Field Report

Labels for function and decoration on insulation, glass and coolers

March 3, 2006

Located almost dead center in the US state of Indiana is Madison County, home to the small town of Markelville and Reflectix Inc., a global supplier of aluminum bubble foil insulating products since 1979. The county population is about 135,000 with about 350 living in Markelville. Reflectix was purchased by Sealed Air Corporation in 2000.

I was familiar with the major Reflectix product, rolls of insulating bubble foil, having just insulated a very large crawl space in my home. All the glowing attributes on the packaging were actually true! It was extremely easy to use (pair of scissors and a stapler), absolutely no dirt or dust or fibers, non-toxic and non-carcinogenic and, just as great, it instantly warmed the crawl space from a near-frosty 45° F to about 60°. I'm positive I'll be getting a very quick return on my nominal investment.

After such an easy installation, it was just natural to call Reflectix and I got to talk directly with Kevin Thompson, the plant manager. When I used the rolls, I noted that one of the labels was affixed with an extremely light tack removable adhesive because on the back of it (under the adhesive) were the instructions for the different types of installation - rafters, walls, crawl spaces, etc. It removed very easily and the instructions were simple to follow. The second label, which spelled out the product's R ratings in three languages, was affixed permanently to the insulation. When I started to peel that one off, I quickly came to the conclusion that (1) it is likely that no one would ever see it in the crawl space and (2) since the insulating portion of the material is the actual bubbles of air between the two sheets of aluminum, it wouldn't harm anything if it were left on.

"We stock about 40 to 50 preprinted permanent adhesive labels, primarily with just a plate change denoting the roll sizes," Thompson says. "We then buy the preprinted, front and back, four-color tri-lingual sheets from a local vendor to make the removable labels in-house. Our employees spray the removable adhesive from spray cans at the extruding line," he notes. Thompson adds that he would like to be able to purchase a repositionable label "with the back printing under the adhesive to let our operators concentrate on the line and just affix the permanent adhesive label and a repositionable label." He is basically looking for a stickie-type repositionable adhesive that could be positioned easily on the roll prior to the polywrap operation, which would be simple for the end user to remove to get to the instructions. This would also eliminate the operator having to spray the back of the sheet at the right moment so it can dry slightly before being adhered to the product.

Reflectix manufactures primarily roll products, but it does have diecutting capability in-house for customers who need diecut sheets or flat sizes. "We ship rolls of material as small as 2" wide for insulating pipe all the way up to giant rolls 10' wide." The widest production is four feet, but the company has the ability to splice two and a half of these for brawny customers.

There is a growing business in using the product for thermal insulation for shippers of perishable goods, such as pharmaceuticals. These include mailers, box liners, pallet covers, and the like. The aluminum bubble envelopes, Thompson says, has created another demand for labels: Customers want their address labels affixed to these envelopes, so Reflectix purchases rolls of labels and automatically applies them in-line during production.

A smorgasboard of shippers serve the plant - RPS, Fedex, UPS Ground, Yellow, CSX - as well as overseas containers for export. Reflectix prints two variable information labels with bar codes: one for shipping, the other which many customers scan and use as their receiving report.

Art glass

Williamstown, WV, USA, a town of 3,000 on the south bank of the Ohio River, was chartered in 1822. It retains much of its old charm in large part due to the skilled artisans who still hand-make glass art objects at the 101-year-old Fenton Art Glass Company. Recognition of the company and its tour and museum has been made by Rand McNally, which makes it an "Editor's Pick" in the 2006 Atlas. USA Today newspaper named the Fenton factory tour one of its top ten tours in the United States.

Jim Measell, the Fenton historian, knows just about every facet of the operation and is a great source of information. A walking, talking history book of the facility, Measell took us on a verbal tour of the operation. He even included descriptions of the cast iron, handmade molds still used in day-to-day operations. I was already familiar with what Measell called "studio" glass blowing, having lived in Williamsburg, VA. While I've visited several studio operations on the Oregon Coast, I quickly found out that Fenton differs greatly from these smaller operations.

I wasn't prepared for the scope of the Fenton production process, which has been going on in a factory opened in 1907 in Williamstown. "The company started in 1905," Measell says, "with hand painting of glass objects that had been made by other glass companies. They soon outstripped the local supply so they decided to build their own factory." In just a little over a year, Fenton had constructed a new factory and was producing its own art glass.

"Today, teams of 28 to 34 skilled and miscellaneous craftsmen do the production operations. These include the gatherers, who bring glass out of the melting pots with long punty rods to the pressers, who use shears to cut the gob and allow the molten glass to drop into the cast iron molds," Measell continues. "Then there are the glass blowers, the moldmakers and the basket handlers. The handler has his own distinctive mark so that a purchaser or recipient of a Fenton basket can actually know who attached the handle," he says.

Glassworkers have an eight hour day, but Measell says some people work different jobs over four-hour turns, "filling in wherever they are needed while the more skilled personnel continue the same task for the whole eight hours."

Each piece of art glass that passes a meticulous inspection receives the final seal of approval: a silver and black pressure sensitive label about the size of a thumbnail. In 2005, to celebrate Fenton's 100th anniversary, that sticker said "Fenton 100 Years 2005". The item determines the sticker or tag. For example, Measell says, "Every basket typically gets a 13⁄4" x 31⁄2" folded, elastic string tag that goes around the handle. Limited edition pieces usually get a 33⁄4" x 33⁄4" printed both sides card with a description of the particular piece. Some of the cards tell the story about how the item is handmade, or a color description."

Items that don't pass the "first quality" inspection are divided into several categories - those with minute imperfections that can be reworked so the piece is "first quality", and those that are rejected. The latter are either remelted or sold to cullet (recycling) dealers in the area.

Each piece also carries a serial numbered label, which Measell calls a "ware label". The first four characters denote the item and the last two characters the color or decoration. With sizes of the items ranging from numbered pieces in the Connisseur Collection of 11" pitchers to small figurines, boxing and shipping these items requires a special modular system.

Swamp coolers

Phoenix, AZ, USA, is the site of the aptly-named Phoenix Manufacturing Company (PMC). It manufactures some 70 different types of Evaporative Cooling Systems, affectionately known in the Southwest as "swamp coolers". Even Google knows this term, but in talking with Purchasing Director Ron Gray I came up with a lot of information about this little known product.

PMC has been in the cooling business since 1983 and is a subsidiary of Continental Materials Corporation of Chicago. The manufacturing site is in the heart of Phoenix, a 165,000 square foot operation on nine acres. The company employs about 150 people in the day-to-day operations.

So what's a "swamp cooler" got to do with labels? "We manufacture some 70 different models and they all require a serial number for tracking," says Gray. "This is used both internally and to meet UL requirements.

"We preprint some of the different nameplate applications and purchase some on demand," Gray continues. He is happy with the current supplier, who has been PMC's label vendor for years. The company basically buys on demand, 25,000 or 50,000 labels at a time. A member of the Air Movement and Control Association International Inc. (AMCA), PMC submits units to AMCA for testing and ultimate certification to AMCA's international standards. All of the various units at PMC include both the UL label and the Certified Ratings Program seal from AMCA.

Each of the 70 types of cooling systems (they look similar to air conditioning units from the exterior) carries a model number label, the AMCA certified seal label, and a serial tracking bar code. Some of the labels are printed in-house and others by the local vendor. Each unit is boxed and carries a carton label as well.

So what's so cool about swamp coolers? According to Gray, "They work by the process of water evaporation. There is a low energy requirement for the fan used to circulate and vent the air." Ever stood by a waterfall in the summertime? Notice the temperature difference the closer to the water you get? That's a simplified version of evaporative cooling.

They do not work well in humid climates. And even in the dry, low humidity areas of the US Southwest, most users switch on the air conditioning because there is a point at which the evaporative cooling loses its effectiveness and efficiency.

Larry Arway recently retired from Standard Register, where he worked for 35 years in a variety of positions, among them sales promotion manager, product manager, label marketing manager, and technical consultant. Over the years he was involved in the design and development of new products, and has worked closely with many of the major consumer and industrial products companies in North America. He lives in Dayton, OH. His e-mail address is

  • Adhesives Update

    Adhesives Update

    Greg Hrinya, Associate Editor||April 7, 2017
    Label adhesives must meet a variety of performance and manufacturing requirements.

  • The Future of Flexo

    The Future of Flexo

    Steve Katz, Editor||April 7, 2017
    Recruitment and proper training are paramount to the health and future of flexography.

  • Latin America’s Label Market

    Latin America’s Label Market

    Greg Hrinya, Associate Editor||March 13, 2017
    Competition and emerging print technologies define this region.