A high speed label applicator machine.

What is a High Speed Label Applicator?

A high speed label applicator is just a really fast labeling machine, right? Well, technically the answer is yes, but there’s more to it than that! 

A high speed applicator doesn’t just offer faster product labeling speed, it also eliminates human error by increasing labeling accuracy while also handling a variety of labels and containers. When implemented correctly, these machines can increase output, decrease costs and reduce damage from improper product handling. In the long run, a high speed label applicator doesn’t just save your company money, it frees up valuable human resources and improves customer service.

What Makes a High Speed Label Application Machine Different from Other Labeling Methods?

The most basic labeling stations have a printer or a few reels of pre-printed stickers, and a worker places these labels on the containers by hand.

A semi-automatic machine handles label application, but each label roll has to be hand-loaded. The simplest machines have a motorized or hand-cranked roller to apply a self adhesive label that lines the label up with the container (as long as it’s inserted into the machine correctly). More advanced machines, like a tabletop vial wrap labeler, can handle the entire labeling process so that all the worker has to do is place containers in the hopper. 

An automatic labeling machine, by comparison, loads itself using a conveyor belt. It can sense the position of the container and the labels, resulting in highly accurate placement every single time. 

How Fast is a High Speed Labeler?

There’s more to a high speed label applicator than just speed, but speed is definitely the feature that draws most companies to these machines. 

For example, let’s say you’re applying a single wrap label on a standard 12 ounce glass bottle. Here’s what you can expect from a top quality machine in each category:

  • A manual labeling system can label up to 300 containers per hour
  • A semi-automatic labeling machine can label up to 1,800 containers per hour.
  • A fully automatic pressure sensitive labeling machine can label up to 4,000 containers per hour.

While the fastest machines are massive and very expensive, standard pressure-sensitive labeling machines are within the reach of most manufacturing facilities. They often take up the same amount of space as a manual labeling station, yet they can handle several times the volume. They also don’t require any special equipment. At most, they need access to a standard electrical outlet and a source of compressed air for certain applications.

If you only account for speed, most companies see good ROI on an automatic labeling machine if it replaces one full time job. However, when you take all of the improvements automation brings into account, you can see a return on your investment far sooner (even if you aren’t using your labeler at anything close to full capacity).

If anything, most companies wait too long to upgrade, limiting their capacity because their current labeling stations can’t keep up with manufacturing. It’s not uncommon for companies to double output immediately when they switch to high speed labeling

Flexibility from Your Labeling System

Adding features that speed up labeling also allows machines to be more flexible. With semi-automatic labelers, you are either stuck using one size of container or have to swap out some parts to switch containers. For example, semi-automatic machines use star wheels to carry vials to the applicator. You need to use a different wheel for each container size. 

Automatic label applicators have built-in calibration settings that can be loaded with each product line switch. As long as the packages are the same basic shape and are within the machine’s size range, you can use them with your machine and the labeler will make its own adjustments. Taking this a step further, our vertical trunnion roller labeling system supports the use of multiple label applicators. This gives you the choice of using a front and back labels, a neck label and a tamper evident label. You can set up the machine for your current needs, then upgrade down the line, as needed. 

Automated machines use a variety of application methods, including merge, tamp-blow and air-blow. Each method works best with different shapes of containers, from flat boxes to plastic-wrapped produce and irregular cartons. If you want to learn more, get our free guide on the methods of label application.

Labeling Accuracy

Human error is the largest source of labeling problems, and these errors increase exponentially when multiple labels are applied to each product. Automation, however, removes this variability so that your containers have the same labels in the same places – every time. High speed labeling machines don’t just use the same application method, they have sensors and controls that automatically compensate for common problems, like label skewing.

Since calibration settings can be saved and restored, you don’t have to spend time setting up the machine each time you perform a changeover to a different product line. Just switch configurations on the touch screen and load the label spools. Then, your machine is ready to use.

Trusted Reliability

The added cost of an automatic labeler isn’t just to increase line speed. It also goes toward using high quality, heavy duty industrial parts that are more reliable and easier to repair than standard commercial solutions. 

For example, our print-and-apply machines use print engines from Zebra and Sato. You may already be using their label printers for your manual labeling station. However, print engines are built to run almost continuously, requiring only occasional cleaning and replacement of wear components.

Unlike commercial printers, these machines are built for a long service life without constant revisions and changes. Since just a handful of models are used across the labeling industry, parts availability is excellent, reducing downtime of the labeling equipment. The same goes for the servo motors, switches and other components that make up the machine. Many of our labeling machines feature modular design, further speeding up the repair process. 

Print and Apply: One More Step Toward Automation

What if you need to add information to your labels, like serial numbers or expiration dates? Print and apply systems can communicate directly with your operating technology system. That means you can track a container through your system and apply individualized information to its label. 

Want to improve your order fulfillment system? You can use a print and apply labeler to print a shipping label or bill of lading automatically for every package or pallet leaving your facility.

We Make It Easy to Upgrade Your Labeling System

If you’re looking for faster, more accurate labeling, contact CTM Labeling Systems. We have local distributors that can help you implement a new labeling system that will keep up with your production demands.