Maintaining an efficient and cost-effective production line is fraught with challenges that are often unpredictable and out of your control. Unprecedented global disruption impacting manufacturing means the need to be agile, dynamic and sustainable has never been so critical. Not only does agility help problem-solve and prevent downtime, but it also ensures you can proactively seize opportunities and minimise waste. Modern labelling processes play a key role in creating resilient production lines, offering the flexibility needed for instant adaptability, printing labels on-the-go to ensure product availability and quality.

In this interview, Jens Holbrechts, expert in automated product identification at Zetes, discusses the benefits of agile labelling and how a next-generation solution is a long-term investment for future success.

Can you summarise the pain points of traditional production line labelling?

Labels printed in the traditional way are not fit for purpose on the modern packaging line. In the food & beverage industry, for example, sudden changes to ingredients like wheat and oil are common and unavoidable. Another example is the pharmaceutical sector where substances are switched or added, the expiry date is revised or pertinent information needs to be altered for consumer safety or engagement. Despite these disruptions, labels must still accurately reflect key data such as composition, health claims, nutrition and quantities. If your labels (and packaging) are pre-printed and taking up storage space, they risk being binned if they can’t be quickly adapted, with financial and environmental impact. Leading manufacturers and packaging managers are increasingly faced with these challenges but are confident that the move to dynamic labelling gives them a competitive edge.

What are the main benefits of agile labelling and how does it help companies stay competitive?

The benefits are widespread. In terms of commercial gains and savings, dynamic labelling accommodates product information alteration immediately, keeping productivity high, waste low and stock on shelves. When ingredients are swapped or added with little warning, printing on-demand allows you to alter packaging in tandem, even for small quantities. Zetes’ user-friendly software engages employees, negating IT knowledge, technical expertise or training. To avoid human error, only the dynamic elements of the label are editable, protecting other corporate information or branding. Thanks to its flexibility, agile labelling allows you to print accurate labels quickly for packaging of various shapes and sizes. Adopting the dynamic approach of label printing on-the-go on the production line also supports just-in-time manufacturing, only printing labels to meet demand and eliminating the need for excessive (and costly) inventory. Furthermore, it provides the option to print labels in different languages when shipping to multiple destinations. This is a consumer benefit as well as commercial advantage. Supplementary booklets or instructions could be scrapped, as all pertinent information is printed on the label in the local language, aligned to specific regulations.

In terms of governance and regulation, particularly in the food & beverage industry, it is crucial to list the correct ingredients on product packaging to meet complex labelling standards which vary from country to country or within areas such as the EU. This includes nutritional information, health claims and rules relating to displaying notifiable allergens. Agile labelling helps you conform to current and emerging regulations so packaging always stays compliant, cost-effectively. Non-compliance is hugely risky, including serious health implications for consumers, meaning incorrectly pre-printed packages end up dumped. Labelling at unit level (marking with a 2D barcode, QR code or proof of provenance for example) also enhances traceability, which manufacturers and consumers increasingly seek.

Considering sales and marketing benefits, dynamic labelling offers the flexibility to print promotional offers, QR codes, shorter print runs of limited-edition labels or inclusion of a timely consumer message. Professional, high resolution, colour labels can be printed on a range of materials that are inkjet-compatible for aesthetic gains or to meet recyclability or sustainability objectives.

Can you elaborate on how dynamic labelling is a sustainable strategy?

Adapting manufacturing and supply chain processes, including labelling, to minimise impact on the environment is a core part of ESG (environmental, social and governance). When supply chain disruption leads to component shortages and alterations, the only rapid and economical solution to keep the production line moving is to print labels dynamically. There are few barriers to implementation, as the software and hardware are simple to set up and use, integrating seamlessly with existing infrastructure. Embracing this next-generation technology drives digitalisation and performance data on energy efficiency and waste management. As mentioned, a modern, agile labelling solution greatly reduces the amount of excess or unusable stock going to landfill and can incorporate labels that are biodegradable or made from recyclable materials. Demonstrating commitment to CSR and ESG increases reputation, transparency, investment prospects and loyalty, as customers increasingly pursue companies with ethical and sustainable processes. I believe that dynamic labelling is likely to become the standard of production line labelling, boosting agility, innovation and ROI.

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