Cool Tools: Portable Labeling Tools
Published: October 2012
No electrical or datacom project is finished until everything has been accurately labeled. Labeling identifies gauges, electrical panels, terminal blocks, safety hazards and more. Voice/data/video (VDV) labeling marks cables—fiber optic, coaxial, patch—and identifies punchdown blocks, patch panels, face plates, racks, shelving and bays.
“A well-labeled infrastructure saves uncountable hours of labor and money by not wasting time to locate the infrastructure causing a problem,” said Frank Bisbee, editor of electronic magazine, Heard on the Street, www.wireville.com. “Consider labeling [as] the way technicians sign their work.”
Technicians have labeled switch boxes and panels for years.
“But labeling datacom/low-voltage cabling is a more recent development,” Bisbee said. “And while the electrical industry has had labeling standards for high voltage, TIA/EIA standards for labeling datacom infrastructure were underdeveloped until recently. Now datacom cabling can be accurately identified by labels.”
Whether using desktop printers in the office or handheld models in the field, today’s labeling tools can accommodate almost every labeling need. The latest models offer multiple functions and product labels on a variety of materials in a wide range of sizes. One of the most significant advances is the software they use.
“Labeling software is no longer confined to desktop applications,” said Annie Ropella, senior product specialist, Brady Printing Systems, www.bradyid.com. “With the development of free mobile applications, users can design labels even when they are away from a computer or printer and then print the labels when they are back in range.
“In addition to the migration of certain desktop functions to mobile printers, desktop software is now reaching out to adjacent areas to pull in upstream information to reduce the design time required to print labels. For example, our datacom wizard offers premade label templates based on Siemon, Hubbell and other common network hardware manufacturer’s specifications for patch panels, routers and other equipment.”
Selecting the optimal label for any application depends on a variety of factors.
“It is important to consider where the label is going (inside or outside), surfaces (smooth or textured) the label will be applied to, and if there are any customer specifications or regulatory requirements to consider,” Ropella said. “Typically, with electrical wire identification, customers select heat shrink wire markers to identify preterminated cables and self-laminating labels for terminated cables. Self-laminating labels are also popular with identifying cables in VDV applications, since they come in sizes ideal for patchcords and other common cables. With the continued growth of fiber optic cabling, we have also seen increased demand for flag style labels that can be applied to small diameter fiber optic cables but still contain all of the information that is required for identification.”
For additional panel identification, Ropella said vinyl labels, in a variety of sizes and colors, are popular. For patch panels, labels are often made of polyester but, most important, are sized specifically for patch panels. Faceplate labels also can be purchased in precut sizes that fit perfectly on the faceplate.
Improved portability, versatility and ease of use of today’s handheld printers sets them apart from earlier products.
“Full-color screens let users see exactly what their labels will look like before printing, reducing label waste and making menu navigation easier,” she said. “Bluetooth capability allows users to design labels on a smartphone with one of our free mobile apps and print to the label maker via a Bluetooth connection. Since more and more users keep a smartphone with them at all times, we want to integrate the technology they are already using into the label-design process.”
Even when labels are printed at a central office, Ropella believes it is best to have installers carry portable label printers in case any labels were damaged or became unusable while traveling to a job site. Installers may also discover at the job site some labels were printed incorrectly, and they may need to print labels on the spot. In addition, customers have been known to change identification schemes at the last minute.
Brady Corp. provides multiple options of thermal-transfer label printers with models to meet varied customer needs, ranging from entry level, low-volume printing to high-volume, sophisticated labels. Brady provides many different label options, enabling customers to purchase the labels that meet preferences and specifications.
Brother Sales and Business Development Manager Craig Robinson said that handheld labelers have become an indispensable productivity tool.
“Most handheld labelers today can create a variety of different labels including barcode labels, cable labels, patch panel labels, bin and shelf labels, pipe markers and much more. Today’s labeling tools have combined a multitude of features that make the user experience much easier, which facilitates a more productive work force. Portability and versatility are commonplace in the handheld labeling market. With continuous tape systems that are available from most manufacturers, the user no longer has to carry multiple label cassettes to create and print different types of labels for different applications,” he said.
Applications call for both office and handheld label printers.
Typically, Robinson said, labeling for smaller projects is handled on-site with technicians using handheld labelers to create identification labels for various applications, where larger projects may require hundreds or even thousands of labels to be created and printed within the office and delivered to the project site.
For labeling software, Robinson said that manufacturers have migrated toward a “template” approach with software programs; they provide templates of commonly used products within their software, making the user experience much more efficient and productive.
Brother offers desktop and handheld labeling/printing products and laminated tape cassettes that use a tape technology that enables the same label to be used inside or outside in harsh environments. The labels are water-, chemical- and abrasion-resistant; withstand extreme heat and cold temperatures; and will not fade or yellow with direct ultraviolet light exposure.
Panduit (www.panduit.com) Product Line Manager Shawn Whittaker said that electricians need labeling tools designed for professionals.
“Many handheld printers on the market today are designed for home and small office use and are very limited in the type and durability of their label materials,” he said. “However, industrial handheld printers are available that offer a wide variety of industrial labeling options, such as self-laminating labels, heat-shrink labels, marker plates, terminal block labels, die-cut labels, network component labels and much more.”
Handheld label printers are designed for mobile work forces, he said, and they are ideal for creating labels on-site for moves, adds and changes as well as other applications in remote or isolated locations where labels are required.
Whittaker cited such improvements on today’s models as QWERTY-style keyboards that allow two-handed thumb typing similar to smartphones for more intuitive and faster data entry. He also cited intelligent label cassettes that the printer automatically recognizes and uses to adjust format and settings, keep track of the number of labels remaining in the cassette, and store the last used label file.
“In addition, advanced printer functions recommend the best label for a specific application, automatically adjust formatting to improve productivity and minimize waste, and generate labels that are compliant with industry standards,” Whittaker said. “Computer connectivity allows printer firmware upgrades and two-way communication and file transfer of label data, symbols and custom graphics. [It also allows] the ability to automatically extract and import data from other programs, such as CAD packages, spreadsheets and databases. This not only saves significant time but also reduces errors associated with manual entry of identifiers into the labeling software.”
Advanced printer functions recommend the best label for a specific application, automatically adjust formatting to improve productivity and minimize waste and generate labels that are compliant with industry standards.
Labeling software on a USB flash drive provides portability for a mobile work force and eliminates the need to install a dedicated copy of labeling software on each computer, Whittaker said. Market-specific labeling wizards can help select the optimum label for a particular application, and simplify and expedite label creation and help generate label legends that are compliant with industry standards such as UL, ANSI, TIA/EIA-606-B and others.
“Industrial-strength label materials,” Whittaker said, “are designed to withstand temperature extremes. There are self-laminating labels and heat-shrink labels for identifying discrete wires/cables; marker plates, attached with cable ties, for identifying bundles and very large wires/cables; component labels with aggressive adhesive capable of sticking to rough, textured and powder--coated surfaces; [and] continuous tapes for pipes, conduit, pathways and other facility identification.”
Panduit provides a full line of industrial identification solutions including handheld printers, desktop printers, labeling software and a wide variety of labels for electrical and network applications.
GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at email@example.com.