Label and/or film adhesive applicator projects frequently fail. Depending upon where you source information, the rate of projects not completely meeting customer expectations is reported as being between 50%-75%. In addition, the natural tendency of engineers to hide bad news from bottom-line oriented management leads one to feel the actual percentage may even be higher. This is a catastrophe. As an industry we are failing at an alarming rate.

  1. Not providing appropriate application acceptance criteria – When writing acceptance criteria, it is important to keep in mind that the main purpose of the document is to describe what the user requires the applicator to do – not how the user wants it done. It should identify any functional and visual inspection requirements along with the method and frequency of inspection. Describing how you want a production process to be achieved goes beyond the scope of acceptance criteria and can more aptly be described as design or implementation of a solution.  Besides, if you tell the applicator provider how you want the system to be designed, you will be missing out on technical innovations their expertise might empower them to offer.
  1. Failure to visit prospective label applicator suppliers – As a project manager or manufacturing engineer, you may be under considerable pressure to implement a new solution within a tight schedule and an even tighter budget. You may feel you do not have time to go through a lengthy evaluation and collaborative process with all of the potential vendors at the beginning of a project. However, what you really can’t afford is to be a champion of a failed project. Remember the adage, “No one ever remembers if the project was on time.  However, no one ever forgets if the project fails to meet the requirements”.  Does your perspective supplier have the resources at their disposal to meet your goals?  How is their quality system?  Do they have the technical capability and experience to ensure the projects success?  All of these and many more nuances can only be uncovered in person.  Cut corners on this one and you will live to regret it.
  1. Using the wrong technologyAs an example, today’s technologies produce smaller and smaller components and as such accuracy of label and film adhesive placement has become increasingly important. Most applicator technology employed today was designed in a different era in which speed was the driving factor and accuracy was an after thought. Using machinery designed for speed when the application demands accuracy is asking for trouble. Likewise, a high accuracy applicator is not normally going to produce the fastest cycle times and thus running at its maximum speed is not likely to be a sustainable process.  Carefully take account of the design principals at the foundation of the applicator you are considering and make sure it aligns with your fundamental requirements.
  1. Failure to design for automationThe label applicator itself is just one component of an overall system that will ultimately need consideration for a successful project. Utilities such as air and power must be available and provided in a reliable manner.  The rolls of labels or adhesive die cuts must have acceptable tolerances and peel release to consistently meet the applicators capabilities.  The method of presenting or fixturing the target part must be coordinated with the machines competencies.
  1. Lack appropriate technical capability in-houseManufacturing locations have the responsibility of ensuring that equipment is kept operational and yielding required volumes. Adding to the challenge, manufacturing sites are increasingly located in low-tech regions with limited technical capabilities. Technical support and maintenance for adhesive label applicators have been simplified as the machines have been refined over the years.  However, there is still a difference between automatic application and auto-pilot application.   Applicators consistently need rolls of labels to be changed.  In combination with the inevitable variation of one or more process parameters, some technical expertise will be required.  Unless the organization operating the applicator is committed to maintaining the level of expertise they will undoubtedly be left frustrated by the very device that was supposed to increase quality and save them time and money.
  1. Failure to provide the suppliers with the latest documentation – As the manufacturing environment becomes increasingly complex with global competition and shorter time to market, the importance of an organized document control system at the inception of a new project is crucial to minimizing risk. As common sense would indicate, If your label applicator vendor is designing from the wrong revision of document errors may be introduced that could of easily been avoided.  What is your documentation system and just how are you going to prevent such errors.  Ask this in advance before it has cost you critical time and money.
  1. Not listening to applicator supplier feedbackLet’s face it, the label applicator company is an expert in their field or you would not be approaching them for a solution in the first place. All too often, engineers have a tendency to tell the potential supplier how they want something done.  In specification, either the method or the result can be defined; but not both.  As most projects are looking for results, focus on them and let the applicator specialist determine how they can best be achieved.  The expertise is what you are paying for; the applicator is just what you get to solve your particular challenge.
  1. Inappropriate budget requirementsAs the Japanese proverb says – “When you buy a vase cheap, look for the flaw”. It makes good sense to be responsible and get a good deal when spending capital.  Any vendor worth consideration is not simply going to give away their services.  It has to be a “good deal” for them too.  Alternatively, cheap solutions can create a hidden burden and silently pass costs in the form of increased downtime, scrap, and additional labor directly to the bottom line.
  1. Lack of supply chain communication – The label machine supplier, adhesive supplier, and converter all have a role to play in ensuring a seamless project beginning. Communication needs to occur allowing each of these key members to understand the others capabilities, challenges and needs.  Without this type of process incorrect assumptions are likely to be made and result in unclear responsibilities. Even in instances where it is clear, problem resolution is costly and ultimately the end customer pays for these veiled costs.
  1. Pushing for equipment to ship before the process is qualified – An adhesive applicator is usually procured for a project on a limited timeline and this can cause a push to production before the process is completely qualified. Meeting the launch date is important, but only if the equipment will be able to produce to the quality and volume requirements of the application.  Working to rectify problems in a production environment is infinitely more complex and challenging than addressing them at the supplier’s facility.  There they will likely have a comprehensive set of resources to address the problem quickly and efficiently.

As a manager of an adhesive applicator project you have embarked on a job that is no easy task.  You may be under considerable pressure to implement a new production line within a tight schedule and an even tighter budget. You may feel you do not have time to go through a lengthy collaborative process with all of the stakeholders at the beginning, the middle or the end of a project. However, what you really don’t have time for is to go so far down a path and be informed you are on the wrong path to altogether.

It takes a great deal of effort to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to voice their opinions on what they feel the requirements should be. You must also possess critical thinking skills to analyze and prioritize competing needs. Depending on your level of experience, or the environment in which you work, it may be advisable to rely on a trusted vendor as a consulting partner to help you through the multi-faceted process of avoiding the ten major pitfalls above.  Be warned – any one of the ten has the potential to completely derail a project and turn it into a failure.

Author: Mike Terry

Global Sales Manager
1800 NW69th Ave
Plantation, FL 33313