It’s all about the labels

but it’s not just all about the labels.

A confusing statement maybe, but like a lot of things in world of operations and IT, quite accurate, but why?

It’s all about the labels……


If your reading this then you’re probably very aware just how important bar codes are to your business. You know they form the vital link between your ERP/WMS systems and the distribution and logistics of your supply chain that get your goods where they need to go when they need to get there. It may be that you are one of the ever increasing amount of suppliers that are being penalised for bar codes that don’t scan and result in rejected pallets and in some cases hefty fines. So you know all about how important the various bar code labels are, how they are used to track and trace the goods that flow in and out of your warehouses and how vital these codes in all their various formats and types are to your specific industry and business.

It’s not just all about the labels……

What you may not be so cognisant about is the “back story” to these vital pieces of data that are produced and deployed by their millions on through business operations globally on a daily basis.

You may even have stopped to think about the complexity of the make up for the physical media that your labels are printed on. You will no doubt know that you need a 4” x 4” label, that’s 100mm x 100mm if you’re lucky enough to be young enough to only remember metric measurements. You probably know whether your media needs to be direct or indirect and how that affects your production costs, or whether the costs of production are secondary to the requirements statutory or otherwise around the type, use, longevity of the bar codes you require. You may even be aware that there are hundreds of different types of adhesives that you could use that effect the “tack” of your label and whether it can be removed easily or not, or stick to certain materials or not, or even void themselves if tampered with. We at Datatrade do, and we can advise you on any or all of the above as well as the making sure that you have a right printer to do the job in the most efficient yet economical way for your business.

Have you ever thought about how you manage the data from your labels and the process’ that go around it?

In the area of retail and logistics there are 2 main ways of creating labels to drive your business operations. As in most things there is a trade-off and in this case its flexibility against “the extra step”.

Often label data will be extracted and encoded directly in your ERP/WMS system and printed directly to your printer. Often viewed as the simplest approach it does however limit your label production, and therefore can limit the flexibility of your business to react to changes that may be stipulated to your labels for any reason in the future. Thermal printers all have their own different language and although many vendors provide emulations it can often be almost but not quite perfect. Unfortunately though in the important world of barcodes labels “almost” doesn’t quite cut it. When was the last time you were happy because a bar code label “almost” read or you could “almost” read all the other bits of data that are on the label?

This means that organisations can often be limited to the choice of vendor depending on what their original data output was encoded to back when the system was first installed. Of course changes can be made to the output of these systems but organisations and especially their IT departments or third part support organisations tend to not want to do this for all sorts of reasons. Making such changes to code that in some cases was written many years ago can cause more problems than it fixes. In some cases the knowledge to “how” or “what” exactly to change has been lost. In most, if not all, cases the resource and time to develop the new print routines and the exhaustive testing that has to be done to ensure that any changes are correct means that such work becomes very costly and rarely makes it past a discussion point. This then can become a major brake on strategic drives to replace ageing or even out of spares supported devices and ultimately could cause a complete breakdown in your supply chain.

An alternative to consider when installing a new system or when faced with potentially significant costs in changing your data streams from your ERP/WMS system is to introduce a third party software solution. Such solutions put an extra step in the production of your bar codes but offer a lot more flexibility and can be invaluable if you are required to make constant changes to labelling by customers or in highly regulated markets with very strict rules on the structure and format of your labels.

Any good third party labelling systems allow you to either create labels and their requisite data from scratch within it, or alternately take in your host data either as a batch or as required, format it either on the fly, or using a pre-defined label formats already stored on the printer to print your labels as, and when required. Even if your printer is part of an applicator for example.

The added advantage of this approach is that it enables you to easily make modifications to label formats as they may be required, quickly and easily yet in a managed environment. It reduces your dependency on vendor specific solutions freeing you up to make sure you are purchasing the best products for your needs. Such systems also provide modular and compartmentalised process for the creation, authorising and printing of labels so that you can ensure you have full control of the design and printing process. It provides mechanism’s for central control and quality assurance and most are suitable for rolling out to multi-site installations.

Label formats can be designed and modified by users or IT personnel and don’t have to be encoded by application programmers on the mainframe host systems, but controls can be put in place to remove the ability of unauthorised changes. Testing can be discrete and most importantly you don’t have to change or effect in any way the data coming from your host. By taking the time to implement such a solution within your business you are providing a platform to design, develop, deploy and manage, all elements of your labelling requirements no matter if they are simple pallet labels through to consumer labelling for everyday goods or high value items. Putting in that “extra step” removes dependencies’ on host systems and will provide future cost savings by making any required changes to label formats easier, simpler and therefore cheaper to implement.

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