CTM Distribution Center

How To Streamline Order Fulfillment with a Labeling System

Labeling systems are critical to order fulfillment because they connect physical goods to your digital infrastructure. Box labels identify shipping containers as they move through the system. Rack and bin labels mark items off of inventory and add them to the shipment. Shipping labels identify packages as they make their way to their destination, keeping you and your customer in the loop. Used properly, these labels can stop errors before they happen by checking the progress of packages and inventory.

Where Does Label Printing Fit Into Fulfillment?

Every physical interaction with an order involves a label – cross-checking it with information in the computer system. This process is used for error prevention:

  • The box label identifies the package as it moves through the system, so it can’t be lost.
  • The warehouse workers find items to put in the package using the rack and bin labels. If they scan the wrong label, they’re notified before they put that item in the container. It also keeps track of inventory, so you don’t run out of items to ship.
  • The shipping label is used by the shipping company to keep track of the package in their own system. It also gives you and your client a way to track the package.

Here’s how these labels function in a fulfillment system, and how you can get the greatest effectiveness from each one.

Box Labels

This type of label helps you track boxes, pallets, skids and totes moving through your shipping system. There are three main components of a box label:

Order Number: This number is used to track the order internally as it moves through your facility.

Customer ID: This number identifies the customer who will receive the package. Customer IDs make it easy to ensure that everything being sent is going to the same destination.

Number of Boxes in Order: If an order stretches across several boxes or pallets, printing the box’s placement in that order, i.e. “2 of 3,” ensures all boxes go out the same time. This also avoids confusion for the customer. If they think they have an incomplete order, they can check the label to see if they have every package.

Barcodes make it easy to scan the box for information and track it in the system. However, human-readable information should always be included in case the barcode is damaged and can’t be read by a scanner.

Rack and Bin Labels

A rack label identifies what is stored in a specific spot in a warehouse. The label includes the aisle, bay and level, as well as a barcode that can be scanned for more information. Most labels cover two shelves, using arrows to identify what is above or below the label.

Normally, barcodes are black on white. However, warehouses can be divided into sections by using different color schemes. This helps workers know at a glance which area they’re in. Retroreflective labels reflect light with minimum diffusion. This lets scanners read them from distances up to 45 feet, making it possible to scan labels on high shelves from the floor.

Bin labels work like rack labels, but they refer to a specific bin holding small items. Most logistics systems use a combination of rack and bin information to help workers find items.

By scanning either label, the worker can log product movement in the system. This helps keep track of inventory and ensures every item in the order is shipped. If the wrong label is scanned, the worker is notified so they don’t pack the wrong item.

Rack and bin labels need to be easy to see and scan. However, this means they’re also easy to damage. It’s important to choose the right label and adhesive formula to work with your warehouse conditions, whether racks are inside, outside, experience extreme temperatures, or are applied to metal or plastic shelves. Otherwise, they can peel off prematurely.

Looking to automate in the future? Robots need labels, too. They scan rack and bin labels just like humans to keep track of orders and maintain inventory records.

Shipping Labels

A shipping label is effectively a box label for the company delivering the package to the customer. For high volume operations, a label applicator can be added to the box sealing line.

As each package passes through the line, its box label is scanned and a shipping label is printed and applied. For smaller operations, a stand-alone printer makes labels that are applied by hand. But if you’re looking for automation, a 3600a-PA may be exactly what you have been searching for. The 3600a-PA Labeler is designed for print and apply applications accommodating both low and high-volume lines.

Pallet Labels

Pallet labels are standardized so that they can be used by anyone transporting the pallet, and they help to identify what’s inside without having to open it. One label, together with a bill of lading, is used by shipping companies from your warehouse to the customer no matter how many times it changes hands.

To meet shipping requirements, these labels must conform to the GS1 International Logistics Standard. Each label needs the following information printed in order from top to bottom:

  • Name of Company
  • Human-Readable Information
  • Shipping Information (optional)
  • Barcodes and Symbols

The GS1 standard requires a label no smaller than A6, but a larger A5 label is recommended.

Planning Out Label Placement

When choosing your label system, you need to consider where the labels will go to protect them while making them accessible.

The box label needs to be easy to access across your fulfillment system. The label can’t be placed over a seam, or it will be damaged when the box is opened. If the boxes are stacked, the label should be on the side facing out toward the aisle. This way a worker can scan the box without having to pull it out.

The position also needs to keep the label out of harm’s way. For example, if you place the label on the bottom edge, it may be scraped away by a fork when a worker is lining up to move a pallet. For greater flexibility, consider a 3600a corner wrap printer applicator, which applies a label that goes around the corner of the box. This puts duplicate information on two or more sides, so lining up the box during storage and transport is less important.

You could also incorporate a machine like the 3600a DAT (Dual Action Tamp) which applies a label on adjacent sides of a single product/box (i.e. one on the front and one on the side).

GS1 regulations requires labels be placed on pallets between 400-800 mm above the base of the pallet and 50 cm from any corners on the pallet. If the pallet is less than 400 mm high, the label must be placed as high as possible. A pallet label applicator will usually place the label at the standard height, but there are automated labelers that can adjust automatically to different pallet heights.

When Done Right, Labels Can Streamline Your Logistics System

The correct use of labeling can reduce errors and speed up order fulfillment in four ways:

  1. Scanning a label enters information into your system. This makes it easy to track packages and inventory as they move through your system.
  2. A well-integrated labeling system lets you eliminate errors before they work their way through the system.
  3. Using a combination of bar codes and human-readable information reduces the chance for errors.
  4. When applied in the right spot, a label can remain accessible while avoiding common causes of damage.

The end result: money saved and improved customer satisfaction – all thanks to the integration of a quality labeling system within your order fulfillment process.

For more details on the label applicator equipment mentioned above, reach out to CTM Labeling today.

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