Print apply systems play a critical role in packaging automation systems as well as all kinds of warehouse automation systems. They are used to uniquely identify and mark individual parcels for internal tracking, customer specific requirements, and external shipping purposes and are often integrated into the receiving, packaging, and shipping areas of automated fulfillment and distribution operations.

As part of an automation system, Print apply systems rely on real time data to execute precise labeling functions in compliance with carrier, customer, and business requirements. As a result, print apply systems are far more than just a collection of conveyors and printer applicators. They often involve a range of fully integrated components (including in-motion weigh scales, dimensioning scanners, and verification cameras or scanners) that are orchestrated by a sophisticated warehouse control system to create a near perfect labeling and parcel identification process.

Invata’s expertise in print apply includes decades of experience in designing and implementing systems that dramatically increase throughput, reduce labor and shipping costs, and ensuring accuracy in labeling requirements and customer compliance.

print apply system using top apply applicators for labeling in motion cartons.

Redundancy in print apply systems is key to enabling high speed application of labels to in-motion cartons. Shown here: Top apply labeling.

Invata print apply system

This side apply Invata print apply system uses a round robin algorithm to allocate labeling assignments between printer applicators.

Throughput rates for Invata print apply systems include top application of random height cartons at speeds up to 70 per minute as well as either side apply or top application to fixed height cartons at speeds in excess of 120 cartons per minute. Most of our systems incorporate a spare printer so that the required throughput rate is realized even during label replenishment and machine servicing. This translates to single line yields easily ranging from 3,000 to 7,200 parcels per hour.

print-apply-side-application

Labels are applied to open carton flaps to enable verification of order before carton is sealed.

Print Apply Applications

Print apply systems can provide savings and efficiency in a variety of warehousing applications:

  • Receiving operations can utilize a print apply system for labeling incoming parcels with unique identification numbers (serial numbers or LPNs) that enable tracking of individual parcels throughout the warehouse. Incoming items are often received against advance shipping notifications or ASNs via receiving software which allocates the incoming inventory while supplying the print apply system with the information needed to label and identify individual parcels.
  • Wholesalers and manufactures can utilize a print apply system to affix advance ship notice (ASN) labels, and other custom markings, to their parcels in specific configurations and locations that comply with each retailer’s labeling requirements. This enables wholesale suppliers to efficiently label their outbound parcels while avoiding compliance chargebacks from their retail customers.
  • Fulfillment and distribution operations can utilize a print apply system to meet small parcel manifesting requirements such as specifying parcel weight and other carrier compliant information on shipping labels in accordance with specifications and tolerances of UPS, FedEX, USPS, and a host of other carriers and modes of transportation.
  • Print apply systems can also be utilized to provide multi-part (peel back) labels that may include a shipping label, a packing list label, and return label in layers on the parcel.

Whatever the application, Invata custom configures its print apply systems to meet the clients needs while ensuring integration and supportability with the entire warehouse automation system.

Parts of a Print Apply Line

Print-apply-system-overview-1000

Print apply lines are commonly integrated into an overall shipping or receiving process and the associated sortation conveyors. The parts of a line include:

  1. Control cabinet with PLC.
  2. Alignment conveyors to ensure parcels are consistently placed in precise alignment with the print heads.
  3. Accumulation conveyor to enable a smooth induction process.
  4. Over height sensor (top apply only) to ensure parcels conform to size restrictions.
  5. Servo controlled gapping or pitching conveyor to ensure proper spacing between parcels.
  6. Stability belt (when a scale is required for manifesting or quality checking) to ensure accurate weighing.
  7. In-motion scale (if required) to weigh passing parcel.
  8. Scan tunnel (single or multi sided, cameras if needed) to identify passing parcel.
  9. FastTrak area controller to enable interaction with system and visibility.
  10. Control stations for starting/stopping and service.
  11. Dimensioning scanner (optional) for parcel measurement.
  12. Print apply belt with sufficient length to buffer host/manifesting software communications.
  13. Printers (either side or top, or both) to apply labels.
  14. Label verification scanner or camera to ensure accuracy.
  15. Exceptions processing line for out of tolerance parcels and labels.

Benefits of Print Apply

The primary driver when considering print apply systems is labor savings as an Invata system can eliminate all labor associated with the print apply process with the exception of machine and supplies maintenance and exceptions line processing.  Other print apply system benefits include:

  • Dramatically increases throughput over manual labeling systems. Reduces shipping costs, chargebacks, and returns, due to accuracy and compliance in labeling process.
  • Increases customer satisfaction due to customers receiving the right parcels in a timely manner.
  • Provides accurate, consistent label placement for retail ASN compliance.
  • Enables 100% accuracy and quality with label checking.
  • Can include parcel weighing to enhance manifesting capabilities and savings.
  • Allows integration of in-motion weigh scale and dimensioning scanner to reduce manual dimensioning/weigh costs.
  • Enables integration with sortation system to separate parcels by carrier, service level, and weight.

Print apply line scan tunnel

Print apply line scan tunnels can include ID scanners, a height sensor, a dimensioner, and an in-motion scale.

  • Enables throughput rates of 3,000 to 7,200 per hour on a single line.
  • Provides ability to incorporate inbound and outbound sortation processes without additional induction conveyors and scanners.
  • Provides redundancy (when a spare machine is installed), eliminating downtime associated with label changes and machine service.

Print Apply Integration Considerations

Print Apply labeling

An Invata printer applicator tamps a label atop a passing, random height carton.

Of equal importance to the performance of a print apply system is the warehouse management system (WMS) and warehouse control system (WCS) software used to integrate a print apply line into a warehouse or packaging automation system. Invata’s own FastTrak® WM+ warehouse execution software suite is a key asset to achieving optimal performance for all type of print apply systems.

To learn more about what an Invata print apply line can do for your operation, contact us, and we’ll be happy to share more about our long history of integrating print apply technology to enhance warehouse operations.

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