The Future is Flexible

Versatility and flexibility combine with new technology for better labeling equipment
A bottle sits on a shelf, hoping to be picked up by a thirsty consumer. The one that gets grabbed the most isn’t just the one with a tasty liquid inside; it’s also the one with an eye-catching label wrapped around it. This end product is seemingly what will grab dollars and market share for beverage companies, but in reality, the race starts before that label even meets the bottle.
Labeling equipment manufacturers are meeting the demands for better production lines for beverage companies. To keep up with the fast-paced and ever-changing needs of beverage production, labeling equipment manufacturers constantly have to be on their toes with the latest machinery that will keep production running at the best capacity.
Serving up servos
These days, the latest and greatest in labeling equipment is tapping into the best technology available.
“Everybody seems to be looking for more streamlined lines,” says Dan Michaelis, vice president of sales for Ontario-based Multi-Tech Systems International. “We feel that newer technology is going to be more electrical than ever before. New servos are coming out, and the newer electronics are going to be incorporated into the labeling equipment.” Michaelis explains that two years haven’t made a big difference in the mechanics of a machine, but electronics from two years ago are old news, and completely different than electronics today.
“Photo eyes from two years ago are completely outdated now,” he says. “The electronics [for labeling equipment] are growing so much, and we are constantly looking at how to better tie-in with the rest of the equipment [on the line]. Servos that couldn’t keep up before are now phenomenal.”
With new control logics and servo-controls for equipment, says George Albrecht, vice president of sales for Axon Styrotech, Raleigh, N.C., “you get much more positive cutting application of the machinery and tying into the rest of the production line. There is communication throughout the entire line, with other pieces of machinery and equipment.”
Flexibility counts
Flexibility is a word often bandied about when it comes to beverage production in general, and with labeling equipment, in particular, the word crops up as an important factor in a good piece of machinery. It is nearly as important as the ever-important V-word: versatility.
“In the past year, it seems that flexibility has been the most important thing,” says Tom Kauffman, vice president of sales for P.E. USA – Labelers, Cincinnati. “With new developments in marketing labeled products, customers have to be forward thinking in regard to flexibility, label material type, speed, and more, when selecting a labeling system.”
For a machine to be considered versatile, it must be set up for fast and easy changeovers. Additionally, a machine’s versatility speaks to whether or not changeovers require tools, Michaelis says.  
Modular machines are having a big impact on beverage production for just this reason. The equipment is not only more versatile in meeting the line’s production needs, but on average, is much smaller than other equipment, making it easier to handle.
“A small footprint is a necessity to fit into plants,” explains Nadia Vizza, marketing manager for Pinellas Park, Fla.-based Polypack. “Configuration changes are happening more often and it is important to build a system that offers easy changeovers.”
“Flexible and modular labelers allow for the production of a variety of containers on the same labeler,” notes Olivier Huss, marketing development manager of labeling for Duluth, Ga.-based Nordson. “One modular machine can handle magazine-fed, roll-fed, cold-glue or pressure-sensitive labels, allowing manufacturers to switch products at low conversion cost. This is particularly appealing to contract packers.
“If the company wants to change the look of its product, it doesn’t have to invest in a completely new machine,” Huss continues. “It just buys a module that allows them to produce the kind of label they need, whether it’s partial labels, shrink wrap, etc. They can do it with the same machine.”
Friederike Arndt, of KHS in Bonn, Germany, notes that the company’s latest introduction, a modular piece of equipment called the Innoket SE, has been “deliberately kept simple,” giving ease and versatility. It features a table construction and central labeling carousel matched to the system requirements specific to the line. The labeling carousel can be flexibly equipped with a wide variety of labeling stations, Arndt notes, “whether cold-melt, hot-melt, adhesive-pressure, or roll-fed labeling stations — they are all doable. The Innoket SE embodies a labeling concept with modular design, which has the advantage that all modules can be easily changed if new labeling requirements should arise within the organization.”
Need for speed
In the performance of labeling equipment, manufacturers will agree that they look for less downtime, more throughput and higher speed. Higher speed means more product, and more product means more bottom line.
Norwalk, Conn.-based PDC International has a line of continuous-duty shrink tunnels that process heat-shrinkable sleeve labels, tamper-evident bands and more, all at extremely high speeds.
“From a labeling standpoint, we make one of the faster, single-headed machines in the industry,” says Gary Tantimonico, vice president of PDC. “We make a machine that can go up to 600 containers per minute for a single head for a full-body sleeve label. For tamper-evident, we make a machine that can produce 1,000 per minute.” Combined with consistently positive placement, a higher speed machine can make the entire line of production more efficient.
“The latest and greatest labeling equipment can enable improvements in filling speeds,” says Martin Wilson, president of SleeveCo Inc., Dawsonville, Ga. “Recent speed and output enhancements in machinery have been driven by high-speed filling and other production line demands. A machine’s capability of handling multiple-sized containers creates cost efficiencies. These all factor into lowering the company’s overall label application cost.”
Al Gore isn’t the only one concerned with the environment. These days, beverage manufacturers also are looking to offer more environmentally friendly products from start to finish, including labeling.
“A lot of the [large beverage] companies are trying to show they’re environmentally friendly,” Nordson’s Huss notes, adding that this has resulted in in the use of lighter and thinner bottles. But because of new, environmentally friendly containers, “labeling equipment therefore has to handle more fragile label stock and containers at greater speeds without compromising on efficiency, and without damaging the end product and aesthetics,” he says.
Thinner and more environmentally friendly label materials can present a challenge for labeling equipment manufacturers, notes PDC’s Tantimonico. The thickness of the sleeve label is very important to the labeling process, and if the label is too thin, it can become difficult to apply.
Not only are earth-conscious products introducing a challenge for labeling equipment, so are those companies whose products are packaged in unconventional bottles. The trend toward the funky means labeling equipment must be ready to accommodate.
“The shapes of the bottles have become more of a challenge for manufacturers,” Tantimonico says, “because it’s not your typical 16-ounce glass or plastic bottle.”
“Highly shaped containers, necessitating a wide variety of label substrates, have combined with specialty inks to increase performance demands on shrink application machinery,” says SleeveCo’s Wilson. “These trends will continue to accelerate demands for equipment improvements.”
Additionally working toward environmentally friendly equipment and products, Alan Shipman, vice president of sales for ID Technology Corporation, Ft. Worth, Texas, says that many print engines in the printer applicators are conforming to European Rohs compliance specification that removes lead.
The future in a bottle
For labeling equipment manufacturers, the future is bright with continuing innovation, coming in the form of faster, more versatile equipment, and more high-tech equipment.
 “As [companies] grow and as their requirements pick up, the speeds increase proportionally,” says Axon’s Albrecht. “The future of the industry, per se, is from a standpoint of sophistication of the mechanics of it, as well as the higher speeds that are being dictated in the marketplace.”
“The biggest changes in labeling is focusing on the electronics of the machine,” Michaelis says.
As labeling equipment continues to improve, it will also play a hand in more integrated production.
“I see more integration,” Huss says. “Right now, you make the container, then later, put the label on it. There are some technologies that are very much in use in Southeast Asia where you put the label on when you make the container itself. It’s two-in-one, and that saves a lot of money.”
“In the beverage industry, labeling is here to stay,” P.E. USA – Labelers’ Kauffman says. “Customers today want quality performance and a high level of efficiency.” Thus, he notes, the future is wide open for labeling, and the beverage industry will continue to push labeling equipment manufacturers to build accuracy, user-friendly, and efficiency into their labeling systems.
Tea in a box
Arizona announced its new “Fridge Box.” The brand from Ferolito Vultaggio & Sons, Lake Success, N.Y., launched its Lemon Tea, Green Tea, Diet Green Tea, Raspberry Tea and Sweet Tea in the new package. The Fridge Box is a 12-pack dispenser carton that holds 12 11.5-ounce cans. Arizona’s signature graphics and colors will be carried through the Fridge Boxes. The package is available nationally.
Rugby water
In preparation for the Rugby World Cup, Sidel created a 0.75-liter PET bottle shaped like a rugby ball. The bottle was designed with the same oval shape, grainy texture and stiches as a rugby ball and rests on what looks like a kicking tee. It will hold Alet spring water from Eaux Minerals d’Alet Co., which is promoting the product as the “only water packaged in a ball.” The package will be available in France where the Rugby World Cup will be held Sept. 7 to Oct. 20.
New in plastic
Arkansas’s Mountain Valley Spring Water Co. redesigned its plastic bottle line. The new bottle shape, designed by Flowdesign, Detroit, incorporates the company’s signature green tinted package color and its “Since 1871” tagline, which is located below a wavy embossed mountain scene. The label features a clear wrap and echoes the brand’s glass bottle line. The bottle’s label also features the Mountain Valley red oval icon on the front panel.
Wrapped up
Miller’s caffeinated alcohol beverage, Sparks, released a new wrapped four-pack. The multipack features a brand wrap and handle on Sparks, Sparks Plus and Sparks Light. In addition, the package features two UPC codes, one on each can for individual sale as well as one for sale as a four-pack. The package is intended to be easily chilled. It launched this summer in Florida and Ohio, but Sparks plans to release the package nationally in the coming months, the company says.
Redesigned LABELS
Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc., Bardstown, Ky., redesigned the labels for the entire line of Whaler’s Hawaiian-style rums. The flavored line, including Vanille, “Killer” Coconut, Pineapple Paradise and Big Island Banana, all feature high-impact graphics. The colorful labels communicate the names and flavors with bold graphics. In contrast, the classic Spiced, Original Dark, Great White and Rare Reserve Dark rums are packaged in a more traditional style featuring the ships of the brand’s seafaring namesakes.
Heritage made over
New York’s Genesee Beer and Genny Light made over its packaging as part of a renewed focus on Genesee Brewing’s core brands. The new packaging designs pay tribute to Genesee’s past while updating the graphics. Genny Light also received the “classic heritage” make over to bring it in line with the repackaging of Genesee Cream Ale that the company did in 2005. The new graphics also are supported on the Web site,
Award-winning design
Metromint announced its bottles were recognized in the 2007 Communication Arts Design Annual contest. The graphic design competition chose the bottles of mintwater as a finalist. The slender PET bottle features a metallic label that was designed by Metromint founder Rio Miura. Through in-house agency, Metromint Creative, Miura oversees the packaging, new product development as well as advertising and marketing of the brands. Metromint will be featured in Communication Arts’ November Design Annual.