Towards a universal future: meeting the labelling needs of today’s manufacturing and logistics industries
The dramatic growth of e-commerce in recent years is putting new pressure on the manufacturing and logistics industry. With tougher competition and higher customer expectations, fulfilling orders as fast as possible while ensuring traceability is top of the agenda. In such a fast-paced working environment, labelling solutions that are fast and easy to install and operate, while being reliable and versatile are in great demand. In this article, Richard Scott, European Product Manager for SATO, explains what print and label manufacturers are doing to live up to the challenge.
E-commerce has been growing steadily over the last decade. For example, in the EU, the percentage of e-buyers has more than doubled between 2004 and 2013, jumping from 20% to 47% of the population and e-commerce has reached a turnover of 363.1 billion euros, with over 3.7 billion parcels dispatched annually . This growth has been driven by customer demand for wanting goods at a lower cost and more immediately. A current EU Policy has set a target of 50% of the EU population buying online and 33% of SMEs conducting online purchases/sales by the end of 2015 and this will inevitably have an impact on the manufacturing and logistics industries.
As the number of online buyers rises and more enterprises move into e-commerce, the manufacturing and logistics market is becoming faster and competition is growing. That is why fast processes such as cross-docking – whereby material is unloaded from an incoming truck and loaded directly into outbound trucks with little or no storage in between – are becoming the norm when it comes to fulfilling orders. A critical piece of equipment to ensure that goods are delivered to the right place on time are label printers.
To ensure that labelling processes run efficiently and consistently in such a fast-paced working environment, logistics businesses are first of all demanding barcode label printing solutions that are fast, quick and easy to install and operate. With some manufacturers even offering same day delivery, so long as orders are placed by midday, they need to rely on equipment that will produce labels quickly and efficiently. But what are the key considerations to take when specifying printers? In addition, as businesses increasingly globalise, with deliveries worldwide, organisations need a ‘universal’ printer that can be used with ease regardless of operating environment, language or infrastructure.
Ease of installation and maintenance
Printers that are quick and easy to install and maintain help reduce downtime and improve productivity. For businesses which are often running 24/7, reducing downtime is key to responding to customer queries effectively while improving operational efficiencies. Minimising costs associated with maintenance can also go a long way to improving the bottom line.
Plug-and-play printers that are easy to set up, without needing specialists to install, and that can print immediately are favoured. Printers that have been designed for parts to be replaced by the users, without having to call in technicians are also preferable. The latest printers, such as SATO’s NX Series, are designed to allow for fast parts replacements. ‘Wear parts’ such as print head and platen roller are quick to replace with no tools needed, while help videos are also available in the front display, to aid with maintenance.
Ease of use
Printers that are intuitive and simple to operate reduce the time spend on staff training. In the EU workforce turnover rates are becoming higher, and businesses are looking for label printers that can be used by anyone with little or no training. With freedom of movement within Europe and 24 languages spoken, printers are being designed that offer multiple user-selectable languages. For example, the SATO NX display reads in up to 31 global languages.
For further ease of use, some of the latest label printers are designed to handle a wide range of media including different sized labels and feature label design software and wide head openings for easy media installation, with no ribbon core needed. In addition, some of the latest printers feature large 3.5 inch full colour screens which include icons for intuitive operations and trouble-shooting videos, which provide a simple step-by-step guide for users.
To ensure reliability in demanding manufacturing and logistics environments, printers need to sturdy. Essential parts of modern label printers including frame, base plate and print head should be manufactured using highly strong materials such as die cast aluminium. This design offers enhanced durability while minimising the risk of ribbon wrinkling to achieve consistent high quality printing.
Often there is a need to generate label design in one location, and print remotely from another. Printers need to connect easily to the network across cloud systems and the internet, but with a high level of security. Printers that include all the latest communications such as Wifi and Bluetooth offer the highest level of connectivity.
Print quality, processing and throughput speed
Industrial-use printers are required to quickly print large volumes of labels and throughput speeds of up to 10” per second are often needed. To deliver this, the latest generation of printers include twin processors. Printers such as SATO’s NX family is equipped with 100MB user accessible memory allowing formats, large graphics and custom fonts while delivering best-in-class speed processing and fast throughput, which is also essential when it comes to fulfilling orders as fast as possible.
Printers also include several components to control ink ribbon and the position of labels to ensure quality of print in a long print run and high accuracy of the position of the print on a label.
Scalability and versatility are also key when it comes to label printing in today’s logistics market. With more companies now moving towards RFID labelling, demand for scalable solutions that can be upgraded and expanded at a later stage is growing. Some of the latest models of label printers are also designed to allow for integration and expansion via remote access and configuration with high level security, ensuring multi connectivity through specific programmes and common IT platforms.
Some of the latest printers also feature space-saving designs. For example, SATO’s CL4NX offers 53% width saving and 27% height reduction compared with previous models. As a result, it occupies very little space and is a perfect ‘fit and forget’ solution for printing barcodes and supporting stock and order management systems.
Manufacturing and logistics businesses are also demanding solutions that enable them to store more data within barcode labels and there has been a growth in the use of quick response (QR), Datamatrix and two other dimensional codes. One reason for this is that, with new labelling regulations coming into force in recent years, companies are now requested to provide more detailed information about their products. For example, food businesses now have to comply with European Directive 1169/2011 on food labelling, which stipulates that labels must provide customers with vital information such as the origin of fresh meat, fruits and vegetables as well as the presence of allergens and glutens.
With this in mind, printers are now offering enhanced memory capacity to be able to effectively handle large volumes of data, often in different languages. For example, food companies exporting food to different countries may need to print labels with detailed information about food origin and ingredients in different languages or even different alphabetic characters.
A move towards truly universal printers
There is also a tendency towards using family products as printers within the same family share key features and parts. Depending on the application, businesses need to print different label sizes (generally four or six inches in width) and product families enable them to do so using the exact same printer but in a different size. One clear advantage is that no further staff training is needed whenever a new product is introduced and the need to store new spare parts is minimised. This could be particularly beneficial to resellers, who can save on warehousing costs while spending less time on training technicians.
Ultimately, what some of the latest models of label printers are offering is a ‘universal’ and ‘all-in-one’ solution. They are multi language to meet the needs of increasingly international companies in a globalised world and meet all international certifications meaning that the same model can virtually be used in any country.
SATO (TSE:6287) is a leading global provider of Auto-ID solutions that connect people, goods and information. It serves a diverse range of customers, delivering end-to-end solutions that streamline operations, empower workforces and help customers reduce their environmental impact. For the fiscal year ended March 31, 2014, it reported revenues of JPY 96,773 million (Euro 721 million). More information about SATO can be found at www.satoworldwide.com.
*Conversion is based on an average exchange rate of 1 Euro = 134.21 Japanese Yen.
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