5 Takeaways on Durable Labels from RRD’s First Engineering Day

November 12, 2019 Bruce Hanson

When we think of labels, our minds don’t usually drift straight to labels applied to durable goods such as outdoor equipment, tools, appliances, industrial machinery, and rooftop units and systems. However, both manufacturers and consumers ask a lot of these labels. 

Brand owners and OEMs must relay critical instruction as well as product and safety information. Consumers and end users rely on these labels to communicate this information clearly — often over long product lifecycles and in challenging environments. 

Failure of these labels to meet or exceed the demands of the application could lead to misuse and/or possible injury by end users. In turn, such a scenario could leave the company liable, issuing recalls, and having to rebuild trust in its brand.
 
Designing a label for durable goods starts with asking a number of important questions. For example, engineers need to know the extent to which the label will be exposed to moisture, caustic chemicals, tough weather conditions, continuous product usage, pressure, or vibration. They must also consider other external factors like counterfeiting, regulatory demands, and ever-changing substrates.

Introducing RRD Engineering Day

With so many factors at play, industrial manufacturers have their work cut out for them. So, on October 19th, RRD opened the doors to its Milwaukee plant and welcomed these professionals to our inaugural Engineering Day. 

The event took aim at creating a path for better education on labeling challenges and solutions availed to them. RRD Engineering Day not only convened experts from our own company, but also thought leaders from different reaches of the labeling industry: 

  • Kevin Gofron, Global Business Development Manager, Materials Group, Durables Segment of Avery Dennison, spoke on the factors to determine material selection. 
  • Ben Davis, Strategic Account Manager at Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for North America discussed labeling requirements for UL969 and methods of label durability. 
  • David Schwerdtmann, National Accounts Manager of Domino Digital Solutions presented on digital printing technologies.
  • Dan Muenzer, President of the Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute (TLMI) rounded out the event with an overview of labeling industry insights and trends. 

Overall, RRD Engineering Day was a comprehensive — and well attended — examination of the many factors woven into the choices industrial engineers must make to achieve the right labeling solution.

Industrial engineers: 5 key takeaways on durable labels

1. Act like you are interviewing the label for a job.

In his presentation examining the key considerations for material selection, Kevin Gofron made it abundantly clear that engineers must be thorough in their questioning if they want to arrive at the right label solution — not one that’s over-engineered for the application. 

He posed one question that perfectly summed up his point: what are you hiring the label to do? Since labels are compilations of several materials and substances as illustrated by his “pressure-sensitive sandwich” model, you could even liken the process to hiring a whole team.
 
Either way, vet materials like you would vet a candidate for a job and focus first on how the candidates meet your criteria. Thinking this way about labeling solutions will help engineers select label materials that are the best fit for the job — as opposed to overqualified. You wouldn’t try to negotiate salary before you were sure about a new hire, right? 

2. Ask a lot of questions.

Considering all of the ways a label can be compromised between the application process and over the expected product life cycle, it’s important for engineers to ask many questions about the components they consider. 

  • Can the material withstand the temperatures of the environment at application and later in the product lifecycle? 
  • Can it adhere well to a low surface energy substrate? 
  • Does the adhesive allow for repositioning or will it be permanent upon first application? 
  • Can the top coating protect the layers beneath from the damaging effects of UV ray exposure and abrasion? 
  • If leaning toward a manual application, is this label thick enough for easy handling? 

3. Strong communication enables quality control and regulatory adherence.

RRD implements a thorough record-keeping system that tracks label orders from the start to the completion of production. Using job numbers and mass rolls to access batch details and comprehensive histories, this enables the team to keep a close eye on quality. 

This system of record keeping is just one part of communication web that ensures labels reach customers to spec and in mint condition.

4. Label design and production is still very much an art.

In an increasingly digitized world, it may seem like all aspects of just about any printing process are automated, but a surprising amount of meticulous eye-balling and manual handling make the creation of labels appear more like the work of a craftsman. 

For special orders, screen printing is done manually as opposed to running on the carousel press with an RRD expert running the passes of color by hand with great precision and care. 

Even when the equipment does the actual die-cutting and back-splitting, professionals still play a significant role in positioning the sheets. Down to the smallest details — like whether a completed roll will rest on its side or standing up — is determined based on the pressure required for adherence combined with professional know-how.

5. Labels are headed in even more engaging and security-enhancing directions.

According to the insights of TLMI’s Dan Muenzer product personalization and security are the two biggest factors driving technology growth in labeling. Buyers of labels are no longer leaning on longstanding personal relationships to buy labels from their college buddy or distant relative. Quality and durability are the most important factors in purchase decision making.
 
And while quality and durability are evergreen concerns, a new wave of labeling technology is changing the range options that all brands — durables manufacturers included — can leverage to enhance consumer or end user engagement and supply chain security. These include:

  • Democratized design with the application of label designs sourced from consumer contributions
  • Limited-edition varieties of labels to celebrate milestones
  • Use of augmented reality and near field communication (NFC) to breathe life into the brand experience with greater interaction 
  • More vibrant photochromic and thermochromic inks with greater temperature ranges to engage consumers with gradual label transformations based on UV light exposure and temperature 

Additionally, RFID, QR codes and encrypted inks and switchable hot stamps all stand to add layers of authentication and as well as avenues for sharing product information.

 

Bruce Hanson is President of, Labels & Forms at RRD.

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