Label integrity is a big issue for manufacturers. The high speeds at which products are labelled today can result in a wide variety of defects. And the second that these defects leave the factory doors, they start causing problems for the manufacturer and its customers. Here, we reveal nine ways label inspection systems can help.
Increasing automation means production lines are getting faster, and while this is good news for production volumes, it can be bad news for your labels. Traditionally, manufacturers have relied on the human eye to pick up errors. That was sufficient when line speeds were slower; however, today’s speeds mean human inspectors just can’t check every product on the line — and that’s simply not good enough to meet the increasingly stringent regulations of retailers and trade customers.
Another reason for labelling errors is the number of products on a single line. In Australia, very few food production lines are dedicated to a single product. With multiple product ranges processed through each line, combined with the high speeds, the likelihood of label errors occurring increases exponentially.
Are label errors a big deal? Absolutely. An error can result in considerable numbers of out-of-spec products, which either have to be reworked or dumped. The worst consequences are if labelling errors leave the factory doors. In these cases, the retailer can reject the product or, if it reaches the product shelves before detection, it may even result in a product recall. Whatever happens, label errors are going to cost you.
But it doesn’t have to get to this stage. Today, label inspection systems can be set up on the production line to ensure zero-defect labelling. Those products with label issues are automatically detected and rejected, meaning your products go out with the right labels, in the right location, every time. With that peace of mind, it’s no wonder these systems have already become an essential part of the production line for many food and beverage manufacturers. (Check out five ways the vision industry decreased product recalls & packaging errors.)
Here are 9 checks a label inspection system can take care of…
- Check the label is present. The simplest check of all — the label inspection system inspects for the absence or presence of a label on a package or container.
- Label pair validation. A common error with labels is when the front and back labels are mismatched. A label inspection system safeguards against this by checking if they are paired correctly.
- Skewed label detection. Many retailers won’t accept products unless the labels are positioned correctly — to enable easy scanning, for example. And let’s face it: skewed labels present a poor image for your brand. This check ensures that labels are applied straight, and in the correct position.
- Dog-ear label detection. When labels are applied at high speeds, there’s a risk that they aren’t applied securely. This can lead to the label tearing or coming off completely at some point in the supply chain. A label inspection system will verify that labels have been securely applied to the container or package.
- Double label inspection. Another problem with high-speed production lines is that multiple labels can inadvertently be placed on the same item. This check makes sure that only one label has been applied to the same location on the package.
- Overwrap alignment inspection. For bottles and cans especially, wrap-around labels need to be straight and properly positioned. The label inspection system can perform a 360-degree inspection where required.
- Graphical label verification. With the right solutions and software, the vision inspection system can not only check label presence, but can also verify if the right label has been applied by inspecting for a unique graphical item on the label.
- Barcode verification. Legible, accurate and scannable barcodes are critical. Illegible barcodes can quickly lead to traceability problems, rejected product shipments and unhappy customers. Many major Australian retailers like Coles and Woolworths require that barcode labels meet stringent criteria, and impose penalties on those vendors who are repeat offenders. Fortunately, a barcode-grading smart camera inspection solution can ensure the code has been printed correctly, as well as make sure the proper label has been applied by verifying that the correct barcode is present. (Find out more about barcode grading here.)
- 2D Data Matrix Code verification. 2D codes (such as GS1 DataMatrix and QR) are capable of storing more information, more character types, and can be printed in smaller spaces than barcodes. And while these codes can be more tolerant of fluctuations in print quality, they are not entirely error-proof. A label inspection system not only confirms that the proper label has been applied by verifying the 2D code is present, but can also check that the code has been printed correctly.
Beyond the label
Labels aren’t the only things that need to be checked to assure product quality. Vision inspection can be used to check a host of other product and packaging attributes like fill levels, cap colour, tamper seals, graphics, date codes and more. The good news is label inspection systems can be installed alongside metal detectors, X-ray inspection systems and check-weighing systems to solve multiple quality issues at the same time.
An integration software system like Matthews iDSnet brings the processes together with one centralised control to deliver a more efficient and streamlined product inspection solution. So once the product label has been checked, the product comes off the line and is met with packaging integrity, weight and fill level checks as well as X-ray inspection for contaminants and metal.
Summary: benefits of vision inspection solutions
- Higher rate of accuracy: using a label inspection system produces a higher rate of accuracy compared with manual inspection, resulting in fewer label errors.
- Lower costs: with fewer reworks and product recalls, production costs are lower.
- Stronger brand integrity: correct labelling strengthens brand integrity in the long run by keeping flawed products off the shelves.
- Free up resources: without the need for a manual inspection team, employees can be utilised in other areas of the production line.
You may also be interested in how optimising your packaging can optimise your supply chain.
Want to learn more about using a machine vision inspection system to reduce labelling errors? Matthews has experience working with companies across industries from FMCG to steel, and can work with you to tailor the right solution for your business. See here for more case studies. Contact us to find out more.