Solving: What to Do When Labels Go Bad
Recently, I sat down with Brian Gale from ID Images and had a conversation about what happens when labels go bad and appear to be failing. He took me through the process of how to troubleshoot and solve these kind of challenges and I gained some valuable insights that I thought I’d share with you all.
Dana Ritchie (PaladinID):
Brian, PaladinID has been doing business with your company, IDimages, for years. You’ve always been a steady, thoughtful resource that I can count on to help me satisfy my customers’ unique and unusual label requirements. Did you grow up in the business? Did you achieve a PhD in Labels? How did you come to acquire so much knowledge about labels?
Brian Gale (IDimages):
Dana, I actually started out in investment banking and developed a bit of an expertise in non-family succession planning for my manufacturing clientele. My father owned his own successful business, and I was always struck by his autonomy, and envied the fact that he was in control of his own destiny. Yes, I was bringing home an impressive salary, but I saw the opportunity to acquire IDimages and use my business acumen. To build not only personal wealth, but also to work in an environment where my successes – and failures – benefitted my family and me directly. It seemed like the ultimate evolution of my career.
Having seen many mergers and acquisitions, where the larger firm routinely put their own people in positions of responsibility – I vowed to use all the human and capital assets that the very successful IDimages had assembled. Together, we worked to leverage those assets in expanding this already successful company. Along the way we’ve purchased other companies for THEIR valuable assets: focusing on adding capabilities, talent and distribution. These business development decisions were always made with the goal to improve the way information is shared. The IDimages team is curious, creative and committed to satisfying our customers.
I’ve certainly relied on IDimages not only to produce a quality label, but also to help me troubleshoot label issues when the client calls to report when their labels go bad and aren’t sticking, or aren’t staying in place, or smearing. So often, our team is quite certain that we’ve produced the labels exactly to spec and that it certainly cannot be OUR fault. Yet, when a label appears to be failing, and because we value our clients more than life itself…we need to deliver products and solutions that work. Can you tell me about how a seemingly perfect label spec can fail in actual application?
Here’s an example of a label issue we experienced with a food manufacturer who was producing a lunch-meat product and packaging it in a plastic form. The customer complained that the labels weren’t adhering properly, and wanted us to solve the problem. Our QA team got right on the complaint, and quickly verified that we’d produced the label to spec…stock, printer ribbon, ink and adhesive were all perfectly within the range of acceptability. Of course we knew that the client wasn’t interested in having us pat ourselves on the back while a problem clearly existed, so the next step was to send in one of our tech guys to examine the application process.
He identified the problem right away. Automatic application assumes identical application, in real life, our on-site inspection revealed a wide variation of label applications. Because the package was not uniformly fed into the label applicator, the actual application of the label varied greatly. Meaning, the adherence of the label sometimes affixed to the clear film on the top of the package, and at other times to the more rigid form which was the bottom of the package. As soon as the issue became evident, the path to the solution became clear: we needed to develop a label spec that would accommodate both conditions.
We reconfigured the label spec to accommodate both conditions and after a few test runs, had solved the problem. The assumption that the package would always be fed in a consistent direction and orientation had prevented us from engineering a label that would have a more universal performance. We learned a lot from that experience!
So, how would you advise our industry to anticipate these types of issues?
So many factors can vary in real life. Here’s a list of best practices I put together for you:
- Recycled cardboard – has different properties than virgin corrugated. If there is the possibility that recycled cardboard could be used, you may want to look at an adhesive suited to both. Standard adhesives work well until the recycled content exceeds 70%.
- Environment & Moisture variations – it’s important to remember that actual distribution and warehouse conditions are not temperature controlled, as they are in a testing facility. Think about St. Louis in the summer, a far different experience than packaging in North Dakota in the winter!
- Dwell time – is the label hot-off-the-presses or has it been sitting on a shelf for months because Procurement took advantage of production volume printing discounts?
- Freezer adhesives are meant to adhere to cold surfaces – if the product is ever produced and stored in below freezing conditions, these adhesives might be considered.
- How the labels are applied makes a big difference. It’s not just about being automatically applied, it’s also about how the packaging is fed through the applicator. As we saw with the food packaging, labels applied to top plastic lid (flexible film) or the bottom (rigid shell) perform very differently. If there are manual applications, the human factor also is to be considered.
It’s one thing to write a spec with the best knowledge available. We have learned how to ask all the right questions, yet we’re surprised every day! I say, “keep your mind open” and never feel that you have to defend a product that isn’t working, no matter how many variables you tried to anticipate.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I’m going to attach your helpful checklist on How To Create A Label Spec and perhaps we can revisit some other “Label Sagas – When Good Labels Go Bad!” – I’m thinking the next interview could cover “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”
Anytime, Dana! When you share our checklist, make sure to include our Glossary of Label Definitions so that it all makes sense.
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