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Digital label printing drives belt appealDigital label printing drives belt appeal

Lauren R. Hartman

January 29, 2014

6 Min Read
Digital label printing drives belt appeal

As a leading global manufacturer of precision timing belts, urethane V-belts, keyless bushings, urethane belting, composite pulleys, tensioners for conveying and motion control products, Fenner Drives, Manheim, PA, must be on top of its game. Recognized widely for its expertise in manufacturing technology, the company has delivered cutting-edge technology for more than 30 years.

To stay in the lead, the industrial products manufacturer looks for high-tech equipment and packaging in order to further its business. Recently, its Industrial Products Div. did just that when it tapped the quick-turnaround, variable-data benefits of bringing label printing in-house with the help of short-run digital printing technology from VIPColor Technologies. VIPColor's VP2020 digital color printer uses Hewlett-Packard ink-jet printhead technology to generate attractive, full-color labels that Fenner applies to its packaging for colorful urethane belts and other products.

The vibrant new labels are not only easy to read, but they also enhance product appearance and brand image. Now, the products are easier to identify throughout the supply chain.

VIPColor and Hewlett-Packard say they've recognized that decreasing order leadtimes and increasing needs for multiple, short-run print jobs have made day-to-day label management more of a challenge for packaging operations. "We've studied the tag and label market and determined that it's a great opportunity for Hewlett-Packard's ink-jet technology," says Ron Firooz, manager of HP's OEM Commercial Printing Div. "Here's an area where color is heavily used in the majority of applications. There is a need within this market segment for end users to print full-color labels on-demand."

The two companies collaborated on the design of the VP2020 for printing secondary packaging labels and supplemental, short-run labeling applications where unexpected increases in customer demands crop up, or when "mass-customization" is required. The unit can be linked with the Internet or a network, and prints whenever and wherever needed. The system's ability to color code and print product-specific, four-color photographic-quality images are key assets for many a shipping room or packaging plant. Also able to print all standard bar codes, the portable printer has eliminated a few steps in Fenner's labeling process.

Label changes as-needed
Earlier, Fenner ordered preprinted labels that it then overprinted with bar-code data using a thermal-transfer printer. In November, '02, value-added reseller Glenroy/First Impressions, Bensalem, PA, installed Fenner's VP2020 digital printer at the company's Manheim facility, which quickly realized the printer's flexibility, says Fenner's marketing manager, Robin Palmer. "We can now customize our packaging by adding customer logos on the packages. We sell to distributors, so seeing their logo printed on the labels is a nice, value-added feature. We are just getting started with this new printer in-house for labeling our urethane products, but are looking to purchase another system because we use it so much." The VP2020 printer features five compact HP printheads that generate Fenner's color-coded graphics and several photo vignettes on the labels to differentiate between products. Orange, for example, is used on labels for a particular customer that employs orange in its trade colors.

So far, Fenner's on-staff graphic designer has created more than 100 different label designs for what will eventually total six label sizes, with colors and text altered for each belt variety, and will eventually create about 500 designs, Palmer tells PD.

The labels are applied to clear, zippered bags and paperboard boxes that contain different coiled belt products in several colors and in 100-ft lengths. Graphic elements are color-matched to the belt color and can include a product description, a bar code, a large product-specific photo, Fenner's logo and address and lot, item and operator numbers (if necessary), as well as a customer logo and Fenner's marketing message, which reads, "We've got the right product for your application."

Below the slogan is a series of mini photos displaying an assortment of V-belts, idler pulleys, reinforced belting, guides and tensioners, which neatly showcase the company's large product range and capabilities.

Reacting instantly to changing demands, the roll-to-roll, benchtop printer works with label stock up to 6 in. wide, affording a print resolution of up to 600 x 600 dots/in. (dpi) from a Windows™-based application (a Windows driver is included with the printer). Fenner produces artwork using a PC, a digital camera, QuarkXPress™ software for the basic layout and BarTender label/bar-code printing software from Seagull Scientific, the latter of which was recommended by VIPColor.

A set of four 350-mL cartridges of magenta, cyan, yellow and black liquid inks are included with the printer, which works with an 8-in. OD roll of pressure-sensitive labels, also supplied by Glenroy.

The drop-on-demand printer operates at speeds up to 2,900 3 x 2-in., full-color labels/hr, 1,365 6 x 4-in. full-color labels/hr or 1,000 4 x 6-in. full-color labels/hr, dispensing an entire roll of labels or printing them out one at a time, depending on Fenner's needs.

Picture worth a thousand words
"Our new labels are very colorful, which makes our products easier to identify," Palmer tells PD. "Not only can we print labels on-demand, but more importantly, we also get a very attractive look with the product photos, which we didn't use before. It really upgrades the products' image, which enhances our image."

Variable information such as a bar code and product-specific part numbers along with nonvariable details can be printed on a single label, which saves Fenner the time and expense of ordering preprinted labels and then printing them with the bar code as a second step.

"We no longer pay for plate charges for new designs and then have to wait two to three weeks for new labels to arrive," Palmer adds. "The print is clean and easy to read, which makes it easy for our customers to find the information they're looking for."

Thus, printing the labels in-house allows Fenner to act quickly, which is becoming more critical as customer needs increase. Fenner can produce only the amount of labels it needs, which cuts down on inventory and packaging costs.

"The last thing we want to do is hold up a shipment because of a labeling or label-printing issue," Palmer says. "We can add a product photo on a label instantly because we can control where, when and what is being printed."

Palmer says she doesn't yet have overall cost-savings figures, but quick turnaround is just as important as cost savings. "This has worked well for us, and we're implementing a whole packaging initiative with it. Cobranding our products is probably the biggest asset with the labels."

More information is available:

Digital printer: VIPColor Technologies USA, Inc., 510-744-3770. Circle No. 257.

Ink-jet technology: Hewlett-Packard, 858/655-3879. Circle No. 258.

Printer reseller, label stock: Glenroy/First Impressions, 800/441-2230. Circle No. 259.

Label design software: Seagull Scientific, Inc., 800-758-2001. Circle No. 260.

Art/layout design software: Quark, Inc.,303/894-8888. Circle No. 261.

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