Label applicators are used for automatic or semiautomatic label application to a product or packaging. They can be implemented in conjunction with RFID printers; in this system, the smart label would first be encoded and printed by the printer and then applied to a product by the label applicator. Label applicators are most suited for use with a product or packaging that does not vary in size or varies only slightly. Their advantage is their ability to apply labels at high speed with high precision.
There are several kinds of label applicators:
Automatic Wipe-on label applicators or pneumatic piston label applicators automatically place the label on a product. They are usually used on conveyors or production lines and can apply labels at high speeds.
Semiautomatic The product is manually placed in the reach of the applicator and then is automatically labeled. This type of applicator is used for short trial runs of product labeling or as a backup for automatic labeling lines.
Real World Scenario-Tag Encoding
During a slap-and-ship operation, an RFID printer was reloaded with a new roll of labels. However, initial attempts to encode the first 10 tags in the roll produced voided labels. When a local manager contacted the tag manufacturer, the manufacturer requested a swap with another roll of labels to verify whether the printer was working properly. When a new roll of labels was loaded, the machine encoded the tags correctly and did not produce any voids. As the first "problem" roll was inspected using a handheld reader, the tags were identified as being 64-bit EPC Class 1 Gen 1 tags. The reason for the voided tags was clear: a 96-bit EPC number could not be encoded into a 64-bit tag. The roll of 64-bit tags must have gotten into the batch of 96-bit tags by accident.
Handheld This type of label applicator works similarly to a pricing gun in a store and is useful for exception processing and low-volume applications.
Print-and-Apply This device includes a printer and a label applicator. After being printed (and possibly encoded, in the case of an RFID device), the label is automatically applied to a product or packaging. The applicator part of this device can be either wipe-on or pneumatic piston using compressed air or an electrical mechanism.
As mentioned, there are two main kinds of automatic label applicators: wipe-on label applicators and pneumatic piston label applicators. I bet you just can't wait to find out more about each of them, so rather than keep you in suspense I'll tell you about them now.
Wipe-on label applicators are mostly used on a conveyor or as part of a production line, where the product or packaging moves at a constant speed and does not slow down for the label to be applied. As the item approaches the applicator, a sensor detects it and triggers the applicator to issue a label. This label is then "wiped on" the item, and a foam roller helps to press down the label to ensure its hold.
This type of label applicator can tag only items of the same size and it cannot vary the spot for the label placement. However, it can apply the label on two sides of the item as well as bend the label over an edge.
Pneumatic piston label applicators are mostly used with automated production lines because they can be applied quickly. However, some have to stop the line for a brief moment, which would be a problem when used with a common conveyor.
As the item approaches the applicator, it passes the sensor that triggers the pneumatic piston. The applicator places the label on a vacuum plate, which is then moved by the pneumatic piston to the product. The label is then pressed or blown onto this item.
Sometimes the pneumatic piston label applicator does not have to touch the product or packaging to be able to place the label on it because of its ability to use compressed air to "blow" the label onto a product. Because of its proximity sensor, which can stop the pneumatic piston according to the distance to the object, this type of applicator can label items of various sizes.