Labeling and identification methodsenable a returnable transport tracking system to support an organized, efficient, and economical distribution in the supply chain. That being said, it is especially important for pallets, totes, and containers to be well-labeled to ensure the supply chain can run smoothly and without errors. If companies experience shrinkage—the pallets, totes, or containers getting lost or losing traceability, the logic behind returnable transport packing is lost as containers then need to be replaced.

In this article, we will discuss the difference between the two most commonly used labeling technologies in this space: the traditional pressure sensitive label, and in-mold—a solution that actually becomes part of the container itself. After reading this article, you will hopefully gain a better understanding of which kind of labeling technology would best suit your supply chain needs.

The use of totes, pallets, and containers has been driven by a need for sustainability within supply chains. Returnable totes can make hundreds of trips backwards and forwards to destinations. But such a green supply chain process cannot function without a means of container traceability.

Labels and barcodes for tracking of returnable containers need to be easily read and able to resist whatever environment they face throughout the entire value chain. Beyond the basic known challenges of this industry, labeling in the returnable transport industry can be tailored to all demographics to provide additional value and differentiation; for example, color can be added to the labeling strategy to make for easy at-a-glance identification. Additionally, the right labeling solution give the opportunity to add visual checkpoints; for example, if a certain color stripe means the tote needs to be sent to the warehouse or adding a brand or logo to the label to make the container stand out.  

Computype has become prominent in this industry, with our ability to guarantee barcode sequence integrity, add color, and provide quality pressure sensitive and in-mold labeling solutions. We believe that the label is an opportunity to add value to and differentiate your product in a market where competition is fierce.

Pressure sensitive labels

Pressure sensitive labels in the logistic and returnable transport industry have been the most commonly utilized barcode technology for the past 40 years. This barcode technology is well known, well used, and people recognize it as the standard for the identification method in the industry.

From a customer’s point of view, using pressure sensitive labels offers a greater range of suppliers from which they can source the product. If you are wanting to keep your options wide open and/or price is the biggest factor behind a decision, you will probably benefit more from going this path.

As for pressure sensitive labels in the returnable transport industry, there is a very wide range of materials available, meaning increased flexibility to fit your specific application needs.

The major downside of pressure sensitive labels is that they are more easily damaged than in-mold labels. The totes that these labels will be utilized on may be washed, sometimes in hot water or with chemicals. The circumstances and environments they are forced to endure can be harsh. Depending on the specific environment, they might also be in freezers, in the sun or the rain for long periods of time, or they can be handled without care and end up battered; these labels have to withstand quite harsh treatment. Engineering labels for harsh environments is a strength of Computype, as we have extensive experience and realize the needs of our customers.

Customers in this industry really like the simplicity of pressure sensitive labels and that they are easily removable should there be a misprinted or misplaced label. In this case, if the labels are damaged, they can also be easily replaced.

The most obvious drawback to leveraging a standard pressure sensitive barcode label is that of application method.  Most organizations are still heavily relying on manual labor for the application of labels to containers, and while this can be cost effective, it can lead to issues regarding placement accuracy, consistency, and errors.  Automatic label applicators are the alternative to manual application. Based on your unique process and workflow, automatic labeling systems can either function as a standalone work center, or be directly integrated into your process.  The decision to automate is most often determined based on factors like volume, downstream scanning, and scrap.

In-mold labels

In-mold labels in the returnable transport industry are labels that are melted directly onto the tote or container during construction, meaning there is no adhesive or lining like a typical pressure-sensitive label. The label is put into the mold where the tote is constructed, liquid plastic is injected into all cavities of the mold fill, and the label actually becomes part of the construction, making it a more permanent identification option.

The major downside of an in-mold labeling strategy is that you are limited to when you can label, as it is required at the point of manufacture. This option is more of an initial investment, as you need the equipment and capital to be able to implement successfully.

Another notable downside associated with in-mold is that once the totes are marked, there is no opportunity to fix a potential mistake. This can result in much more scrappage since if a tote is mislabeled, the whole container now needs to be thrown out and reproduced. Because of this, it is important that information is double or even triple checked to reduce as much scrap as possible.

The main benefit associated with in-mold labeling is the environmental conditions you can subject the label to. You will struggle to damage an in-mold label with physical treatment, temperature, climate, or even most chemicals. The preferred method of labeling is oftentimes a decision based on the factors discussed to ensure it fits your process.

Future considerations

Another improvement to consider is the implementation of RFID (radio frequency identification) into your returnable transport packaging processes by adding a chip to the label for the tote, pallet, or container. Adoption of RFID increases communication and speeds at which totes are processed, as with one scan you are able to open a mini-database containing all information about the tote and the products it holds. In addition to that, at all times you can track the chip to locate cargo and ensure it is where it is supposed to be. RFID typically offers large reductions in waste, money spent on replacing lost items, and redundancies that occur in the manual data collection process.

Depending on your business’s specific needs and preferences, both pressure sensitive and in-mold labels are serviceable options for tracking and identification of returnable transport containers. Computype has extensive experience in this industry to ensure that your solution works for you. 


About author Chelsea Payeur

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