What is an Automatic Microwell Plate Label Applicator? Comprehensive Breakdown

What is an Automatic Microwell Plate Label Applicator? Comprehensive Breakdown

Research & Diagnostics, Labware Automation | 6 January 2020

Posted by Nate Brown

What is an Automatic Microwell Plate Label Applicator

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

The simplicity of our answer may surprise you. In their basic form, automatic microwell plate label applicators do exactly what the name suggests—they automatically apply labels to your microwell plates.

They can greatly reduce, or even eliminate the task of manual labelling 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?

Assuming you're already using barcodes to identify your plates and are looking to explore application options, we should first consider what your method is today.

Whether you’re purchasing plates with generic labels already applied, have your own staff labelling in house, or a combination of the two strategies, it's important to understand how you're accomplishing this task now, and the challenges that come along with your current process.

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 a few hundred labels per day vs. the need to apply a few thousand or even hundreds of thousands will lead to a different kind of applicator solution.

For starters, your automation supplier will want to know how many labels are being applied to each plate, how many sides need a barcode, what level of placement accuracy is required for automated scanning, and how quickly all of that needs to be done to keep pace with the workflow. Some equipment is capable of applying labels to multiple sides of a plate automatically, while other automated labellers require manual intervention to label multiple sides.

In instances where multiple labels need to be applied to each plate and a higher volume of plates need to be labelled, a plate labeller that can automatically label multiple sides of each plate will be most helpful. On the other hand, if you have a smaller volume of plates, or labels only need to be applied to one side—no matter the volume—a labeller without that capability will do just fine.

For labs with extremely high volumes, we might recommend purchasing multiple plate labelling systems.

The unique thing about microwell plate labellers is that volume rarely effects the footprint of the labelling equipment, however, most microwell plate labellers can be easily integrated into larger workflows. This is extremely helpful if there is an existing automated workflow that would be improved with a labeller, but labs that expect to build an integrated workflow beginning with a labeller will need to keep real estate in mind. 

What are you hoping to accomplish with label automation?

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

  • Reduce manual labour associated with labelling and reallocate staff to more value-added activities

  • Improve label placement accuracy for reduction of downstream bottlenecks due to scanning

  • Reduce errors associated with manual labelling

  • Integrate the labelling process with existing lines or workflows to optimise efficiency

Goals in all of the above areas can be reached with the right automated plate labelling solution. Plates of different well-constructions and heights can be labelled precisely with automatic adjustments, labels can be consistently placed on multiple sides of each plate and automatic scanning can ensure accuracy and scannability of labels, all while speeding up your processes.

Different applicators have different capabilities however, so understanding your goals will be critical in determining what kind of label applicator makes the most sense for you.

Questions to ask before you change your microwell plate labeling strategy. Download the checklist

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

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

On the flip side, if your primary goal is to apply labels only, you might want to consider forgoing automation altogether and instead explore the benefits of outsourcing. Learn more about Computype's program for pre-barcoded microwell plates here.

What is your budget?

It should come as no surprise that investing in automatic label application can vary in cost depending on the features necessary for your processes and environment.

We can’t speak for all suppliers, but as an example, our standard automated microwell plate label application options start between $23,000 and $40,000 based on operator involvement requirements. Additional accommodations are almost always necessary, and will affect the cost so it’s unlikely you’ll end up paying the base price.

Custom automation is another option, with an even broader range in cost. Typically, custom automation will cost more than a standard solution and this is primarily because custom solutions are generally only necessary in extremely high throughput situations. In order to meet high throughput goals very large equipment is often required.

Whether you go with a standard or a custom solution from a trusted partner, when considering business justification for a label applicator system, it's helpful to think through opportunity costs; what is the expense if a labelling mistake occurs, or if an asset doesn't get labelled at all?

Also consider what you’re already spending on labelling. Think about the number of hours your employees spend labelling, the amount they’re getting paid to do so and how that adds up over time!

Simply put, automatic label applicators can greatly reduce or even fully replace the manual task of labelling. Determining which kind of 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 labelling 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.

The Complete Buyers Guide to Microwell Plate Labeling. Get your free copy!

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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 labelling 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 realised. Focused on cost savings, operational efficiencies, and process optimisation, 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.