“Cable infrastructure is very expensive and highly labor--intensive to install, and the first and most important step in preserving this investment is to label it,” said Frank Bisbee, editor of the online electronic magazine Heard on the Street (www.wireville.com).

This advice applies to security, surveillance, alarm and control systems, and communications and datacom networks.

For large projects, labels may be printed in the office or warehouse and taken to the job site. When a lower volume of labels is required, or customized unique identifier labels are needed, printing them on-site may be the best option. In those situations, there is an impressive selection of portable labeling tools that quickly and easily produce labels on a variety of materials in different sizes. The latest models are easy to operate with one hand.

“The volume of capabilities in today’s portable printers is impressive,” said Stewart Landy, North America product manager for portable printers, Brady Worldwide Inc. (www.bradyid.com).

“Portable printers have gotten much easier to use,” Landy said. “Built-in software has simplified the way to create complex labels. Printers offer large screens with what-you-see-is-what-you-get technology, so the user views the label being created before it’s printed—no need to waste label materials on ‘test’ labels.”

In addition, the latest portable printers offer the same variety of materials as many of the desktop printers, allowing them to make up to 2-inch-wide labels and to use specialty materials to create reflective labels, glow-in-the-dark labels, raised-panel labels, and more.

Volume capabilities have also increased on today’s portable printers. They can print up to 1.5 inches per second, making it easy to print large labeling jobs without being tethered to a computer and desktop printer.

Panduit (www.panduit.com) Product Manager Chris McConnell said intelligent label cassettes automate the setup process and save the last file printed.

“PC connectivity of today’s label printers allows printing from labeling software, file transfers and system upgrades,” McConnell said. “There are expanded offerings of industrial labels in both die-cut and continuous formats. Incorporation of market-based labeling application wizards make label design quicker and easier, while ensuring conformance to industry standards. Enhanced capabilities very easily allow creation of customized and complex labels.”

Brady’s Landy said the most common labeling needs for building security and control systems are equipment and hardware identification, wire and cable marking, and bar code labeling for security checkpoints with a variety of labels available for different applications.

“Self-laminating and other types of vinyl labels are best for curved surfaces, like wires and cables, while polyester is best for flat, smooth surfaces, like equipment and hardware,” Landy said. “There also are a number of specialty label material that are ideal for security projects as well. Glow-in-the-dark and reflective label materials can be used for equipment and device identification. In case of a power outage or fire, glow-in-the-dark identifier labels can be easily seen in the dark, and the reflective labels reflect the light of a flashlight for quick identification.

“Raised-panel labels are a popular specialty label because they offer significant cost savings. These labels can replace engraved tags on equipment identification and security check points. They are far less expensive than engraved tags and can be printed using an in-house label printer.”

Landy said bar code labels are becoming increasingly important as security technology and inspection tracking software continues to progress.

Instead of touch tags, which are highly noticeable and stick out from the surface, Landy said security managers are now using bar code labels as checkpoints throughout their security and inspection routes.
“Bar codes provide identification on the security device and also serve as points of reference that security managers can scan to track their inspection intervals,” Landy said. “Used in conjunction with inspection-tracking software, bar codes provide documented proof that the person was physically present at the inspection point. It also allows the security manager to access a tracked history of inspections for the specific device, or review post-installation requirements for inspecting. This documentation is vital for audits and emergencies.”

Advances in labeling software focuses on ease of use.

“Software is becoming more visual and intuitive for the user, enabling them to find the information they need faster and easier,” Landy said. “The easier the software is to use, the higher the employee productivity level can be. Many labeling software programs are now integrated with adjacent desktop applications, like Microsoft Excel, AutoCAD and Microsoft Visio. With the support of software, labels can be designed and printed directly from these programs, which offers a number of time-saving benefits.”

Environmental data has also been heavily integrated into the desktop software space. New software programs offer “wizards” for common labeling applications. Simply select the manufacturer and model of their patch panel, and the software will automatically direct the user to the appropriate patch panel label.

Another improvement in labeling software is bidirectional communication between the software and printer. The latest software versions can identify the label material within a printer and automatically generate the label type and size—before the user even enters any information into the software, making it no longer necessary to waste time searching for the correct label type to input into the software.

What should buyers consider when evaluating labeling products?

Key factors, Landy said, are durability of the printer and labels, ease of use, capability of printing a variety of sizes and types of labels, and capability of the printer to operate both alone or connected to a PC. Also, printers and the label materials must withstand tough, industrial environments. Regular labels will smear, fade or fall off, making them an unreliable form of identification.

McConnell said the choice of labeling products centers on ease of use, productivity and total cost of ownership.

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at up-front@cox.net.