Field Report

One label, many applications

September 3, 2009

How do you satisfy different requirements for customers and still run an efficient operation? That is a question that Hub Labels answered for a large pharmaceutical and medical supply house, which ships out everything via mail order that a regular large hospital pharmacy would do, accommodating their customers' specific needs from containers to blister packs of pills, tubes and boxes.

The versatile label can be applied to a wide variety of surfaces, such as tubes, vials, boxes and bags.
The challenge, according to the pharmacy's director of services, was to switch from a piggyback label with a horizontal bar code to a thermal transfer label that would adhere to a wide variety of substrates.
He says, "There was an immediate cost saving by going to a single ply label, but it took some serious testing to come up with a compatible adhesive that would allow the label and the reorder portion to stay on the diverse range of products until it was time for a reorder." Then there was some tricky back diecutting of the liner to handle the reorder label. Kristen Lucks, a Hub Labels' account executive, had several test orders run to modify perforations and ensure that the adhesive would meet all the requirements.

The change, says the director, "took a little while for people to accept, even if it is a better system."
To make the label work on all of the company's products, a vertical bar code was required. Most long-term care and nursing facility suppliers provide a horizontal bar code. "We had both a new appearance to the label and a different material, thermal transfer single ply instead of dot matrix piggyback, as well as the different orientation of the bar code," he adds.

On many of the products shipped (more than a million a month), the label is affixed in the normal fashion, but tubes of ointment and similar containers presented a different problem. This was overcome by using a so-called butterfly seal where the label is wrapped around the tube and then the two ends are stuck to each other. With products ranging from pens to beds, from IV solutions to oral solids, this is a one-size-fits-all label that increases efficiency from both the picking and labeling standpoint to the ease of reordering supplies by the final user.

Because the label can be used on virtually all the products, the long-term care facilities and nursing facilities have packaging choices they don't always get such as individual unit dose pills in blister packs or bulk-packed in containers or even a mixture of both in the same shipment, making it easier to do business because many customers actually have different requirements. For example, some want pills in vials because they don't have the shelf space for blister packs.

The labels are produced by Hub at its facility in Hagerstown, MD. Hub has 20 narrow web flexographic presses, ranging in width up to 20". They can print up to 15 colors on the flexo presses and use both water based and solvent inks. Hub also has digital printing capabilities to provide virtually unlimited colors. The production output covers a broad spectrum of label types and constructions, from custom adhesive coating to in-mold labels and mated forms, hot stamping or cold foil, embossing and silk screening.

Kristen Lucks, the sales professional on the account, describes herself as "Miss Able to Label." The pharmacy/long-term care account has a blanket agreement program with Hub with 90 reserves, meaning that Hub runs a 90-day supply of labels from a blanket release, which the client calls its emergency reserve. If Hub gets an order for 1.5 million labels, they will print and ship a million and stock the balance for emergency release on demand.

Amanda Miller, Hub Labels' customer service team leader, provides the inventory control at Hub, letting the customer know how many labels are in inventory and, when a new order comes, tells the customer how many labels of the previous order were rotated out of the warehouse and included in the new shipment.

In the case of the one-size-fits-all label, Hub took a simple sketch and provided the client with engineering drawings and proofs. According to Kristen, "Every dimension of the new label, from the face scores and liner scores, was documented. There were some minor problems on the initial test, but we worked closely with the customer to detail the problems and were able to correct them all on the redesign.

"Hub also changed the perforations from a standard tie length to a micro perforation to help with the separation of the labels after printing," she adds. "And there were many phone calls between the account manager and the project manager to ensure the labels were produced correctly."

To show the extent that Hub goes to ensure that the customer's needs are met, Kristen says that Amanda Miller calls the customer's shipping people on each and every order to give them options so they can decide the best way to ship. "Both Amanda and myself maintain a close relationship with our customers," Kristen says, "to ensure that their needs are being met and that orders are processed in a timely manner, and that we adhere to our motto: Start right and finish right!"
Larry Arway worked in sales, marketing and product management at Standard Register for 35 years. He was involved in product design and development, and has worked with major consumer and industrial products companies in North America. He can be reached at