A well-managed label program for lubricant bulk packaging is critical to all lubricant manufacturers, due to the importance of the label and the many purposes that it serves. Through the use of technology, label program management for bulk packages (totes, kegs, pails, drums, etc.) – once a daunting and thankless responsibility – has evolved into an almost-effortless process.
The objective of a label program is to ensure that information elements including brand recognition, product identification and compliance disclosure are printed correctly on a label and that the label is available for application when the product is packaged. The packaging process is performed at many different types of facilities including production plants, contract packagers and jobbers/marketers.
The fact is, if you do not have a correct label, the product is not useable or shippable. All comprehensive lubricant bulk label program management systems should address three key areas:
Label inventory management.
Accurate data compliance.
Security/access control of label printing.
Managing the Flow
The first of these, label inventory management, relates primarily to managing the number of different product label stocks, and the quantity of each product label stock to order for production. Prior to the evolution of affordable desktop laser printers that are designed to print label media, the lubricant manufacturer would be required to manage large numbers of different product label stocks based on the number of brands and products. To manage this inventory process required significant personnel cost.
As manufacturers adopted on-demand laser printer technology, potentially thousands of product label stocks were able to be reduced to a few basic label formats. This led to numerous benefits, such as reduced complexity of the label inventory management, reduced personnel cost, and reduced obsolescence of product labels.
On-demand printing also meant that the label manufacturer reduced production costs, and increased flexibility with distributive printing. When design changes were needed, managers had the flexibility to do it efficiently, and they also could gain increased control and responsiveness to regulatory changes that affected products labels.
Right Label, Right Now?
Data compliance has become one of the greatest challenges for any label program manager. Every change to a product and/or a disclosure regulation requires that the information database be updated immediately and be available for distribution to packagers needing to print labels.
Prior to the evolution of the web-based label printing system, to ensure data compliance, a manufacturer would be required to actually print the variable information on the labels based on the packagers production schedule, and send the finished labels out to the packagers. This process had obvious limitations related to service times and cost. International packaging was very difficult, too. In addition, if a packager ran out of labels, there was the risk that operators could make a copy of the old labels without any verification that the information was still correct.
This process was streamlined as electronic databases became more user friendly, and as on-demand laser printers were installed at the packaging site. A manufacturer could maintain the product/compliance information on a database and would send updates to packagers via disk or electronically. However, this process was still unreliable, leaving the manufacturer exposed if the packager did not receive and load the updated data onto the computer interfacing with the on-demand label printer in a timely manner.
Today, some web-based label printing software allows the packager to print labels on-demand, utilizing updated compliance data directly from a centrally controlled database via the internet. As an additional quality-assurance procedure, a web-based label printing system should have the capability to provide an electronic image of the correct label stock and a limited amount of critical variable product information, so the printer operator can compare the limited image to the actual label being printed.
Security and Access
Security/access control of label printing is a critical capability related to protecting a manufacturers brand and product. Prior to the evolution of web-based distributed label printing software, used in conjunction with on-site laser printers, the packager would have had an inventory of finished labels for each product to be packaged. These labels could be affixed to any product, by anyone, without any control or audit trail as to what product the label was actually applied to.
To avoid this risk, a comprehensive label program management system should include certain controls: It should have password access to user profiles, with product label restrictions for only those products, categories or brands authorized to be packaged. It needs direct-to-printer capability from the native software, for proper reporting. And also, it should have reporting capabilities that reflect actual label print activity, by date and location, for accurate comparison with purchased quantities of bulk product or authorized packaged products.
Label program management systems have evolved over the years, through the use of technology, into very efficient management tools used to control label inventory costs, label content and label usage.
The purchasing manager for one of the top five petroleum and lubricant manufacturers in the country confirmed that a major benefit to his company of utilizing a web-based label printing system was protection of the companys brand and product reputation. He noted that several unauthorized uses of the companys labels were identified utilizing the reporting capabilities.
This company also saw gains from managing data compliance requirements centrally, with distributed printing accuracy and control. Centralized control significantly reduced the possibility of compliance labeling errors.
Label inventory management at the company also has been dramatically simplified, the purchasing manager said, due to the reduction of label stocks. In his case the number of label stocks was reduced from over 1,000 to four.
The driving force behind this evolution is the web-based label printing software. Functional requirements of this software system should include an interface with a manufacturer-maintained product and compliance database. The software should have reporting capabilities for actual usage information, and be running on a secure server with 24/7/365 service. Users should have password-protected access to authorized products and site features, and the system should support online ordering capability to the label supplier.
In addition, a comprehensive label management system should have such components as label inventory management and a stocking program provided by the label supplier, and it should offer an on-site laser/thermal printer for on-demand label printing capabilities.
The newest generation of comprehensive web-based label printing systems leverages the power of the internet. By combining on-demand label printer technology with a secure, internet-accessible web portal database, lubricant manufacturers and shippers can achieve a powerful low-cost label printing solution that centralizes control of information while allowing for worldwide, distributed label printing capabilities.
If not already implemented, this should be high on any label program managers list of priorities.