Once an identification system is designed, it’s important to test it beforehand to ensure it works as intended, with as few errors as possible. With that in mind, several strategies can be implemented to test your labels, which will ultimately provide smooth integration and efficient troubleshooting, helping eliminate mistakes in the long run.
Establish a realistic workflow
The first step to testing labels is ensuring a workflow to test them is in place. With so many different types of workflow, from automotive assembly factories to retail store inventories, each identification system is likely to be somewhat unique. As such, testing the system will require a personalized approach, using small batches of items and mimicking similar conditions to those employed during the normal course of operations. For environments that necessitate extreme temperatures or exposure to chemicals, it’s recommended to use realistic temperatures, chemical concentrations, and/or exposure times.
Remember, a successful workflow isn’t exclusive to ensuring the label sticks to an item in cold weather or harsh conditions. It’s essential to verify that all labels can be printed consistently and that they affix evenly and securely to each item. This is often where most troubleshooting occurs: setting up the printer, creating and using templates, and ensuring the finished product (i.e., barcodes and/or RFID) is printed and/or encoded accurately.
Scanners and RFID readers should also be tested throughout the workflow to ensure that barcodes and/or RFID tags are readable and that databases can be accessed and modified accordingly. This may require additional planning beforehand to determine the best way to scan each container. For barcodes, it is important to optimize how each container will be scanned, using either handheld or stationary scanners. For RFID, though many samples can be read without the need for a direct line-of-sight, it is necessary to determine whether any interference, such as metal or aqueous barriers, may hinder the RFID chips’ readability. As with any RFID system, the optimal read range should also be tested. Stationary readers can be installed throughout a warehouse to provide real-time data, while handheld readers can be used to scan inventory on-demand.
Check the label and the printout
The printout is just as important as the label itself. Therefore, when testing any new identification system, don’t just make sure the label sticks to your containers; also ensure that there is no smudging or fading, which can affect barcode readability. This is best done by adjusting your printer settings according to the printout you wish to achieve. The darkness setting can usually be optimized to get a crisper print, while it may be necessary to set the printer media setting to label or thick paper when using laser printers. A thermal-transfer RFID printer can also be used to encode RFID inlays and print barcodes simultaneously, saving time.
When harsh environments are required, a thermal-transfer printout is recommended. These printers, when utilizing resin ribbons, provide a printout that resists exposure to harsh chemicals, including alcohols, xylene, and other strong organic solvents that can easily smudge unprotected printouts. They also provide the best resistance against high heat and cold storage. The application of a lamination over the printout is also an option, as it offers added protection against chemical exposure and abrasion.
Consult your label manufacturer
It’s likely that even after rigorous testing, any new identification system will require some form of optimization. While it is tempting to perform optimization entirely in-house, it is recommended to consult with your trusted label manufacturer beforehand. By partnering with an experienced label supplier, any deficiencies experienced during the testing period can be assessed quickly and directly, with a tailored solution provided to ensure the system runs smoothly.
It’s also important to test the system in the long run once personnel have been trained and have had the opportunity to use it frequently enough to know that it works. If any problems arise weeks, months, or years down the road, contacting the label manufacturer can once again address these issues, potentially with newly developed, more efficient strategies that may not have been available before.