For the very basic requirements for dispensing small labels or stickers in offices and on bench tops there are a number of companies that provide cardboard box dispensers already containing small rolls of blank or pre-printed labels, with the box top or side itself acting as the stripper plate.
Moving beyond such simple devices, there is a wide range of economical manual or electric dispensing and hand-held labeling devices on the market. Some are portable, some bench- or wall-mounted, some are purely hand-operated, others electrically powered, but with the labels applied by hand.
Hand dispensers may carry only one size or width of reel, other dispensers may hold up to five or more small reels at the same time.
These types of dispensers are the least expensive labeling machines and are usually used in relatively low-volume situations or when labels are only occasionally required. By automatically dispensing the next label to be used, they increase efficiency over the use of manual labeling from a roll of labels.
Like the larger and more automated devices, the simpler dispensing machines still need to perform the operation of pulling the liner around a stripper plate so that the label can be easily removed from its backing and then applied by hand. Depending on the application and requirement, some dispensers are able to dispense 2, 3, 4 or more labels at the same time.
There are also easy-to-operate dispenser/applicators that can be operated by the simple turn of a handle located on the side of a bench-top mechanical labeler. This is often enough for companies looking to apply a pressure-sensitive label easily and consistently to almost any round or cylindrical product at anything up to 25-30 containers a minute.
Table-top dispensers and applicators are starting to become more sophisticated. They may be semi-automatic, electrically operated, or may incorporate a mechanical sensor, photo-sensor, perhaps a micro-switch to detect the leading edge, or an optical reader/sensor for use with transparent labels. Ideal for small labels and small work areas, table-top applicators automatically peel labels from the liner and advance and apply the label.
Hand-held label applicators of course need to be fairly light in weight so that they can be easily carried and operated without any kind of strain.
They may be trigger-operated and incorporate a sensor which automatically adjusts the stroke of the trigger to the length of the label, or battery-powered. Both types are used to undertake repetitive labeling tasks in a fraction of the time required for hand labeling. In general, hand-held labelers require no special operator training or tools.
There are a number of other more specialized types of dispensing and simple application machines. One example is a wipe-on label applicator designed as a small table-top unit mounted on an in-line adjustable-speed conveyor. To use, an operator simply places the item to be labeled at one end of the conveyor where it then travels under the label head and a label is applied. The labeled item then exits at the other end of the conveyor.
Manual feed, manual place or manual push machines can also be obtained for applications such as the labeling of pouches, barrier bags, anti-static bags, vacuum bags and heavyweight poly bags. With a manual-fed bag machine for example, the operator takes a bag and places it on a plate located on the machine, pushes the bag into feed belts so as to pass through a label head which places a label in the desired location.
The labeled bag then exits at the other end of the machine.
Similar types of manually-fed table-top application can be used for applying a label or seal to small boxes or cartons. Used in the pharmaceutical, medical packaging, food and other sectors requiring items packed in small boxes, the box sealing process again requires no operator training or special tools.
Having outlined the key types of manual and electric label dispensers and hand-held labelers, we now look at each type in more detail.
MANUAL AND ELECTRIC LABEL DISPENSERS
The aim of all dispensing devices is to dispense and feed an individual label forwards so that each label can be taken by hand and manually attached to a product, container, pack or surface. They are widely available in different label widths and label reel sizes and may be specific to a particular type of label or application.
Manual label dispensers. Manual label dispensers are simply operated by hand and are designed for fairly light usage. There is no automation of the operation. With manual label dispensers – including the cardboard dispensing devices mentioned earlier - all the operator has to do is pull the liner around a stripper plate or bar, so partially releasing the label from the backing liner and making it easy for the operator to pick the label off of the liner and place it where required.
Commonly used in packaging, fast food, bulk mailing, manufacturing and beverage applications, manual label dispensers may be portable, bench-top or wall mounted and dispense single labels or, with some manual devices, up to four or five different small labels side by side.
Figure 3.1 - This electric label dispenser by Start International is ideal for small labels
Electric label dispensers. Like manual dispensers, electrically operated, semi-automated, label dispensers are designed to dispense individual
labels forward and enable them to be removed from the release liner backing.
However, instead of pulling on the liner byhand to move each label forward, label advancement now takes place when a trigger device or sensor on the dispenser detects that a prior label has been removed.
The sensor then immediately closes the electric circuit so that an electric motor can dispense the next label on the roll. This action is repeated each time a label is removed.
Sensors are used to detect whether a label has been removed or is missing on the roll, and are of three different types:
Mechanical sensors. When a label has been moved forward electrically for dispensing it will touch a mechanical sensor that will stop the next label from moving forward.
Photo sensors. Photo sensors can be used for the dispensing of all types of die-cut and butt-cut labels and require no tools when changing label size or shape. There is no trigger device to adjust. Photo sensors are good for opaque labels as they can sense the difference in color between each label and the backing liner.
Optical sensors. Optical sensors are the most sensitive and accurate type of sensor and are able to detect transparent, miniature, metallic and opaque labels. They are used in the dispensing and advancing of all types of die-cut and butt-cut labels independent of size, shape or transparency. No adjustments are required for changeovers.
Figure 3.2 - More than one label can be dispensed with this Start International dispenser
MANUAL AND SEMI-AUTOMATIC TABLE-TOP APPLICATORS
With manual and semi-automatic table-top application machines, the product to be labeled will be manually placed by an operator into an adjustable cradle, or onto a plate or perhaps a short conveyor belt or line of rollers. The machine is operated by pushing forward the item to be labeled or by turning a handle.
Each type of product to be labeled may require a different means of manually or semi-automatically placing the product in the correct position for the label to be dispensed and applied. Some of the key types of manual and semi-automatic table-top applicators are described below.
Bottle and cylindrical product applicators. With the simplest types of bottle and cylinder applicators, the product is manually placed in a cradle and a handle on the side of the applicator turned to apply a pressure-sensitive label evenly and consistently. Such devices can be used to label almost any round or cylindrical product. Whether label application is undertaken using a manual or semi-automatic applicator, the bottle rotates during the labeling cycle.
Usually supplied as small bench-top designed devices, such machines are easy to load and use and are easily adjustable for consistent product placement. With a good operator it is possible to label up to 25 to 30 bottles or cylindrical products per minute. An example of a mechanical bottle label applicator can be seen in Figure 3.3.
Figure 3.3 - Bench-top hand-operated bottle labeling from Start International
It should be noted that with hand bottle labelers there may be a significant matrix loss simply positioning the labels correctly on the bottle.
Depending on the level of automation, it may be feasible to save costs if sizes can be optimized through the print and die-cutting process, particularly to exploit standard web slit widths.
Next come semi-automatic label applicators for bottles and cylindrical products, but again with the products placed by hand into a cradle.
Depending on the model, the operator will then either press a button, pull a handle down or step on a foot pedal to start the label operation cycle.
Once the product has been placed in the cradle and the cycle started, a spring-loaded overhead pressure arm is used to keep light pressure on the container for consistent and secure label placement. With some applicators it is possible to apply both a front and a back label during each cycle (providing the necessary labels alternate on the web). Some models may have a powered rewinder for liner waste collection.
2. Carton and box conveyor belt applicators. Bench-top applicators with conveyors offer higher productivity than a semi-automatic label dispenser and are easier for many label users to justify than in-line fully automated labelers.
Designed to operate as table-top units with an adjustable speed conveyor, an operator simply puts the carton or box at one end of a conveyor (Figure 3.4.) and as it travels under or past the label head a label is applied.
The box then exits at the other end of the conveyor.
Figure 3.4 - Hand placement of cartons on a conveyor
Non-contact sensors are used to detect both the label and product. Simple push button controls with dwell timer functions ensure the label can be placed at a desired position on the product consistently and accurately. Some models have a touch-sensitive display screen where all settings can be made and viewed. It is also possible to purchase such machines with an adjustable height stand on wheels that can be rolled up to an existing conveyor line.
3. Bag and pouch applicators. Both manual and automated feed machines are available for the labeling of a range of different types of bags or pouches and many can place a label virtually anywhere on the bag. With manual fed machines the operator places each bag on a plate in the machine, then pushes the bag into feed belts where it is taken under a label head which applies the label in the desired location virtually anywhere on the bag.
Easy to use non-contact sensors are used to detect both the label and the bag. Simple push-buttons are used to control the dwell time, and motor speed if automated feed machines are used.
MANUAL AND BATTERY-OPERATED HAND-HELD LABELERS
These types of hand-held machines need to be fairly light so they can be easily carried and operated. They are used to undertake repetitive labeling in a fraction of the time of hand labeling.
They enable an operator to apply labels anywhere they are needed, including assembly line labeling, batch products, palletized cartons, corrugated boxes, blister packs, PLU labels on fruit and vegetables and bar code labels.
Figure 3.5 - Manual hand-held label applicator from Start International
Manual hand-held labelers are usually trigger-operated and incorporate a sensor which automatically adjusts the stroke of the trigger to the length of the label.
Battery-powered hand-held labelers, on the other hand, incorporate a non-contact optical sensor to adjust for label length.
Battery-powered machines are equipped with a touch sensitive nose, enabling the operator to simply touch the front of the labeler to the product being labeled. The label then advances and is applied in one simple motion. These labelers use either a self-contained rechargeable battery pack or direct AC power.
The more sophisticated labelers will have a rewinder for the label liner waste. In general, hand-held labelers require no special operator training or tools.
Price, ‘sell by’ dates, barcodes, time or date stamps, product description and tracking information can all be added using hand-held price guns (such as the one shown in Figure 3.6) and other types of hand-held labelers that can print 1, 2, or 3 lines of fixed, variable or sequential information before dispensing an application.
Figure 3.6 - A typical hand-held price gun labeler