Labels: An Often Overlooked Productivity App
Recently my car began overheating, so I cast around looking for an automotive store where I could find some antifreeze/coolant that would, hopefully, rectify the problem. I was half a city away from home, and the whole time I was thinking, Even if I do get antifreeze, where am I going to get the water I’ll need to dilute it? Most service stations don’t even give you free water anymore. I found a store—and the second I hit the automotive aisle, I was saved by a label that proclaimed: 50% coolant/50% water mix. Exactly what I needed! The price was reasonable, and within fifteen minutes I was back in business with a much cooler car, sanity and productivity preserved for one more day.
More Helpful Than You Think
In this era of Evernote, DropBox, and CrashPlan, it seems that the only productivity applications we hear about anymore are software-based. And sure, that makes a lot of sense, given the incredible cheapness of storage memory, and the jaw-dropping speed at which cloud computing is taking over the developed world. (Post-human fans, rejoice—we may be closer to the Singularity than you think!) But even with all the new wireless technologies, there are many down-to-earth activities that, while still influenced and advanced by technology, aren’t as “sexy” as the infotech revolution. (Cooling off cars isn’t really sexy, is it, though I suppose it could be with the right model.) Some of the relevant technology quite literally helps define our lives, maximizing our use of time and resources without us really thinking about it. Consider, for example, the humble label…and I’m not talking about the mental kind, where you call your boss a “jerk” or your wife a “sweetheart” (and hopefully not vice-versa). I’m talking about the adhesive kind you peel off a backing and stick on things, not the kind you stick on people. Well…I suppose you could stick an adhesive label on a person if they would stand for it, but you know how people are. While you and I might like to put a label that says “Warning: Explosive When Agitated” on the guy next door, he might not find that so amusing.
Sticking to the Point
In a modern rat race where every second counts, labels save you time, and as some genius somewhere has certainly proved mathematically by now, Time = Money. The more productive you can be with your time (which, after all, we each have a fixed amount of), the better the bottom line—and the less overtime and stress you have to deal with. Whether you work for a manufacturer that has to label 20,000 bottles of tartar sauce daily or just want to be able to find your favorite brand in a split second, labels save you time and effort. One way labels that also save Modern Humanity oodles of time is via bar coding. With a clever combination of laser readers, computer technology, and printing, we can use bar codes to quickly and easily: Check out at the grocery stand (even by ourselves) Identify products and prices in seconds Track inventory and assets in a warehouse Speed up mail processing Identify books Ship items by airplane, boat, or train Access records (for example, in medical situation)
The Converting Life
Companies that create and print custom labels are known as label converters, since they convert existing materials created by other companies—paper, synthetics, metal foil, adhesive, ink, and liners—into completely new products. It may sound easy, but it isn’t. Not only does it require fantastically complex equipment, but color-matching and pouring the right inks, setting the formats, curing the inks, and precisely cutting the labels all require a great deal of precision. And then there’s mixing and matching the materials to fit the conditions. Moisture conditions, temperature extremes, rough handling, abrasion, chemical exposure, and much more all have to be taken into consideration. Laboratory labels, for example, need to be able to stick in a variety of conditions, and often have to resist chemical corrosion. Luckily, a skilled crew and large batches drives the cost-per-unit down, especially when we can print a larger number of labels per unit area. Big labels cost more than small ones, in other words, and the more labels you need, the cheaper they are.
The Business of Labeling
Imagine going to a store where the products had no labels. Besides the produce, you’d probably have a hard time finding what you need (and even then, could you really tell a jicama from a tomatillo?). Sure, you can recognize ground meat, but is it pork? Beef? Woodchuck? What’s the fat content—10%, 20%, 40%? Remember the generic products in the stores briefly back in the early ’80s, the ones with plain white labels that just said “BEER” or “PEANUT BUTTER” in big black letters? Boring, weren’t they? There’s a reason that experiment failed. See, people want attractive labels and packaging that not only tells them what they’re buying but also to signal their favorite brands—items they know at a glance they’ll like. The imagery also needs to make the product inside obvious, to cut down on shopping time and, yes, to maximize the shopper’s productivity. Most of us would rather go to the park or hang with our buddies than spend more time shopping than absolutely necessary For product manufacturers, labels have to be vibrant and interesting enough to grab the buyer’s attention. Today’s market shelves are crowded with more items than ever before. Plain, drab, and humdrum labels—even the wholesomely informative—just won’t cut it.
The next time you notice a label, consider all the materials and thought that went into making it. Label makers, especially label converters, constantly implement new technology to make their art more accurate, cost-effective, and useful. And useful it is. In fact, labels—whether for products, inventory/asset management, or lab use—represent a small but significant aspect of the infrastructure of modern life. If they all disappeared suddenly, we’d face more than a little chaos. Think about that. Have you hugged your label maker lately? BIO: Etiquette Systems is a privately owned-and-operated printing/converting company specializing in the production of custom adhesive labels. We supply labels for a multitude of different industry groups, with a majority of our product made-to-order. Check us out at https://etiquettesystems.com/company/ouradvantage/. Have questions? Send ’em to firstname.lastname@example.org.