The Five Most Common Labeling System Mistakes – Mistake #1
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Mistake #1 – Creating One Label File for Each Product
The Problem: The ‘one product per label file’ dilemma
As companies grow, especially ones that grow fast, they must prioritize. Product labeling can be an afterthought in the rush to get products out the door. Often, the process of creating a label for a new product is not really a process at all. Someone simply takes the label file of a similar product, copies it, updates it, and saves it.
It makes sense. By copying the last file, we assume the overall layout is the same. Hopefully it stays within the original guidelines dictated by the customer or by internal company standards (often in Marketing or Quality Assurance). The user makes many assumptions when doing it this way. But, when your priority is to get the product out the door, this is often the way labeling gets done.
This practice can go on for years and we have seen clients accumulate hundreds and even thousands of label templates this way. Although not as efficient as it could be, most clients don’t really consider this a problem until a global label change requires the update of ALL the labels. Example of global changes can include:
- Change of physical address (if address is listed on the label)
- Government mandates (i.e. CRF 21 Part 11)
- A company merger or takeover
- Software upgrades
- Customer mandates
The Risk: Business interruption, loss of man hours, and mistakes
Labor is usually one of the highest costs a company faces. Downtime for individual or group results in additional and unnecessary labor costs. Losses may become catastrophic when the downtime reaches across departments or the entire organization.
Individual Labor Costs
Completing one of the ‘global change events’ mentioned above usually means someone needs to open, update, verify, and save EVERY label file ONE BY ONE. If the number of files reaches into the hundreds (and they often do), this will take MANY hours. Regardless if this task is taken all at once or spread over days, weeks, and months, the cost is real and effects the company’s bottom line.
Downtime across the Entire Organization
Computer system failures, such as a hard drive crash, can start a costly Cascading Crises (see Mistake #5 – Poor Labeling System Maintenance) that can interrupt your business operations across the entire departments or the entire organization. A Lean Manufacturing operation deploying Just in Time manufacturing processes can quickly idle as the IT Department hurriedly tries to restore and update old recovered files or recreate them from scratch. The downtime is exacerbated when dealing with a large volume of label files. Regardless of your ability to recover old files, the recovery is likely to take valuable time.
Errors in Rebuilding
As human beings, we make mistakes. The stress and pressure of rebuilding the label files quickly and keeping up with other job responsibly increases the likelihood of making mistakes. The repetition of updating hundreds of labels under these conditions makes mistakes inevitable. Since we cannot predict when or where these mistakes occur we won’t find them until an alert operator spots them during production or downstream in the supply chain where the penalties can be costly.
The Solution: Consolidate to one or a few templates and control the process
How Label File Consolidation Works
Instead of creating a new label file for each product, we recommend standardizing on one or a small handful of label templates that can be reused for different (but usually similar) products. All the major brands of industrial labeling software have the ability to use variable or fixed fields in the label file. Thus the client can create a ‘template label file’ where all the data fields common to each product (company name, logo, address, etc.) are saved as fixed fields. Data fields that vary depending on the part number are saved as variable fields.
The printing process works like this…the user enters or scans a ‘key field’ (usually a part number) into the software. The software connects to a database (often in an ERP or accounting system) and uses that key field (i.e. part number) to look up other data that belongs on the label. Fields such as item description, case pack, weight, size, color, etc. are pulled from the database. The labeling software instantly populates the variable data fields on the label with this information and then voila! The label prints perfectly.
Adding New Products Gets Easier
Need to add a new product? There is no need to create a new label. All we need to do is add that new product information to the database. We can be absolutely sure that all labels using that template will print the same every time.
How to you know which files should be consolidated to templates? Look for labels with:
- The same physical dimensions (i.e. all 4” x 6” labels)
- Similar general rendering or layout of fields
- Use of the same data elements: logo, product description, etc.
Stopping the ‘One Label File for Each Product’ Problem from Reoccurring
To help enforce the use of just a few ‘approved’ templates, many labeling software companies offer ways to control access to the templates. For networked environments, these templates can often be stored in a secured database (like SQL) that can be centralized, protected, and backed up.
At EBI, we can help clients setup these system and can help automate the consolidation process.