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Semi-automatic vs. automatic label applicator: Which one should you pick?

When your business needs to fulfill just a handful of orders, labeling your products by hand may not be too bothersome and costly. However, as your order volume grows, you may need to hire more labelers to cope with the demand, tremendously increasing your labor costs. Alternatively, you can leverage automated labeling to increase your throughput, ensure consistent label placement, reduce labeling errors, and enjoy labor-cost savings.
When it comes to automated labeling, you can choose between two types of machines: semi-automatic and automatic label applicators. In this blog, we will discuss the main difference between these types of labeling machines and the factors to consider when choosing a label applicator.

What is the difference between a semi-automatic and an automatic labeling machine?

Both types of labeling machines automate label application, but they greatly differ in speed of application because of how they are loaded and activated.
Both types of label applicators need a human operator who must manually load products onto the machine. But in automatic labeling machines, the conveyor belts allow multiple containers to be loaded and lined up for labeling, speeding up the loading process. In contrast, semi-automatic labeling machines can only be loaded with one container at a time.
The machines also differ in how the labeling mechanism is activated. With a semi-automatic label applicator like the Auto Labe Model 550 Semi-Automatic, an operator must press a foot pedal, switch, or sensor on the machine to apply a label. On the other hand, an automatic label applicator like the CTM 3600a-PA Printer Applicator does not need an operator after its initial setup. Instead, the system properly positions the container before applying the label. Many automatic labeling machines can even reposition the container multiple times to apply several labels.

What factors should you consider when choosing between a semi-automatic and an automatic label applicator?

Take into account the following considerations.

Label application speed

A labeling machine’s application speed will vary depending on the label size. The smaller the label, the faster the application. This is why labeling machine application speeds are usually measured by the length of labels that can be spooled out per minute. However, for purposes of simple comparison, semi-automatic label applicators can turn out 1,800 labels per hour, while some industrial automatic label applicators can apply up to 6,000 labels per hour.

Upfront and operating costs

Semi-automatic labeling machines are typically more affordable than automatic ones. The starting price of a portable semi-automatic labeling machine is around $3,900, while a tabletop automatic labeler costs at least $16,000. While you may have to pay more for an automatic label applicator upfront, you will be spending less on labor since these machines require less human intervention than semi-automatic labelers.

Space requirement

Semi-automatic machines are usually smaller than automatic ones since they do not have conveyor belts, allowing you to set them up almost anywhere.
It is important to note, however, that there are also tabletop automatic machines available in the market. The Auto Labe Model 390 Automatic, in particular, is specially designed for labeling small, round products, such as vials, ampoules, and test tubes. The machine is 32 inches long, 18.5 inches wide, and 29.5 inches high. The dimensions are not too far from that of the Auto Labe Model 550 Semi-Automatic’s, which is 30 inches long, 20 inches wide, and 26 inches high.

Flexibility: Container shape

Most semi-automatic label applicators can handle only one type of container shape (e.g., oval, round, or rectangular). Some models even cater to specific containers such as wine bottles, e-liquid bottles, cosmetic packaging, and standard shipping boxes.
On the other hand, many automatic labeling machines can accommodate a range of product containers, enabling you to label different container sizes and shapes by simply changing the machine configurations. With a high-end label applicator, you can save your settings so you can easily retrieve them as needed. If you plan to explore other types of product containers in the future, then an automatic label applicator may be more suitable for you.

Flexibility: Number of labels placed onto a container

Most semi-automatic labeling machines are designed to apply just one label onto a container, whereas automatic ones can easily be programmed to apply multiple labels.
However, depending on the spool design, some semi-automatic label applicators can be used to apply two labels onto each container. By alternating front and back labels on the spool, the operator can run each container through the machine twice, once on each side.
Unfortunately, this additional container positioning also increases the likelihood of labeling errors. The good news is that some semi-automatic label applicators have sensors that detect the label position to ensure accurate label placement. Light sensors work for most foil, paper, and plastic labels, but not for clear labels.

Do you need help selecting a labeling machine?

After considering the aforementioned factors, you may still be unsure about which label applicator to purchase. Do not worry, Pro-Motion Industries’ team of labeling experts can help you select the machine that meets both your budget and requirements. We carry a wide range of labeling equipment from trusted brands, such as CTM Labeling Systems, Auto Labe, and Herma.
But if you realize that renting a label applicator can better address your business’s needs, then we have you covered as well. We rent out labeling parts and equipment and even our custom-built systems on a short- and long-term basis.

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