Label Inventor Recalls Discovery
A sticky situation revolutionized workflow solutions
NECESSITY MAY be the mother of invention, but sheer coincidence spawned the integrated label. In 1980, Gary Stewart, co-founder and owner of Trade Printers, Phoenix, was working on a machine he developed to apply transfer tape in segments when producing die-cut laboratory mount sheets. "It came to me that by reversing the process and applying tape to a form and then die-cutting the paper, we could create a peel-out label," he recalled. "There was not a specific application driving the discovery. I just saw that here was a concept with some merit that people would be able to utilize. The only options at the time were affixed labels or wasting full sheets of costly label material."
By the early 1980s, Stewart held the patent for the first-ever integrated label. Around that same time, Trade Printers launched the concept at a National Business Forms Association trade show in Anaheim, Calif. Needless to say, it created quite a buzz. One of Trade Printers' largest competitors showed very keen interest in the design.
Soon after the show, a Trade Printers employee saw two men walking around inside the back of the plant. When approached, they identified themselves as chemical supplies salesmen. The suspicious employee alerted Stewart. "The whole thing seemed a bit strange at the time, and sure enough, a month or so later, one of the visitors was pictured in a trade publication," continued Stewart. "It turned out the chemical salesman was actually an employee of the competitor, and the 'sales call' was a cover for conducting a bit of industrial espionage."
Eventually, the competitor infringed on Stewart's patent and started producing its own integrated label products. His 17-year patent has since expired, and several manufacturers now offer the product that continues to evolve as a workflow wonder.
Adapting to Change
Initially, Trade Printers used transfer tape to create the products, which worked well for continuous form and unit set formats. But, the upsurge in laser printer usage required design changes.
"Transfer tape is a differentially coated liner and tough to use with feed rollers," explained Stewart, whose knack for innovative problem solving led to his being dubbed "The Professor." "We had to develop different liners and adhesives that would feed well through hundreds of different kinds of laser printers."
Now, super-thin liners, including imaging liners, have virtually eradicated the jamming issues, and laser printers are designed to be more forgiving. "Today's printers will work with anything from a 15 lb. paper substrate up to heavy 125 lb. tag stock," observed Stewart.
"It's also critical to use the correct adhesive and watch the coat weight since too much causes the forms to jam," he added. "The thinner the liner, the easier it is for the adhesives—which are really semi-liquids—to flow out of the edges. Any kind of cold flow with adhesives is death for the integrated label. Yet, you must still have enough tack for it to work for the application. It's a balancing act."
Manufacturing typically begins with a regular forms press and requires additional processes and equipment to finalize the integrated label portion. While the bulk of integrated labels are designed for variable imaging by end-users, a fair amount of pre-printed labels exist as well, such as for product identification and contact information purposes.
At Ace Forms, Pittsburg, Kan., integrated form/label combinations currently account for approximately $150,000 in annual sales. Lindeye Webb, sales coordinator, expects continued major growth for the product line due to the cost-savings benefits for end-users. Having a multi-part solution built into a single substrate also saves time and reduces the types of errors that occur when dealing with individual elements. "This is particularly valuable for the medical and pharmaceutical fields where chain-of-custody is essential," she said.
"When distributors see duplication of effort, such as input, filing, retrieving or printing in the work place, there is an opportunity for offering a form/label combination," observed Webb. "When combining as many work functions as possible into one form, efficiency can be limitless."
She suggested looking for situations with possibilities for combining two or more current forms to help customers increase efficiency while reducing costs. "A good example is a combination pick-and-pack requisition slip and a bill of lading shipping label all in one product," said Webb. Hot sales prospects include group medical practices, mail order houses, direct mailers and companies doing individual shipments, such as parts stores.
Stewart pointed out that universities are good candidates that can use the products for registration lists featuring drop/add options. "We have also done parking validation applications designed with parking decals instead of labels," he continued. "The liner goes on the actual face of the printed form, which is then die cut through the back. When students peel it out, the adhesive is on the face and they can put it on the windshield. The products can be consecutively numbered, and offer clean removability from surfaces without tearing the decals or leaving residue."
He went on to say form/label combinations can add value to voter registration cards and official record files, as well. "We also still see a lot of forms with affixed labels that would benefit from being re-designed as integrated products, both
financially and functionally," observed Stewart. "Not only are affixed solutions often more expensive, but an integrated label is adding maybe two to two and a half thousandths of an inch thickness to the overall substrate, while affixed labels add somewhere around seven thousandths of an inch. It's just one more opportunity for distributors to best serve their customers."
With advances in materials, integrated products today offer unlimited design possibilities. This marketing piece from Ace Forms features a super-thin magnetic backing to create a peel-out calendar magnet.
By Maggie DeWitt