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Today, just about the only things that are certain in the manufacturing, warehousing, and transportation industry are disruption and uncertainty. Especially with businesses struggling to satisfy rising demand under the dual constraints of ongoing supply chain disruption and continuing labor shortages.

For perspective, consider these data points:

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US manufacturing, warehouse, and transportation sectors were short 1.3 million workers in June 2022.[1]
  • Another study predicts that the manufacturing labor shortage could grow to 2.1 million workers by 2030.[2]
  • In a survey of manufacturing industry executives, 38% of executives report that attracting new workers is their top priority for the production workforce in 2022.[3]
  • In a survey of US companies, business leaders reported that supply chain disruptions cost their businesses an average of $228 million in 2021.[4]
  • And it’s more than the COVID-19 pandemic: A survey of 400 senior supply-chain and procurement executives revealed that everything from Brexit and the US-China trade war to major commodity price fluctuations and cyberattacks have disrupted the global supply chain over the past three years.[5]

Supply chain disruption and ongoing labor shortages don’t show any sign of easing, so the news is especially grim for businesses that are struggling with manual processes and inefficient legacy systems. If you’re stuck in that boat, what can you do?

For many leaders the answer is to take a fresh look at technology solutions that improve the mobility of their workforces and give them better insights into their businesses. After all, when you’re struggling to find qualified workers, anything that helps you retain and maximize the productivity of existing workers is something you need to consider. And solutions that make it easier to collect and improve the accuracy of the data that drives critical decision-making are worth a hard look, too.

Modernizing the technology side of your business often comes with two initial challenges.

First, where do you start?

Second, how can you manage the changes on the fly?

If you’ve asked those questions, you’ll want to learn about the Warehouse Maturity Model that we’ve been working on with Zebra Technologies. This is a strategic, five-phase approach to technology systems that can be applied to just about any business that relies on moving parts, products, and people efficiently. The key to the approach is that it adapts to your specific conditions, providing a step-by-step roadmap that’s based on the state of your existing systems. And, since the Maturity Model is focused on workforce mobility, data collection, and decision-making, it’s perfect for helping businesses that need to overcome labor shortages and supply chain interruptions.

For example, labor shortages are magnified when you’re relying on outmoded workflows and manual processes that require long training times. The Maturity Model will help you determine if those factors are areas you can improve upon, and what specific mobility tools you can deploy to make it easier for workers to stay connected to the data, resources, and people they need to work as productively as possible.

Similarly, when supply chain instability hits your business, you need streamlined access to accurate data that can help improve planning and decision-making. The Maturity Model offers a framework that you can use to identify shortcomings, then apply technology solutions that deliver better data with less work. The goal is to deploy technology that gives leaders the insights needed to make the business more agile, and more productive.

When labor shortage and supply chain problems prevent the manufacturing or distribution side of a business from meeting expectations, the impact ranges from lost sales and lower profit margins to dissatisfied customers and diminished brand reputation—none of that is good. So, since those challenges are here to stay for the foreseeable future, it may be time to consider your approach to modernization. If so, click here to learn more about our Modernization Guide or contact SK&T for immediate assistance.






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Why Label Selection Is Crucial To Your Operations

Determining how to pick the right barcode label to match your printer and application can be difficult with so many options on the market. When you use thermal label printers to produce barcode labels, the last thing you want to worry about is printing issues. Surprisingly, one of the biggest reasons they occur has nothing to do with your printer. One of the most common reasons new customers come to SK&T with printing issues is that they are not using the correct labels and thermal printing supplies.

Your printer selection is important. Printing issues can occur because your hardware isn’t up to the task, you’re not keeping your printer clean enough, or your printhead is wearing out. However, common culprits in print quality issues are often because of your labels and supply choices. If you’re not matching the right products to the right labeling application and the right printer, you’ll be faced with a world of problems.

For example, the wrong label and supply combination, or the use of cheaply made solutions can lead to inconsistent print quality, problems with print darkness, smearing, fading, and even label adhesion failures. 

Ultimately, your labels and supplies can make or break your print jobs, so you need to be sure you’re using the right products for your specific label application. Factors to consider are the environment, type of usage, durability needed, and compliance standards to live up to. 

It’s important to match your labels to your use case. Labels are essential in so many industries today, and they need to be different to accommodate the needs of those industries. From healthcare to warehousing, to retail, distribution, or manufacturing, labels aren’t just a one size fits all.

How To Pick The Right Barcode Label – Things to Consider

In different industries and use cases, there is huge variation in labeling applications, and environmental factors such as:

  • indoor/outdoor conditions 
  • temperature
  • moisture
  • scratching/rubbing
  • the presence of chemicals
  • sunlight 

All factors play a role in terms of print quality, label adhesion, and durability.

Additionally, many supply chain organizations require multi-faceted labeling strategies and printing solutions designed to support different types of products that they produce or process, their palletization or tracking, customer requirements, and even the technologies they use to track and trace assets.

For example, automotive suppliers or manufacturers might need to label, tag, and track everything from pallets or raw materials to thousands of parts arriving from suppliers and finished goods. Ultimately, with so much variation in what needs to be tracked and in what applications and conditions, they may need to apply dozens of different combinations of labels and thermal printing supplies to get the right results and meet specific labeling requirements. Otherwise, labels may not be the right size for what you’re labeling, they may not adhere to the surface, they may not be readable or scannable at the right range or when you or your customers need them to be, and you could end up with downtime or non-compliance issues due to adhesion failures, label damage, and more.

It’s also important to understand that your label selection also impacts your printer performance and total cost of ownership (TCO). For example, using the right labels and supplies combinations, and investing in quality solutions will help you prevent adhesive buildup on printer parts and premature printhead failures. It will also help you reduce the frequency of label reprints, reorders, and wasteful spending.

How to Pick the Right Barcode Labels – Work With An Expert

To get the right results, you need to choose the right label with the right combination of components along with the right type of printer ribbon.

The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert in barcode labels and supplies to ensure that you’re matching the right solutions to each job. We have labeling experts at SK&T who have decades of combined experience, and they can work with you and our partners, such as Zebra, to help you find the right matches for your specific applications.

We have some great quick references and resources to help you identify these choices, including label selection guides that help you quickly find the right solutions. But we also provide complimentary consulting, recommendations, and advice, and you can even outsource the whole label and supplies selection process to our experts.

To learn more and request a label and supplies selection guide or get professional assistance, contact our team at SK&T for more expert advice and specific recommendations. We’d be glad to help!

Low-Quality Barcode Labels and Supplies

If you’re having problems with downtime in your barcode labeling, scanning, and tracking operations, there’s a good chance it’s due to low-quality barcode labels or a mismatch of the wrong supplies with your environment or application.

This is why it’s important to understand how your barcode label, printer ribbon, and other supplies can negatively impact your barcode scanning and tracking operations.

As a leading supplier of barcoding technologies and solutions, we’ve helped many companies avoid some of the common label and supply issues that can cause the following problems:

  • Frequent workflow disruptions or stop-ships
  • Labels falling off or becoming unreadable
  • Slowdowns and waste due to re-labeling
  • Premature and expensive printhead failures
  • Fines or lost business due to labeling non-compliance

Avoiding these headaches starts with choosing the right barcode labels and supplies for your specific use case, label application, and environment. One of the most important things to know is buying cheap, low-quality labels and supplies will almost always lead to these problems.

Cheap, low-quality labels and printing supplies are made with substandard and inconsistent materials not matched to your specific application and usage requirements, so they cause problems with print quality, label adhesion, and label durability. The wrong labels or supply combination will wear out your printheads faster or damage your printheads and printers.

Also, while barcode labeling seems like a simple and straightforward proposition, there are thousands of different label types, materials, and supplies combinations with different matches for specific use cases and applications. The right label materials, adhesives, and other characteristics need to be matched to each job and to the right printer to ensure label adhesion, durability, and scannability in your labeling and usage environment.

The right labels will also protect your valuable printheads and help you get more life out of your printer because they’re made with high-quality materials that minimize printhead and printer wear, while cheaper and lower-quality labels are typically made with more abrasive materials that can cause a lot of wear and damage over time.

To find the right labels and supplies for your application, it’s usually a good idea to work with a certified label and supplies expert such as our team members at SK&T. This saves time and effort for your procurement, IT, or other team members because there are a lot of factors to know and consider when selecting the right solutions. 

When identifying and recommending the right labels and supplies, we typically focus on a number of key factors:

1. Label Adherence

Label adhesive performance can vary based on the surface type and shape, so we take a look at these and recommend labels that are designed, pretested, and certified to adhere directly to your specific surfaces and materials. This way, you can be confident that the labels you affix to your products, packages, or pallets will remain secured for years.

2. Print and Label Durability

Each thermal label material and ribbon has different resistance levels to temperature, environment, and water or other chemicals, so it can be hard to know which label will tolerate various elements. Our experts have extensive knowledge and resources that help us confirm whether or not a label will endure exposures or contacts with certain chemicals, fluids, radiation, weather elements, and more. This allows us to recommend a proven solution that will deliver great durability under your specific conditions.

3. Printhead and Printer Protection

The hidden, long-term cost of many barcode labels is the amount of wear they cause to your printheads and your printer. The wrong labels and supplies or combination can cause excessive wear and more frequent printhead replacement or printer servicing and repair, which can quickly add up to thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs.

To minimize wear and eliminate printhead replacement costs, our experts recommend Zebra labels and supplies paired with Zebra printers and matched with your specific application. This ensures you get the best-quality and highest-performance labels and supplies, which maximizes your printhead and printer life. Also, if you use Zebra printers and sign up for Zebra’s Printhead Replacement Program, agreeing to use Zebra supplies exclusively, when your printheads eventually need routine replacement, they’ll be provided at no cost to you.

4. Label Compliance Requirements

It’s not always easy to confirm which labels are suitable for use on electronics, food and beverage items, medical devices, automobile components, and other products where ID labels are required to have special markings. Our labeling experts quickly identify which labels are compliant for your purposes, whether you need to meet UL/cUL, FDA 175.105, UID, Globally Harmonized System (GHS), Unique Device Identification (UDI), GM 14573, or other standards.

5. Label Quality and Authenticity

This isn’t broadly advertised, but many labels and printing supply manufacturers substitute materials when they produce labels, ribbons, and other components. This can severely and negatively impact the quality and performance of your labels, so ensuring consistency is another reason why we work with Zebra to provide our customers with top-quality labels and supplies. Zebra never substitutes materials or ribbon formulations once they’re specified for a given application, so you always get the exact same supplies at the exact same quality, and they’re ISO 9001:2015 certified via strict quality control processes to ensure reliable, consistent performance.

These are the core factors we typically review and consider when recommending labels and supplies to eliminate downtime and ensure smooth, uninterrupted printing, labeling, and scanning.

To learn more about how to avoid scanning and tracking downtime and to get help with finding the right labels and supplies for your needs, contact our team at SK&T for more expert advice and specific recommendations. We’d be happy to help.

Why You Need To Understand RFID Labels

Walmart announced earlier this year that they are expanding their use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to include many more product categories than previously. In September of 2022, the Walmart RFID mandate will be extended to cover thousands of suppliers who previously were only required to use conventional barcodes on their products. Basically, if you supply Walmart with home products, electronics, sporting goods, toys, or automotive batteries you’ll need to add RFID tags to your products. You can read more about the Walmart RFID mandate in our recent blog post.

Walmart has already indicated that they expect RFID usage to spread into even more categories in the future and other retailers are likely to follow. As a result, many analysts and business leaders see this as an indication that RFID technology is poised for widespread adoption across the retail industry.

Even if your business isn’t directly affected by the new Walmart RFID mandate, there’s a good chance similar changes will affect you in the future. As a result, a lot of businesses are now exploring RFID solutions.

RFID is somewhat complicated, with several variables that must be considered to craft an effective solution. But one thing that makes sense as a starting point for most applications is the RFID label itself. The label is an especially good starting point for those businesses that will add secondary labels to their product to comply with Walmart’s RFID mandate.

What Goes into RFID Labels?

Before you embark on your journey to choose RFID labels, it’s helpful to have a little background about RFID tags and labels.

At the risk of oversimplifying, an RFID tag is any combination of the following:

  • RFID chip – where the data is stored
  • Antenna – which sends and receives radio signals
  • Substrate – the material that holds the chip and antenna together
  • Facing – the covering

Together, the chip, antenna, and substrate are often referred to as an inlay. There are many different inlay designs for many different applications.

When you add a white facing and adhesive backing to an inlay, you create what is generally referred to as an RFID label. At a glance, these look like plain paper labels but look closely and you can usually see the embedded RFID tag with an antenna that looks sort of like a printed circuit. Run them through an RFID printer that both prints the label and encodes the chip, and you have a label you can use for a variety of peel-and-stick applications, like adding an RFID tag to existing product packaging to satisfy the Walmart RFID mandate.

RFID labels come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They also incorporate different inlays for different applications. For example, a larger inlay can support a longer read range, and some inlays are designed to work with specific types of handheld, fixed, or overhead readers. Plus, like common labels, RFID labels are available with a range of different materials and adhesives for different applications.

Key Factors When Choosing The Right RFID Labels

3 Main Factors:

  • Label size and inlay requirements: How big can the label be and what type of inlay is required?
  • Reader type: What type of RFID readers will be used to detect the label?
  • Material and surface: What surface will the label be bonded to and what environmental conditions will the label encounter?

As you work through these variables, you’ll discover whether your specific application requires a general-purpose, advanced, or specialty label.

General-purpose labels typically have a paper or synthetic face and employ adhesives that adhere to non-metallic surfaces. These are often designed for use with corrugated cardboard, so they are commonly used for case, pallet, and cross-docking applications in warehouse operations.

Advanced labels typically offer a higher level of read performance, making them well-suited for use in retail and healthcare applications. Advanced labels are often designed for long-range detection, which makes them useful in manufacturing settings or other applications where long read ranges are beneficial.

Specialty labels cover a range of different applications and can include different face materials, including metal. If you need labels that can be used to tag assets with metallic surfaces, or you need durable tags for IT equipment or healthcare assets, you may find yourself looking for specialty labels.

As you can see, there are a lot of variables to consider when choosing an RFID label. The right choice will give you a tremendous advantage in asset visibility, inventory accuracy, and product tracking. Choose poorly, however, and you may be faced with underperforming adhesives, poor-quality printing, and unreliable performance that limits the return you see from your RFID investment.

And the label is just scratching the surface of RFID solutions. To truly leverage RFID technology, the best step you can take is to engage a partner like SK&T. We have 25 years of experience helping organizations navigate operational challenges. We’ll evaluate your specific requirements to help you choose the right RFID labels and help you deploy RFID solutions that improve visibility and tracking throughout your operation.