Lumber Labeling Systems: Direct Print vs Hand Applied | InkJet, Inc.

Throughout history, lumber has served as an essential material for building construction and appliance manufacturing. Used to create everything from houses and furniture to cookware and other everyday tools, lumber is a ubiquitous part of modern life. Lumber use has steadily increased over the past few years. According to experts, U.S. lumber production exceeded more than 45 million board feet in 2019—an increase from 44 million in 2018, 43 million in 2017, and 41 million in 2016.

Today, one can easily find pieces of lumber in local wood shops, big-box hardware stores, and online vendors. On these pieces, one is also likely to find an array of surface codes. Depending on who produced the wood, where it's being sold, and what the intended application is, pieces may display:

Along with this code diversity comes a variety of ways to apply them. Companies may choose to hand-apply their codes with stick-on labels, or they can choose to integrate an automatic labeler into their operation like the EvoLabel®. Which option is best depends on elements like output volume, facility environment, and coding needs.

To build a better picture of these options, we have profiled three of today’s most utilized lumber labeling systems. Read on to learn which of these choices may be best for you.

1. Hand-Labeling

Hand-applied adhesive labels are an easy way to place all necessary codes onto a piece of lumber. Manufacturers can design labels to include all required markings in a single space, eliminating the need for extra hardware. Additionally, the combination of white background and black text naturally lends itself to a high degree of readability. The contrast between the characters and background creates reliably scannable barcodes and easily-read text.

However, hand-labeling does have several drawbacks as well including:

  • Significant Time Consumption: Hand-labeling makes sense when workers only need to label a limited amount of products per shift. However, once operations grow to the point where 500+ pieces must be labeled daily, hand-labeling stops being efficient. To keep up with volume demands, workers can spend hours (and even entire shifts) performing hand-labeling, preventing them from completing other pressing tasks.

  • Label Inventory Requirements: Companies need to carry labels for every one of their offered products. Barcodes, spatial dimensions, and batch numbers constantly vary, requiring operations to create a diverse label inventory. Maintaining this label backstock involves meticulous organization and access to storage space to keep the stock, further occupying workers’ time and increasing costs.

  • Considerable Risk of Human Error: Incorrect SKU choice and inaccurate label placement are perpetual risks when hand-labeling. If label information is unreadable or if any codes are unscannable, it can cause major issues along the supply chain and result in substantial fines. 

To avoid these issues, companies can introduce an automated lumber labeling system into their operation. Automated systems answer the above problems by:

  • Minimizing time and labor requirements through high-speed coding technology.

  • Digitizing label inventories through IT system integration.

  • Ensuring marking success through standardized printing procedures and vision systems.

2. High-Resolution Case Coders

Built for printing on porous substrates, high-resolution case coders excel at lumber applications. Case coding printers like the Precision Series 72 utilize dense ink formulas to create sharp, clear codes. Case coders also have access to larger printheads than many other printer types. Accordingly, they can mark lumber with detailed graphics in addition to high DPI barcodes, data matrices, and other important images. 

By using a high-resolution case coder, companies can eliminate the need for placing labels onto their lumber products. This saves on time, labor, and material costs, while also helping to eliminate labeling mistakes. However, case coders are not necessarily high-speed machines as they generally carry top printing speeds around 60-80 meters per minute. 

If your operation requires a quicker printer, a TIJ model will likely suit you better. 

3. Thermal Inkjet Printers

Versatile and lightweight, yet still powerful enough to produce high-quality images, thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers are a great choice for those looking to automate their labeling tasks. Powered by small disposable ink cartridges, TIJ printers like the Anser X1 only weigh a few pounds making them simple to implement along existing production lines. Furthermore, the removable cartridges are designed to serve as both ink sources and printheads eliminating the need for regular printhead services and enabling zero-maintenance operation. 

With a TIJ printer, lumber companies can place logos, barcodes, lot numbers, and more onto their products in a quick, reliable manner. The Anser X1 in particular is well-suited for industrial lumber applications due to its:

  • High-Speed Capabilities: The Anser X1 has a max printing speed of 300 meters per minute—a speed that rivals many continuous inkjet printers.

  • Large-Image Marking: When used in stitch mode, the Anser X1 is capable of reaching a 2-inch print height.

  • High-Resolution Coding: Anser X1 codes can be printed at 600 x 600 DPI, a high enough resolution to ensure machine scannability.

  • Incredible Environmental Protection: The Anser X comes standard with an IP66 enclosure providing the machine with total dust ingress protection as well as the ability to resist high-pressure water jets. This construction ensures that the printer can maintain successful operation, even in the dustiest environment.

Looking to Improve Operational Efficiency? InkJet, Inc’s Technology Can Help

Although hand-labeling makes economic sense for smaller lumber companies, the larger a business grows, the less sustainable the method becomes. If your operation is spending substantial time and manpower on hand-applying labels, it’s time to upgrade. 

Here at InkJet, Inc., we offer a wide array of marking technologies from continuous inkjet printers to high-resolution case coders and TIJ machines. Call today to learn which option is best for you.

For more information on lumber labeling systems, contact InkJet, Inc. online or by phone at 1(800) 280-3245.