What is an Automatic Tube and Vial Label Applicator? A Comprehensive Breakdown

What is an Automatic Tube and Vial Label Applicator? A Comprehensive Breakdown

Research & Diagnostics, Labware Marking, Labware Automation | 2 January 2020

Posted by Nate Brown

What is an Automatic Tube and Vial Label Applicator? A Comprehensive Breakdown

One question we’re frequently asked by our customers in research and diagnostics is, "What exactly is an automatic tube and vial label applicator and what does it do?"

The simplicity of our answer may surprise you. In their basic form, automatic tube and vial label applicators do exactly what their name claims—they automatically apply labels to your tubes and vials.

They can greatly reduce, or even eliminate the task of manual labeling from your facility, saving you time and budget. However, determining what kind of applicator makes sense for you given your goals, processes, and business case may not be so simple.

In order to help you find the best label applicator system for you, here are some points to consider:

How are you applying labels today?

TubeproAssuming you're using barcodes or labels already and are looking to explore options for improving your in-house process, we should first consider what your method is today. 

Whether you have a dedicated resource applying your labels, or it's the task of many employees throughout your processes, it's important to understand how you're accomplishing this task now, and what kinds of challenges you're having with the status quo.

Knowing how your current process works will help in determining feasibility in shifting to an automated process.

How many labels are we talking here?

As you can imagine, the need to apply fifteen labels per day vs. the need to apply fifteen thousand or more will lead to a much different kind of applicator solution. 

There are basic, inexpensive automatic label applicators that can sit solitarily on a benchtop and require little planning or commissioning; these are great if the volume aligns.

On the other end of the spectrum are systems that can be integrated into larger workflows and apply thousands of labels per day—this type of equipment usually occupies some floor space.

Flex TVF + Tube Pro

Find everything you need to know about tube and vial automation here

What are you hoping to accomplish with tube and vial label automation?

More specifically, why are you considering automating the labeling process? A few reasons our customers are typically looking to do this include the following:

  • Reduce manual labor
  • Improve label placement accuracy
  • Reduce errors associated with labeling
  • Integrate the labeling process with existing lines or workflows

Understanding your goals will help in determining what kind of label applicator makes the most sense for you.

Do you need a system to both print and apply labels?

Some automatic label applicator systems will automatically print labels, and then apply them. Other systems are designed to apply an already printed label or die cut part. If your labeling strategy requires variable data (date, lot code, patient-specific information, etc.), we'll need to consider a system that, at a minimum, prints information on demand before automatic application.

If your labeling strategy doesn’t require time sensitive variable information you can opt to order your labels pre-printed. When ordering preprinted labels there are often more options when it comes to the use of color making it easier to incorporate brand logos or color-coding. You might also want to bypass in-house application altogether and look into a pre-barcoding option like our program, READY Labware Services.

A comprehensive labeling service to suit your specifications. Download the READY Labware Services Brochure

What is your budget?

Based on everything we've discussed above, it should come as no surprise that the investment in an automatic label applicator system can vary based on things like throughput needs and connectivity requirements.

Automation equipment is known to be on the pricier end when it comes to overall cost, which is why it’s best to consider it an investment. When you take into account all of the value gained and possibilities for future savings in the form of reduced labor and waste alongside increased throughput, it becomes a lot less intimidating.

Even more, as its popularity grows and the technology further develops, more budget friendly options are becoming available. Just recently cab released their Axon 2 tube and vial automation system which can be purchased for less than $10,000! As a partner of cab we are extremely excited to help them unroll this affordable automation option and offer it among our product line, so check out our review to see what we have to say about it!

That being said, automated tube and vial label applicator systems still vary greatly in price, our own systems alone range from just under $10,000 to over $100,000. When considering business justification for a label applicator system, it's helpful to think through opportunity costs; what is the expense if a labeling mistake occurs, or if an asset doesn't get labeled at all? And also consider what’s already being spent on labeling.

Simply put, automatic tube label applicators can greatly reduce or even fully replace the manual task of labeling. Determining which system is right for you will depend on multiple factors associated with your goals, process, industry, and label volume.

Here at Computype, we've been helping customers improve their labeling processes with label automation for over 40 years. Our Global Services Team and Equipment Engineers are experts in helping you determine which applicator makes the most sense for your business, budget, and future goals.

How can I improve accuracy & efficiency in my labware labeling strategy?

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Nate Brown

Having been with Computype since 1994 in various engineering and field service roles, Nate has much experience in the labeling and automatic identification industry. As our Vice President of Strategic Accounts, Nate works with customers all over the globe to ensure tangible & consistent business benefits are realized. Focused on cost savings, operational efficiencies, and process optimization, Nate’s role is to help customers get the most value from their automatic identification investment. In his spare time, Nate likes to golf, travel, and spend time with family.