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9 Ways that Label Inspection Systems Ensure Zero-Defect Labels

Aug 01, 2021 by Mark Dingley

Do you want to increase operational efficiency in your business? FIRST, you need to make sure your label & product inspection equipment isn’t costing you!

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Did you know that label integrity is a pretty big issue for manufacturers? The high speeds at which products are labelled can lead to a variety of defects, and the second that a defect leaves the factory it can start causing problems for the manufacturer and their customers. In this article, we take a closer look at 9 ways that label inspection systems can be of assistance.

The increase in automation has meant that production lines are getting faster. Whilst this is good news for production volumes, it can mean bad news for your labels. Manufacturers have traditionally relied on the human eye to pick up errors, which was sufficient when line speeds were slower. The speeds experienced today, however, mean that human inspectors just aren’t able to check every single product on the line. Simply put, this is not good enough when it comes to meeting increasingly stringent regulations.

Another cause of labelling errors is the number of products on a single line. Here in Australia, very few food production lines deal with a single product. And with multiple product ranges processed through each line – combined with high speeds – the likelihood of errors occurring rapidly increases.

But are label errors a big deal? Most definitely. Errors can result in high numbers of products that are out-of-spec, meaning they have to either be reworked or even dumped. The worst consequences occur if errors leave the factory. In these instances, the retailer can actually reject the product or – if the product manages to reach shelves before the error is detected – it could even result in a recall. Regardless of what happens, label errors will end up costing you in some form.

It doesn’t have to reach this point, however. These days, label inspection systems can be established on the production line to ensure that zero-defect labelling occurs. Products can go out with the correct labels in the correct location for the simple reason that those with label issues are automatically detected and rejected. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that these systems have already become an essential component of the production line for many food and beverage manufacturers.

9 checks that label inspection systems can take care of:

1. Presence of labels

The simplest check of all, the system is able to inspect for either the absence or presence of a label on packaging or containers.

2. Validate label pairs

A common error, the front and rear labels can sometimes be mismatched. An inspection system prevents this by checking that they’ve been correctly paired.

3. Skewed label detection

Did you know that many retailers won’t accept products if the labels aren’t correctly positioned (it can, for example, affect easy scanning). Also consider that skewed labels don’t exactly give your brand the best image. This check ensures that labels are applied straight – and in the correct position.

4. Dog-ear label detection

When applied at high speed, there’s a risk that labels won’t be applied securely. This can lead to tearing or even the label coming off completely as the product travels down the supply chain. An inspection system will double-check that labels have been securely applied in its designated location.

5. Double label inspection

High-speed production lines have also resulted in the problem of multiple labels being accidentally placed on the same product. An inspection system can ensure that only one label is applied per product.

6. Overwrap alignment inspection

Wraparound labels, particularly when it comes to bottles and cans, need to be positioned properly and straight. Such a system will be able to perform 360-degree inspections where required.

7. Graphical label verification

A vision inspection system, providing it is equipped with the right solutions and software, can inspect for a unique graphical item on the label to check for its presence as well as verify if the right one has been applied.

8. Barcode verification

It is critical that barcodes are legible, accurate and scannable. Illegible barcodes can lead to problems with traceability, product shipments being rejected and, ultimately, unhappy customers. Most major retailers in Australia (such as supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths) require that barcode labels meet strict criteria – and actually impose penalties on vendors who repeatedly have errors. The good news is that a smart barcode-grading camera inspection solution will be able to ensure that barcodes are printed correctly. Verifying that the correct barcode is present also enables these systems to ensure that the code has been correctly printed.

9. 2D data matrix code verification

2D codes (like QR and GS1 DataMatrix) have the ability to store additional information, character types – plus they can be printed in smaller places than barcodes. Whilst these codes can be more tolerant of any fluctuations in the quality of the print, they’re not completely error-proof. A label inspection system will be able to verify that the 2D code is present by confirming that the proper label has been applied, as well as check that the code has been correctly printed.

Going beyond the label

When it comes to assuring product quality, labels aren’t the only things that need to be checked. Vision inspection can be used to double check a wide variety of other attributes – including cap colour, date codes, fill levels, graphics, tamper seals and so on. Fortunately, label inspection systems can be installed alongside other systems - including check-weighing systems, metal detectors and x-ray inspection systems – so that multiple quality issues can be solved at once.

The use of an integration software system (such as Matthews iDSnet) will bring the processes together under a single centralised control, enabling it to deliver a more efficient and streamlined inspection solution. Once the label has been checked, the product comes off the line and goes through fill level, packaging integrity and weight checks, not to mentiom x-ray inspection for metal and other contaminants.

Summary of Benefits

Interested in learning more about how using a machine vision inspection system can reduce errors in labels? Matthews has worked with a variety of companies from an array of industries (from FMCG to steel) - rest assured that we can work with you in tailoring the right solution for your needs. Contact us for more information.