Infographic: 5 Ways to Ensure Maximum Useful Life from Your Replacement Printheads

Regular maintenance is key to achieving high density print and consistently scannable barcodes.

Your labels are key elements of your brand and proper maintenance of your thermal printers will ensure your message is communicated consistently and clearly.

The following infographic covers key topics to keep your thermal print operation running smoothly:

Clean your printheads frequently

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is common for cleaning to be delayed or not done at all. A best practice is to clean your printhead every time you replace the ribbon or roll of labels. For higher volume operations, clean your printheads when you open a new case of labels.

The cleaning process is as simple as applying isopropyl alcohol on a lint free swab or cloth and wiping the imaging element to remove residue and build up.

Check your manufacturer’s recommended heat and darkness settings

It’s a good idea to review your printer settings frequently to ensure you are operating within the manufacturer’s temperature and darkness settings.

Departments who switch out from different label materials (ie paper to film), different print methods (ie thermal to direct thermal) and different ribbon formulas (ie resin to wax to combination wax/resin) may tend to overcompensate by running higher settings to print more consistently with various media changes per shift.

Running at higher settings puts added strain that can shorten your printhead’s useful life. A good practice is reviewing the settings at the start of a new shift to ensure run settings are not outside of manufacturer settings.

Use air dusters to keep your media sensor clean

The media sensor plays an important role in your print operations. It notifies you when you need to replace your labels or ribbon and it communicates the end of one ribbon and when the new one begins.

Label and ribbon media come in various thicknesses and as the materials feed through the printer, particulate may abrade and build up and inhibit your media sensor’s performance.

To keep your media sensor clean, use cans of compressed air to blow dust away and keeps the sensors clear and avoid any smears or smudging that could impact performance.

Use quality grade ribbons and wider ribbons to protect your printheads

Thermal ribbons help protect your printhead. The majority of ribbons are made with a polyester base film that carries the ink and can withstand heat generated by the printhead. The polyester has a coating that improves the coefficient of friction as the ribbon unwinds allowing for easy unwind and minimal particulate generation.

Another important practice is to order a slightly wider ribbon than your label media. There’s a reason that the optimal Zebra ribbon width for standard 4″ x 6″ labels is 4.33″ wide ribbons. The wider ribbon protects the printhead from the abrasiveness and uneven nature that papers, films and uncoated tags can put a printhead through.

Coated paper labelstock are less abrasive and help to extend the life of your printheads

Customers who employ direct thermal print technology do not use thermal ribbons and, instead, purchase label stock with ink embedded in the material that will only image in areas where the printhead is heated.

Direct thermal materials come in a variety of formats – paper with adhesive, film with adhesive and tagstock materials with and without a topcoat layer.

The uncoated materials are more cost-effective but do not offer as crisp of an image. The coated materials may cost more, but they offer the best print capabilities, wider operating windows and the coating is less abrasive on your printhead.

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In summary

Printheads are a key component to ensure your products arrive on time, your brand is represented in the best possible life and your barcodes remain scannable under any and all conditions.

These tips will help you focus on ways to develop a holistic and easily implemented plan to regularly clean and use optimized label and ribbon materials to keep your printers running.

Infographic on thermal printer maintenance tips and best practices by StickyPaper Company

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Is Linerless Labeling the future?

Originally published on: http://www.packagingeurope.com/Packaging-Europe-News/65265/Label-Release-Liner-The-Annual-Update-for-PressureSensitive-Label-Industry.html

Label Release Liner: The Annual Update for Pressure-Sensitive Labeling

One of the highlights of the label industry’s year is the AWA Label Release Liner Industry Seminar, held annually just before Labelexpo in both Europe and the USA.   It attracts a high percentage of industry participants across the value chain who come to update their knowledge and to network.

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This year’s event in Brussels  — with Dow Corning and UPM as platinum sponsors and Blue Star Silicones and Wacker as gold sponsors – offered a complete program, highlighting the key issues facing the label release liner segment.   It represented an opportunity to discuss a combination of leading-edge processing and converting practices, the status quo in recycling of spent label release liner, and the product identification and decoration technologies that today compete with pressure-sensitive labeling.

Market overview

Setting the scene, Corey M Reardon, President and CEO of AWA Alexander Watson Associates,  provided an overview of the global release liner market – one of the core verticals in the company’s market research and consulting activities.      ‘The release liner industry is characterized as consolidated on the supply side and highly fragmented on the demand side, he observed, making it ‘challenging for companies on the demand side to have any influence on market dynamics.’   Pressure-sensitive labelstock commands a 49% share of global release liner usage, with food and beverage together representing 37% of the end-use market.Release liners are continuing to adapt to efficiency requirements for modern converting, as Mikko Rissanen, Business Development Director of UPM Label Papers showed.   With its roots firmly in forest products, UPM has pioneered many practical routes to enhancing the profile of paper release liner substrates in terms of lower basis weights that still deliver high performance.   Rissanen showed how the company is currently exploring nanocellulose Biofibrils technology, which promises several benefits for the future.

Linerless technology
The benefits of linerless pressure-sensitive labels were the subject of a lively panel discussion, and of an innovative current case history in the delivery of high-volume thermal VIP labels – not pre-cut — from Roelof Klein, Commercial Manager of glueing technology and surface treatment specialists Maan Group.   Discussing the linerless concept were expert panel members Mike Cooper, Business Development Director, Catchpoint Labels Ltd (who also moderated the session);  Jakob Landberg, Sales Director of press manufacturers Nilpeter;  and Jeffrey Arippol, President of Brazil-based label technology and converting specialists Novelprint, who have patented their Noveltech linerless system.   Interesting insights emerged – particularly concerning what Landberg described as the ‘reuse of film liner as laminating film’.   In this situation, spent clear film liner is adhesive coated in line and applied over the surface of the printed labels as a protective laminate, thus creating a genuine contribution to sustainability.   Nilpeter has, said Landberg, ‘manipulated the press technology to accommodate this’.   The ‘downside’ of linerless was raised by the audience:  the fact that the label shapes which can successfully be achieved are limited to more or less simple rectangles.   As Mike Cooper pointed out, clever design and print – particularly on clear film-based labels – makes this argument irrelevant today.End-of-life solutions
The overarching issues of release liner recycling and end-of-life solutions were the topic of a second panel discussion moderated by Calvin Frost, Chairman, Channeled Resources Group – a company with 40 years’ experience in the field.   As he explained, it is the label converter who is in the front line when it comes to creating the problem of release liner waste for the brand owner customer – after all, he delivers the self-adhesive labels.   Echoing the entire industry, Frost added ‘Wouldn’t it be great to offer a solution?’    He was joined in the discussions by Petri Tani, Managing Director of dedicated liner recyclers Cycle4Green;  Ernst Brunbauer, General Manager of liner recycling-friendly Lenzing Papier;  Ulrich Leberle, Raw Materials Director of the Confederation of European Paper Industries, CEPI;  Mark Macaré, Senior Public Affairs and Recycling Manager, Lejeune Association Management (home of the FINAT Secretariat); and Vincent Decabooter, Senior Account Manager, Mitsubishi Polyester Film.   This knowledgeable team, all with a real interest in the issues in question, looked in depth at the current solutions base and the many challenges raised by organizing collection schemes and identifying the right personnel in end-user companies who can instigate such schemes.   There are already valuable supplier-instigated schemes in place for the re-collection of their own spent liner, but creating an overarching solution remains on the wish list.Achieving quality products
Robyn Buma, Global Procurement Director, Paper, for Avery Dennison,  looked at paper and film release liners in labels and graphics applications, globally, in terms of product quality.   Covering multiple suppliers across all regions, her three-year research identified interesting key trends.   Paper liners showed a moderate improvement in the top quality issues experienced – wrinkled, damaged, dirty material, and silicone release issues, for example — during the period.   Film liners, however,  exhibited a significant improvement trend across the same parameters.   ‘But’, said Buma, ‘it’s manufacturing, right?   Stuff’s going to happen!’ – so she adjured suppliers to apply the highest standards of quality control, and robust and systematic problem solving processes and actions.   After all, she added, ‘our customers expect the same from us.’Hans Oerley, Business Development Manager for Dr Schenk Industriemesstechnik identified one route to achieving quality pressure-sensitive film labels:  the installation of automatic inline optical inspection.   With a ROI of just two years, the company’s EasyInspect and EasyMeasure systems can identify defects, especially in adhesive and silicone layers, at an early stage during the production process.   They ensure a high-quality result and significantly reduce downstream waste in both film label materials and silicone coatings.

Silicone coatings panel discussion
The topic of silicone coatings was the focus of a third expert panel discussion featuring three leading industry players:  Dr Hans Lautenschlager, Senior Technical Manager, Release Coating Care and Coatings, Wacker Chemie;  Alex Knott, AETS Senior Specialist, Dow Corning; and Sean Duffy, Global Business Manager, Silicone Release Coatings, Bluestar Silicones.    Together, with 75 years’ of collective industry experience, they were able to identify key advances, both today, and for tomorrow, and Lautenschlager expressed the industry’s prime mission:  ‘to create as stable as possible a release liner for our customers’ needs.’   Throughout the discussion, interaction between panelists and the audience was considerable – evidence that this program feature was of prime importance and interest.Moderator Corey Reardon posed the key question:  what are the alternatives to silicone?     ‘It would require a massive investment to develop a new chemistry’, said Duffy;  and Knott commended silicone’s ‘weird properties’ which have proved so useful to the industry.   Reardon moved on to question the use of platinum as the cure catalyst, in the light of current cost concerns.  Both Knott and Duffy praised platinum’s performance, and Lautenschlager admitted that the industry ‘hasn’t found a viable alternative’ yet, adding that ‘the only chance is to significantly reduce the amount of platinum used’.

Asked to highlight significant industry innovations in the past year, Duffy commented that ‘it has been too much about costs’, and Knott added, perhaps significantly, that ‘this is a mature industry now’.   However, Duffy went on to highlight some industry ‘good news’ – the advent of UV silicones – but he had to add that ‘there is a downside:  the cost of the silicones themselves.      Knott said that, ‘going forward, we are now looking at employing different silicones – emulsion and solvent for films, for example.   Also, importantly, a low-temperature silicone cure already exists.’   Duffy added activatable adhesives as another available option.

Competitor technologies
Dan Muenzer’s review of the ‘label’ technologies that are today competing with pressure-sensitive certainly set the seminar program in context, visiting many examples of how, today, brand owners are ‘using the label to communicate’ and to differentiate their products.   The Vice President, Marketing, for Constantia Flexibles presented fine examples – including the advances in variability in print, exemplified by the Coca-Cola campaigns and Heineken’s multiple label designs on Indio beer.   In-mold labeling;  flexible packaging; and direct-to-container print are all taking their toll – but Muenzer had good news, too – such as the conversion of Budweiser from cut-and-stack labels to pressure-sensitive, using a metallized film, to make efficiency increases and reduce the total applied cost.   The pressure-sensitive label industry is also contributing real innovation in terms of non-contaminant labelstocks for application to PET bottles, he added.All in all, the AWA Label Release Liner Industry Seminar brought together, in just one day, the main threads of the opportunities and the challenges faced by the sector which has, as Corey Reardon underlines,  ‘such a major influence on the world of packaging today.’

More info:

Pressure Sensitive Adhesives: the Sticky Situation That’s Right for Your Application

Adhesives play an important role in your label application. The type of adhesive, the environment the labels will be used in and how permanent you need your labels to adhere are critical factors in selecting the right adhesive.

In a pressure sensitive (PS) label “sandwich”, adhesives put the sticky in sticky papers and films. However, they are not one-size-fits-all and adhesive selection is crucial to your project success.  This article covers our abbreviated Adhesive 101:

Rubber based vs. Acrylic adhesives

Rubber-based adhesives are made of natural or synthetic rubbers and are an economical choice for many applications. These adhesives generally exhibit higher initial tack, but struggle to adhere to solvent coated products as polymers degrade. Acrylic adhesives may not appear as tacky or sticky but form stronger bonds over time and typically perform well under extreme heat or cold temps.

Acrylic adhesives may not appear as tacky or sticky but form stronger bonds over time and typically perform well under extreme heat or cold temps

Application temperature considerations

Products packaged in ambient conditions can use a wide variety of adhesives. Frozen meats, for example, require labels that can withstand sub-freezing or, possibly, sub-zero conditions to ensure labels have initial tack and long-term adherence to ensure proper identification.

Initial Tack and Desired Permanence

Initial tack refers to how strong the adhesive bonds upon initial application. High initial tack may be required for dusty, powder coated substrates where adhesives need to bond through the particulates. Customers may also prefer tackier adhesives as these are difficult-to-remove or reposition and could serve as tamper-evidence in retail and security applications.

Removable and Repositionable Adhesives

Not all customers need permanent adhesion, though, and some require removable or repositionable adhesives. Work-in-process applications, for example, need to be scanned at various steps in production and the label needs to be cleanly removed before the finished good is shipped out to the customer. Others may require labels to be removed cleanly and reapplied or repositioned to another job jacket for process traceability.

Adhesives need to be fit for purpose and let our label specialists help you. For further reading, the following article offers a deeper dive in selecting pressure sensitive adhesives for your applications.

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How a new breed of warehouse is fueling eCommerce

Originally published in Supply Chain Digital [link to article]:

How a new breed of warehouse is fuelling eCommerce

By Amine Khechfé | chief strategy officer of Stamps.com and co-founder of Endicia

From retail powerhouses to small businesses, companies are using fresh warehouse tactics to fuel their ecommerce success.

Walmart Uses Drones in the Warehouse

In a recent demonstration, Walmart suggested it may soon be using drones in at least one of its distribution centers to inspect labels and inventory, a process that now takes employees about a month to complete with handheld scanners. Currently, Walmart uses a mix of supercenters and distribution centers to fulfill orders placed online.

This new venture with drones comes at a great time, as Walmart recently rolled out its new two-day subscription shipping service, Walmart ShippingPass. The service also offers free returns online and in-store. With more orders and returns bound to be made by subscribers of ShippingPass, speeding up the logistics process with warehouse drones will help the Walmart operations staff keep up with the imminent increased demand.

Target Transforms Storefronts into Warehouse Space

It’s no secret that brick-and-mortar stores are struggling to stay relevant. But companies like Target are now pushing past its brick-and-mortar roots by converting some of its storefront space to mimic warehouses in order to increase sales and adapt to the changing needs of the consumer. Target fulfilled 30 percent of its online orders from stores in Q4 as well as netting a record number of online customers who picked up their orders in person over the holiday season.

Although many retailers are still trying to strike the right ratio of inventory on store shelves vs. warehouse shelves, the proof for this strategy is in the pudding. Online sales for Target in Q4 jumped 34 percent, beating even the formidable Amazon — which had its biggest holiday shopping season ever and grew 26 percent in net sales. Target and other retailers will continue to adjust where products are kept as they diligently monitor where the demand originates.

Traditional retail is adjusting to the different expectations of consumers, changing their entire supply chain and points of sale to allow the consumer to have an excellent experience whether they buy in-store, online or via a catalogue. Customers can also choose whether they pick the goods up in-person or get them shipped with traditional methods, even within a couple of hours.

Amazon Builds Urban Warehouses

From 2013 to 2016, Amazon has opened roughly 33 of its 78 “traditional” warehouses in the U.S., according to estimates from MWPVL. On the other hand, Amazon opened 60 Prime Now hubs and fresh delivery stations in that same time frame. Prime Now hubs, according to MWPVL, are fulfillment centers built in dense urban areas that are filled with only the bestselling items for that particular metro area. These Prime Now hubs cater to customers who want one- and two-hour delivery timeframes.

Traditional retail is adjusting to the different expectations of consumers, changing their entire supply chain and points of sale to allow the consumer to have an excellent experience whether they buy in-store, online or via a catalogue.

Amazon is also experimenting with a third type of warehouse — the “sortation center.” Amazon sends small parcels to these facilities so it can rely less on FedEx and UPS and more on the U.S. Postal Service. Amazon employees sort and ship these packages to individual post offices since USPS is able to deliver small, lightweight packages for much less than private couriers. Amazon’s mix of all three types of warehouses will allow it to experiment in order to figure out the most efficient way to reduce the costs of shipping.

SMBs Use Predictive Data to Pinpoint New Warehouse Locations

Even small and medium-sized businesses are optimizing their warehouses in order to improve delivery times. For example, shipping software provider Endicia is working on using customer data and predictive analysis to guide the business decisions of small online retailers (its customers) in order to improve delivery for the end-consumer.

Predictive technology allows small businesses to meet consumer expectations and stand toe-to-toe with competitors. Looking at data from past shipments from customers can help small businesses figure out the best place to build a new warehouse, supply future shoppers with a more accurate delivery window, identify where to stock products based on customer demand, etc. The possibilities are endless when businesses have access to a large amount of data points.

Online customer expectations for shipping are constantly changing and becoming more challenging to meet. Traditional warehouse models alone do not make sense for online retailers who are trying to keep up with their customers’ shipping demands. The ability to offer affordable two-day shipping, same-day shipping and affordable returns requires some innovative thinking on the part of ecommerce businesses.

Online retailers that want to offer faster and more convenient shipping options to their customers need to adapt the right mix of innovative warehouse strategies for their businesses. Researching which locations make sense to build future warehouses, finding more efficient ways to account for inventory and using already owned space to house products offered online are all ways that a small business can keep up with the big names in retail.

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E-commerce and the warehouse of tomorrow

Key Points

  • Customer expectations and competition from e-commerce are driving widespread changes to warehousing and distribution operations
  • Direct-to-consumer growth is not only affecting retailers, but also manufacturers, wholesalers, and 3PLs
  • Warehouses and warehouse fulfillment operations are increasingly playing a greater role in commerce due to disintermediation and a reduction in retail sales through stores
  • The relationship between retailers and upstream partners is changing, as wholesalers have increased their presence in retail and retailers have pushed direct-to-consumer responsibilities back onto their suppliers
  • As a result, warehouse footprints are expanding, responsiveness and adaptability have become more important, parcel shipping has grown, and labor efficiency remains as important as ever

Original article posted in DC Velocity June 13, 2016 [Link]

By: DC Velocity Staff

If you’ve been involved in order fulfillment for a decade or more, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a wholesale change in your facility’s picking patterns. Over the last 15 years, many DCs—particularly in the retail sector—have found themselves picking far fewer pallets or cases and a lot more individual items or pieces.

As for what’s driving this trend, a big part of the answer is e-commerce and the consequent rise in consumer-direct shipping. And the growth of e-commerce shows no sign of slowing. Prior research by ARC Advisory Group and DC Velocity showed that companies expect an average of 40 percent growth in online sales over the next five years. Meanwhile, Amazon, the 800-pound gorilla in the market, has achieved annual North American growth of over 20 percent in each of the last five years.

With this substantial growth comes rapid change and fierce competition, stimulating widespread changes to warehouses and fulfillment operations. To be precise, the heightened customer expectations and industry competition are forcing managers to rethink fulfillment processes, technology needs, operational priorities, warehouse footprints, and even the roles of long-standing value-chain partnerships.

But what is the market profile of today’s operations? In what ways are the demands on warehouses changing? Perhaps more importantly, what are practitioners doing today and what are their plans to meet future demand and remain competitive?

To develop a better understanding of the fulfillment environment, ARC Advisory Group and DC Velocityteamed up to conduct a survey of practitioners, asking about facilities, market pressures, operations, and investment priorities. We included a time-phase element to obtain insight into the likely progression from past to present to future. Many of our findings are likely to confirm your current assumptions, while others may surprise you.


Although CBRE and other real estate firms publish regular reports on trends in industrial real estate, including warehouse space, data on warehouse types coupled with fulfillment operation data is hard to find. So we decided to include a question on facility types in our study. What we learned was that on average, respondents’ facility footprints are almost half bulk warehousing (facilities with more than 100,000 square feet of space), while a quarter consists of smaller warehouses, followed by cross-docking operations and refrigerated facilities.

When asked to look forward five years, respondents identified bulk warehousing and cross-docking as the types of facilities they most expected to become more prevalent. One consumer-goods company respondent noted that it was expanding the footprint of existing facilities to support growth. We believe this to be a common and cost-effective means of increasing capacity. Meanwhile, a third-party logistics service provider (3PL) reported a planned expansion of bulk and cross-docking facilities to meet the anticipated needs of its clients.

One mechanical parts distributor noted that its business is moving away from wholesale in favor of retail sales. This is a great example of disintermediation in the supply chain, as consumers increasingly opt to order online rather than visit a retail store.

Not surprisingly, when asked about the reasons behind their planned facility expansions, respondents most frequently cited expected increases in throughput and storage capacity needs. Interestingly, an increase in order complexity was the next most common response, followed by a change in outbound load profile. These results point to the current evolution of order profiles driven by e-commerce growth and related factors such as the average retailer’s proliferation in SKUs (stock-keeping units). One mechanical parts distributor noted that its business is moving away from wholesale in favor of retail sales. This is a great example of disintermediation in the supply chain, as consumers increasingly opt to order online rather than visit a retail store.


Every order would be the perfect order in an ideal world. But in reality, practitioners must set priorities and deal with tradeoffs. When respondents were asked about fulfillment priorities, “fulfillment accuracy” unsurprisingly topped the list. However, respondents believe that “fulfillment responsiveness” is the capability whose importance has increased the most over the last five years.

Also worth noting, respondents believe that “fulfillment adaptability” (defined as the ability to handle a wide range of order profiles) has risen in importance more than “fulfillment throughput” has. This supports the view that overall order variability has increased, making adaptability more important. And this trend is expected to continue, as fulfillment adaptability and fulfillment responsiveness are the capabilities most expected to grow in importance over the next five years.

Respondents’ comments support the view that pressures from e-commerce are largely responsible for this shift. For example, a respondent from an office supply wholesaler noted that it had seen an increase in its e-commerce direct-to-consumer shipments. Such a transition requires greater responsiveness due to the change in order profiles and customer expectations. Similarly, a respondent from a fashion accessories brand mentioned that it is becoming more nimble and adaptable to gear its operations more toward direct-to-customer fulfillment than it had in the past.


There are a number of fulfillment paths that warehouses can support: traditional store replenishment, DC replenishment, drop shipping, and direct-to-consumer shipping. We asked respondents about the degree to which their organizations supported these various fulfillment processes. Replenishment of downstream DCs and replenishment of retail stores are currently the most prevalent fulfillment paths. However, once again, our inquiry into anticipated change painted a picture that differs from the status quo.

When asked how they expect various fulfillment processes to change over the next three years, respondents identified direct-to-consumer shipping and drop shipping (shipping goods directly from the manufacturer) as the practices that would see the biggest growth. The anticipated growth in drop shipping suggests that respondents expect to see further decoupling of customer-facing and fulfillment processes. I consider this to be one of the most interesting reconfigurations of value-chain partnerships. For one thing, it indicates that e-commerce and the omnichannel paradigm are not only affecting retailers, but also their manufacturing and wholesale partners. As retailers are pressed on margins, many are refocusing on the customer experience and unloading the inventory carrying costs and fulfillment processes onto their upstream partners.


Order size and scale generally decrease as products move through the supply chain toward the final consumer. Therefore, the balance among material handling units (pallet, case, piece) handled within a warehouse is likely to change along with the adjustments in fulfillment channels. We asked respondents how they foresee picking unit types changing over the next three years. (We chose “picking” because it is typically the most labor-intensive activity in a warehouse.)

Piece (eaches) is the unit type that most said would increase and also the type that most said would increase extensively. Over half the respondents also said they expected to see an increase in case picking. In contrast, less than half of the survey respondents predicted an increase in pallet retrieval.

The responses about picking unit expectations support the view that picking units will continue to move toward eaches as warehouses fulfill more and more e-commerce orders and upstream partners support downstream partners with greater SKU variability along with smaller volumes of the same SKU.


The shift toward processing higher volumes of small multiline-item orders is raising fulfillment costs within the warehouse. At the same time, greater levels of order variability are injecting inefficiencies into the fulfillment process. Typically, when faced with the need to improve processes and boost efficiency, logistics practitioners turn to technology.

We asked respondents about the likelihood of deploying technology in the next three years to improve various operational processes (process pain points). Shipping, goods retrieval/order picking, and put-away are the processes most frequently cited as expected targets for technology investment over the next three years.

In their supporting comments, respondents also expressed a desire to pick single and multi-unit orders by zone within the same wave, as well as a need for flexible picking solutions that can be deployed at scale. When they were asked the same question about technology investment for warehouse planning process improvements, they most frequently cited parcel shipping, general inventory management, and slotting optimization as likely areas for investment support.

We expected parcel shipping to be a focus area due to results from other ARC and third-party research showing that the e-commerce boom had led to a substantial increase in parcel shipping. However, the high percentage of practitioners that plan to invest in technology to support reslotting and facility layout changes was unexpected. Nonetheless, it confirms the view that order profiles are evolving quickly and warehouse management is diligently searching for ways to boost efficiency.

Although logistics executives would like to have a blank check and with it, the ability to select “all of the above” when it comes to investments to improve upon their operations, businesses live in a world of competing priorities, where oftentimes one investment must be chosen at the expense of another. Given that reality, we asked respondents to select their top warehouse technology investment priorities over the next three years.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, when it came to software, warehouse labor management systems were the top choice. E-commerce fulfillment is labor intensive and costly, as these orders are generally small, with items often stored in different parts of the facility, and that require additional steps such as packaging and labeling.

WMS was the second most frequently selected investment choice, which is unsurprising given its role as the backbone of warehouse operations.

When it came to warehouse automation options, conveyors/sortation was the most popular investment choice, followed by pick to light/put to light. The responses for conveyors likely reflect the high level of conveyor/sortation use in North America, as compared to Europe.

Meanwhile, we believe that the interest in pick/put to light reflects a desire to gain efficiencies in e-commerce fulfillment operations. Also, the results support the view that autonomous mobile robotics (AMR) in the warehouse has moved from the concept phase to practical consideration, as 15 percent of respondents selected AMR as an investment priority for the next three years.


Customer expectations and competition from e-commerce are driving widespread changes to warehousing and distribution operations. Direct-to-consumer growth is not only affecting retailers, but also manufacturers, wholesalers, and 3PLs. Warehouses and warehouse fulfillment operations are increasingly playing a greater role in commerce due to disintermediation and a reduction in retail sales through stores.

On top of that, the relationship between retailers and upstream partners is changing, as wholesalers have increased their presence in retail and retailers have pushed direct-to-consumer responsibilities back onto their suppliers. As a result, warehouse footprints are expanding, responsiveness and adaptability have become more important, parcel shipping has grown, and labor efficiency remains as important as ever.

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Tips for Buying Case-Labeling Systems

For those exploring automated case labeling in your warehouse, this article from Pack World is a must read.

Originally published in: http://www.packworld.com/machinery/labeling/tips-buying-case-labeling-systems


Case labeling is very different from primary labeling. At the end of the line, it’s all about readable information on the label, and how it holds up on its journey to the customer. Here are some useful tips for those in the process of purchasing case-labeling equipment:

1. Understand your application. What do you need a case labeler for? Do you need a system that will accommodate a wide range of labels, fonts, and cases? Does the case labeler offer both direct-thermal and thermal-transfer printing? What about serial labeling in continuous processing for high-speed lines? Examine all the capabilities at hand. The questions you need to ask prospective suppliers will flow from your application.

2. Understand your customers’ requirements. What kind of information does your customer require on incoming cases? Some retailers have stringent barcode standards, requiring an “A” or “B” quality rating. Many are now highly automated, and goods cannot be received without the proper readable codes. An increasing number of grocery chains are adopting the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), which uses a Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) to achieve external traceability. Failure to provide readable codes with the correct information can lead to fines and rejection of goods, and can ultimately affect relationships with your best customers.

3. Know how much recycled content is in your cases, and whether it’s a consistent percentage. The hidden source of many case-labeling problems stems from good intentions: recycled content of cases. Variability in recycled content in cases means there is variability in the case’s surface characteristics, since recycled fibers are shorter. It’s hard to predict which substrate characteristics will cause label adhesion problems. Sometimes the percentage of recycled content can vary from batch-to-batch, and plant-to-plant, wreaking havoc with the labeling equipment. In rare cases, label material will simply not stick to cases, forcing the packager to replace entire shipments of cases. Work with your supplier to find an adhesive system that is broad-range, yet isn’t so aggressive that it gums up the labelers.

4. Consider reliability, durability, and cleanability issues. Will the equipment last for years to come despite having to work within a harsh and demanding environment related to temperature and/or operating hours? What kind of an ongoing expense will maintenance be? Another big issue for print-and-apply case coders (particularly with ink-jet coders) is sanitation. Old or dried-out ink inside the equipment can cause severe damage. In some environments, it only takes a few days for ink to start drying out if the machine is not in use.

5. Insist upon adaptability. Today’s markets change rapidly, requiring an agile packaging strategy. Can your case labelers adapt to any changes in the environment, such as the addition of RFID or barcode features? Are they designed to ease adoption of the PackML standard? Look to machine builders that anticipate the future.

6. Take responsibility for training. Lack of operator training has a negative effect on case label quality. Take the time for initial, and follow-up, training to counteract operator turnover.

Wearables in the Warehouse?

Great read from Manufacturing Business Technology. A couple of questions come to mind after reading this article:

  1. What is the tipping point where technology costs decrease for many small and medium companies adopt this technology? The article cites $1500 as the cost per each Google Glass. Will the pick efficiency and real-time pricing/promotion possibilities make sense for many businesses at these cost levels?
  2. Is this technology appropriate for all markets? This technology makes absolute sense for high-value devices like electronics, pharmaceuticals or medical devices and can help to mitigate risk. However, does this make sense for more commodity items such as reams of paper, office products or household products like diapers? Probably not. Again, I point to the cost aspect of it. If the investment costs reach a justifiable point for the majority of retailers and businesses to adopt, I can see more markets adopting this technology.
  3. Are customers sitting on the sidelines until a clear-cut standard emerges? Betamax vs. VHS. Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD. Sirius vs. XM. Sound familiar? Google Glass has the brand recognition in the smart eyewear market, but has been pulled from the market by Google. Other lesser knowns play in the space, but I imagine many potential adopters are waiting to see what gains market acceptance. No one wants to make the jump only to realize they backed a losing horse. Similarly, no one wants to make an investment only to realize that system will no longer be supported  or will only be supported by a small segment of the market.

Regardless, this is an exciting time for business owners to find ways to improve their product pick accuracy and further engage their customer base to provide an improved customer experience.


Originally published in: http://www.mbtmag.com/article/2016/02/wearables-warehouse


There’s much to be said about wearable technologies’, or wearables’, place in the warehouse. Indeed, wearable devices are now seen as a potential solution to adding more certainty to the ever critical order fulfillment point. Take pick inaccuracy as one example. A temporary warehouse worker, perhaps an employee hired for the busy holiday season, picks and stages an order in pallet, case and unit quantities. A manager then reviews the order for item accuracy, quality of items and appropriate labeling, using valuable time that could be spent elsewhere. Despite best efforts and oversight, pick inaccuracy still exists and this upsets the retailer, the client in this case (who has to explain to its customer why the order is incorrect) and costs the manufacturer money.

Now, imagine if that picker wore a device equipped with a camera that scans the barcode on the item before it is picked. The picker would know immediately whether the correct item was pulled and could course correct as needed before it gets anywhere near the customer. Additionally, the entire staged order can be checked for damage, labeling correctness and order accuracy without the supervisor performing a manual inspection. In this scenario, efficiency is optimized and the risk of shipping the wrong item(s) is significantly reduced, resulting in more streamlined warehouse operations and a satisfied customer who is much more likely to place another order in the future.

Early Adoption Shows Potential

Recently, Exel, a division of DHL, announced its adoption of wearable “Smart-Glass” devices to assist with picking operations in the warehouse. Exel struggled with pick accuracy which was lowering staff productivity, especially with seasonal or temporary workers. Since deploying Smart-Glass on the warehouse floor, the company has reduced its packing and shipping time by an astounding 25 percent. Certainly, Exel’s productivity makes the case for other brands to follow suit in the near future.

Other wearable technology such as augmented reality, which provides users with an enhanced view of the world around them, is also beginning to be leveraged in the warehouse. The real key to augmented reality technology is the ability to track over, shorted and damaged orders. This gives a company visibility into when items are picked too often, when orders go unfulfilled and when orders are damaged during product handling. Augmented reality can also eliminate the need for inspection for quality assurance. Warehouse workers can look at a product, determine its condition, take a photo for quality assurance and then load it on to the truck for shipping or storage in the warehouse. This gives companies accountability for damage bills, access to images of products and improved quality assurance. It also allows them to provide proof that an item was not damaged before shipping. Given the increasing popularity of wearable devices, it’s clear companies are turning to technology to gain a competitive edge and improve warehouse operations.

This is not to say that all wearables are created equal. As companies consider where and how to invest in wearables, it is critical to weigh benefits and detriments associated with bringing this next generation technology into the warehouse.

Wearable potential

While the direct benefits of wearables in the warehouse, such as increased efficiency thanks to improved picking processes, are clear, there are wider benefits that can be realized from the adoption of this and other technologies. One example is e-commerce. By combining the benefits associated with wearable technology with the ability to process orders faster, a company can significantly increase online revenues. An additional benefit is the ability to dynamically change pricing, with 100 percent accuracy, based on actual validated inventory. This is made possible through scanning items with wearable technology and adjusting the pricing based on available inventory. Having 100 percent accuracy is a critical point for dynamic pricing that is often overlooked as 99.9 percent inventory accuracy is not good enough if a business is trying to dynamically price inventory. This real-time visibility enables organizations to process more orders, closer to the dreaded cutoff time for next day delivery.

Wearable devices in the warehouse also have the ability to change the way companies do business, such as providing customers relevant offers during the point of purchase. Given the Internet connectivity this technology possesses, companies can experiment with increasing in-store and online capabilities. For example, wearable technology like Google Glass could connect what customers have purchased in an online order, begin to process that order in the warehouse and then offer the very same customer a discount on a related item also available in that warehouse. This means that when a customer places an order for sunglasses, while the order is being fulfilled, the company could determine inventory availability in the warehouse and send the customer a deal on another item, such as sun tan lotion. The sun tan lotion would be offered at a slightly discounted price, which is possible thanks to the reduced cost of not having to ship the two items separately.

Is it too good to be true?

With all the potential business benefits to wearables, there are of course also risks to consider. Wearable technology is not cheap: A Google Glass device currently retails for $1,500 and implementing it in a warehouse would be a considerable investment. Additionally, training staff to handle the technology appropriately could also take precious time and lead to decreased efficiency while they learn to use it.

Another potential challenge in wearable technology adoption is shrinkage. Keeping track of multiple devices in a warehouse setting could prove to be a difficult task. While companies should be able to trust all of their employees, theft or ‘shrinkage’ remains a main issue in the warehouse. The addition of such a flashy technology, like Google Glass, could result in increased shrinkage and require additional security measures and resources from a company.

To infinity and beyond

Although it will take time for the trend to catch on, wearables will be widely adopted in the warehouse in the next five years. It offers companies a number of benefits that greatly outweigh the detriments and allows them to eliminate repetitive steps, such as quality assurance. And while implementation will be expensive and time consuming to start, wearable devices will improve packing and shipping time and keep business moving at all times, including during the busy holiday season.

Sean Riley, Director of Industry Solutions – Manufacturing & Supply Chain, Software AG.

Calculating the ROI of Your WMS

Read the full article at ebnonline.com

Calculating the ROI of Your WMS

In part 1 of this article I outlined five key benefits that a company can expect from a WMS deployment. Here in part 2, I will discuss how a WMS can bring solid ROI performance while being a catalyst for continual improvement.

You have the WMS, so where is the ROI?

Getting ROI from a WMS deployment all depends on how soon and to what extent the business benefits from its investment. Although results will vary from distributor to distributor, breaking even and then achieving positive ROI can be fast and have very significant impact. Some well-organized distributors who are committed to efficiently driving improvements across their warehouse operations have recognized a positive ROI in as little as three to six months. In most cases, distributors implementing WMS for the first time will likely recoup their investment within 12 to 18 months.

John Atkins, chief operating officer of Idaho-based C.A.L. Ranch, recently went through the ROI process with his newly deployed WMS. Although this company serves consumer farming customers, electronics and high-tech companies can reap similar benefits.

“At first, we doubted whether we could implement our WMS on time and within budget, but both were accomplished flawlessly,” he said. The company immediately began seeing positive results and lower costs. “We reduced on-hand inventory by 25%, and our turn-around on stock dropped from five weeks to just 48 hours.”

ROI plus the promise of continuous improvement

It is important to remember that WMS deployments can be rolled out in phases, to reduce business disruption. Distributors generally start with receiving where they’re able to get inventory checked in and processed with 100% accuracy. By getting product identified and received accurately and efficiently, there will be a ripple effect on other process throughout the warehouse. Get it wrong and, well, let’s just say get it right! With receiving dialed-in, the focus can then shift to the remaining areas of the warehouse.

It is also the area that if done poorly, introduces inventory errors right when product comes in the door. A warehouse that is abandoning manual inventory movements to launch a smooth rollout of a WMS will see huge returns even in the first year of deployment. As warehouse workers become more skilled using the WMS, a distributor can quickly enjoy additional benefits which not only continue to improve customer service, but make workers perform better and more purposefully.

With quality reporting and visibility into each area of the warehouse, processes should routinely be reviewed and opportunities for improvement sought after. By determining optimal stocking locations and suggested stocking levels of products, the WMS should continue to provide the data and metrics to continue perpetual improvements for years to come.

Many distributors already have some form of warehouse management system in place; if they don’t, graduating to a WMS should result in immediate improvements. However, in our current environment, it is more likely that distributors are considering replacing their current WMS for more advanced functionality, a more contemporary software platform, or a WMS partner that provides exceptional support. In these cases, the ROI equation expands to consider how the warehouse operation needs to help embrace the competitive advantage that is strategic to the business.

Closing thoughts 

What should you take away? Before embarking on a WMS deployment, a distributor must have clear objectives in sight. Fewer errors, higher productivity and greater opportunities to service the customer are just a few. An implementation like this will be an opportunity to partner with your provider to not only meet those core objectives to achieve ROI, but also to liberate the organization from old habits and learn from experts’ best practices driving higher levels of ROI for others in similar industries. How about driving these objectives as a daily practice so you can smartly grow your business without adding people in the warehouse? It is reasonable to expect improvements from the start. It is also just as important to realize that the goal should be for continuous improvements, and that will require continuous collaborative efforts across the warehouse enterprise.

Using Print & Apply Systems in Dynamic DC Environments

…great read from Supply Chain Digest this month on how to incorporate print-and-apply automation for changing package sizes while remaining compliant with changing retail requirements.

Supply Chain News: Label Print and Apply Systems in Distribution Center Operations Can Drive Real Value, but It Takes Sophisticated Technology

Labels for Inbound Receiving, Parcel Deliveries and Retail GSI-128 Labels are Common Applications, But Just How Does the Applicator Know What Retail Label to Print?

SCDigest Editorial Staff

Label printer-applicators are of course very prevalent in manufacturing operations, but certainly have many distribution center applications as well, notably for printing of shipping labels, and especially for printing and applying GS1-128 labels (formerly the UCC-128) to meet retail compliance requirements.

GS1128The big difference in distribution center applications as opposed to manufacturing is the dynamic nature of the requirements. In general, manufacturing applications involve batches of product that for a time are uniform in size/shape (e.g., cartons of the same SKU), and perhaps more importantly may have the same static product information and bar code identifiers for every label in the batch.

Even serialized individual products, such as in the high tech industry, may not have a unique serialized bar code identifier on the master case itself built in assembly operations (though some certainly do).

Contrast that with compliance shipping label applications, where the size of every box coming down a conveyor line might be different, and more challengingly, not only will some of the data on the label likely change with every label printed, the format (design) of the label itself will vary from retailer to retailer even under the broad GS1-128 standard.

That requirement not only adds to the processing time needed to print and apply a label, it means the printer-applicator needs to be controlled by an integrated software application, often a module of a warehouse control system (WCS), though it might also be a standalone application, or even involve direct control by the WMS, though this is not common.

Many manufacturing applications, by contrast, could be managed with just a standard bar code labeling program such as Loftware, Teklynk, Seagull Scientific and others that operate more in a standalone mode, though those programs can also be connected to enterprise systems as well…[more]

Read the complete article at: http://www.scdigest.com/ontarget/16-01-05-1.php?cid=10100



Small Businesses: What is the tipping point to outsource your shipping?

key_shipping_strategiesShipBob.com started in 2014 and expanded from its Chicago homebase to the New York market within 18 months of its launch. If you haven’t heard of ShipBob.com, the company tailors to small to medium-sized e-commerce businesses and offers pick-up, packaging, warehousing and shipping services.

As a small business, and an online entrepreneur at that, holding on to every single dollar and cent is the lifeblood needed to fuel your company’s growth. You wear lots of hats, put in lots of sweat, tears and time and you reap all the benefits from your burgeoning empire.

Depending on your order volume, shipping requirements, and time required, at what point is it worth it to give up some control of your shipping and packaging to a third-party?  More importantly, how much profit are you willing to give up in order to have someone else manage your product’s logistics?

Every small business owner is different and each business model has its own intricacies, but third-party shipping companies may be the right solution for companies struggling with a never-ending time crunch or feeling organizational growing pains as it transitions from a walk to a jog.


Original article posted on:


A shipping service for small online sellers receives $1 million in funding

Chicago-based ShipBob plans to expand into Brooklyn, N.Y.

At 9 a.m. every morning, Dhruv Saxena arrived at the United States Post Office in Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower, and stood at the entrance. The entrepreneur asked people who appeared to be small business owners if he could ship their packages.

“After two months I stopped standing outside the post office, and started driving to do direct pickups at company offices,” Saxena says. “The number of ‘Yeses-’ I got just started going up and up.” [READ MORE]

Ship your product within minutes with Shippo! Visit GoShippo.com.

Best Practices: 5S and Your Warehouse

The Japanese have long practiced an organizational method referred to as 5S for decades and implementing this methodology will help to create order and efficiency in your warehouse and busy shipping environments

Were you the messy kid in school? Are your parents still nagging you to pick up after yourself (and you already have a family of your own)?

For many, being clean and staying organized is part of every day life. But there are others (you know who you are!) that are organizationally-challenged where messy rooms have translated to messy workspaces which can lead to inefficiency and, potentially, safety issues for those working in a busy warehouse or shipping department.

The Japanese have practiced an organizational method called 5S for decades and focuses on five key areas:

Seiri (“Sort” in English)

Seiri (“Sort” in English) focuses on identifying the right materials, the right equipment and the right people for your warehouse.

If your warehouse is dusty, are you using the right label and adhesive that offers the right level of tackiness and adhesion? Not having the right materials for your environment or products may result in added waste or mislabeled products that may create negative customer perceptions.

Not having the right materials for your environment or products may result in added waste or mislabeled products that may create negative customer perceptions.

Do you have the right personnel working in your warehouse? Have they completed right back-safe and forklift training and had refresher courses to keep best practices fresh in their minds? Doing so will improve worker performance, accountability while ensuring a safer environment and minimize your lost time and employee injury claims for your organization.

Seiton (“Set in Order” or “Straighten” in English)

Seiton (“Set in Order” or “Straighten”) emphasizes the need to organize the workspace to streamline the process and to have all tools required to do a job available and ready at all times.

For many companies, this step may mean organizing the warehouse to keep work-in-process materials separate from finished goods. This could be accomplished through the use of color-coded labels or signs identifying WIP versus Finished Goods.

For the shipping room work area, this may mean having clearly marked areas for tape guns, box cutters and binders marking daily, weekly and monthly shipments.

Examples of Seiton concept depicting well organized and sorted tools, bins and warehouses

Seiso (“Shine” in English)

Seiso (“Shine”) emphasizes routine cleaning and inspection. Make your mother proud! Doing so will ensure that the work area shines and is ready for the next day with all tools in their proper place and ready for use. Regular inspection will help identify when important equipment needs to be serviced or updated.

Employees also tend to have a greater sense of ownership and accountability when they believe the way they leave their work space is viewed as a reflection of them.

Printhead needs to be replaced? It’s better to find that out during inspection and cleaning instead of when you’ve got a rush order for your largest customer that needs to ship today!

Seiketsu (“Standardize” in English)

Seiketsu (“Standardize”) focuses on simplifying as much as you can from processes to products.

Do you have two different brands of thermal  printers that use different size ribbons and different roll sizes? Buy two of the same printer make and model and simplify by buying one type of ribbon and one type of label.

Standardize processes by creating formalized work instructions and training employees to do everything the same way. From proper lifting techniques with back-safe training to a formalized pick and pack process, you can ensure that everyone does things the same way. This also empowers employees coach or correct fellow employees that are not adhering to the process.

Shitsuke (“Sustain” in English)

Shitsuke (“Sustain”) is the final step and arguable the most important step in 5S. This is a methodology that needs to be bought in at all levels of the company needs to be reinforced through audits and training to create a long-lasting culture change within your warehouse. 5S is not a flavor of the day!

Ship your product within minutes with Shippo! Visit GoShippo.com.

In Conclusion

5S is a methodology and needs everyone to buy in. To maintain the positive benefits, all 5 steps need to be done regularly. Make sure everyone understands that a clean and standardized warehouse will not only benefit the company but will also help to ensure everyone’s safety.

For further reading, please check out the following article from ASQ which highlights additional benefits with effective 5S implementation.

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