange. “It all comes down to what the application demands,” says Sima.

A lot of the tough preliminary work here gets done at IDENTCO’s Center of Excellence. This R&D lab deals in imperatives from high mix/low volume labels to low mix/high volume ones.

Sima talks about a recent year-long development program for a label that must stand up to unfriendly automotive chemicals. For years, the label was well protected by a clear laminate, much like glass in a picture frame. However, the chemicals it came in contact with were becoming more caustic, causing laminate failure before the end of life of the part. Furthermore, the pressure was on to reduce costs.

IDENTCO’s Center of Excellence developed a single-layer polypropylene label that eliminates the need for the protective laminate, says Sima. The label is thermal transfer printed. Final Underwriters Laboratories testing is underway.

In fact, the new label is so effective that it offers a 40% to 50% savings per label, resulting in a six-figure annual savings for the label alone, explains Sima. Those gains were critical since the labels are resistant to harsh chemicals and the aggressive acrylic adhesive is ideally suited for high and low surface energies.

As Sima continues to say: “It’s a never-ending challenge to find the right combination of substrate, adhesive and print/apply technology for thousands of highly demanding long-term labels.” Labels for life, indeed.

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Labels for those really, really, really tough apps

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About the Author

Gary Forger's avatar
Gary Forger
Gary Forger is an editor at large for Modern Materials Handling. He is the former editorial director of Modern Materials Handling and senior vice president of MHI. He was also the editor of the Material Handling & Logistics U.S. Roadmap to 2030.
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