Making labels on the job site can be a time-consuming task for integrated systems contractors, but it can pay big dividends in the long run.


“An accurate and complete labeling scheme is essential to every professionally installed wire, cable and connection infrastructure, whether a new data center installation or upgrade of an intelligent building system, security or alarm system,” said Craig Robinson, RCDD, director, PT-touch Edge products division at Brother Mobile Solutions.


He said labeling specifications for cable identification and marking includes legible, machine-generated labels, with all cables and signal pathways labeled at both ends to simplify bidirectional tracing.


“In addition, all racks, cabinets and other relevant components, such as cameras, should be clearly labeled,” he said. “Labels should meet the UL 969 specification for legibility, defacement and adhesion, with printing that resists smears and abrasions and can withstand the effects of moisture, humidity, UV light, chemicals and solvents, and extremes of heat and cold.


“To meet these requirements and get the best print quality, buyers should choose thermal label printers that feature an all-in-one, drop-in cartridge design that makes replacing media fast, easy and hassle-free.”


Selecting the right kind of label tape for each part of the job is critical for the following reasons:


• Wrapping and flagging wires and cables requires very flexible ID tape that securely wraps and adheres to itself.


• Standard adhesive tapes are suited for flat, smooth surfaces for control panels or cabinets.


• Rough, textured or powder-coated surfaces require tapes with extra-strength adhesive.


• For special applications, there are tamper-evident tapes that use a face tape that breaks apart if the laminated label is disturbed or removed; some projects specify heat-shrink tubing made of thin, flexible material that slides over the wire or cable and shrinks and adheres firmly when heated.


“Next-generation handheld labeling tools are designed and engineered to speed and simplify on-site label printing for every part of the installation,” Robinson said. “They are extremely flexible in adapting to a contractor’s preferred workflow processes, whatever the project size and scope. They also allow installers to quickly make on-site adjustments for moves, adds and changes. Plus, the tools are compact and ergonomically designed for ease of use and comfortable operation throughout the work shift.


“Built-in Wi-Fi, WLAN, Bluetooth and NFC [near-field communication] capabilities, versatile design templates, plus innovative software apps can turn every worker’s smartphone or tablet into a powerful design and print engine,” Robinson said.


Nicole Nelson, global portable systems product manager at Brady, said alarm, surveillance and building controls contain countless wire, label and component points that need to be identified and labeled.


“Point-of-use labeling with a portable system is an ideal solution for lower volume printing with stored files or typed information and with dynamic data changes and adjustments for MACs [moves, adds, changes],” Nelson said. “Cable-management software is a key tool that allows for quicker tracking of the cables, diagnosis and maintenance, as well as easy documentation of infrastructure, including connections between horizontal and backbone cables, hardware, assets, pathways, locations, users and much more.


“Labeling software allows Excel to be imported to simplify data transfer and manage the physical network by creating and printing identifiers and documents and generating reports,” she said.


Nelson cited several recent advances in the labeling process:


• Specific applications targeting contractors’ needs include flag labeling and breaker box apps and wire gauge apps that are often included in the printer menu options.


• Demographic changes in the workforce with growing numbers of younger technicians have driven incorporation of QWERTY keypad interface rather than the ABC keypad.


• Many handheld printers use rechargeable batteries that have a long life, reducing costs and improving production.


• Wireless interfaces connect to the main software systems or mobile apps.


• Many cartridges for handheld and portable devices include the ribbon or the menu and interface to recognize the material loaded and will tell the user which ribbon is needed.


“While printers are an important and critical element of the solution, buyers should start their search for a labeling system by identifying the durability of the material needed for the application and [choosing] a product with a proven brand reputation,” Nelson said.


Chris McConnell, product manager at Panduit, said a labeling system's most important requirements are the system information printed on labels, the permanence of labels, the ability to create labels on job sites, and ease-of-system component maintenance.


“Recent advances in portable labeling systems include compatibility with newer Windows operating systems, such as Windows 8 and Windows 10, and labeling tools and different types of labels that can be used in increasingly harsh environments,” he said. “Rotating, self-laminating labels provide the best combination of ease of installation and visibility after installation. These labels can be wrapped around a wire or cable and then moved out of the way for a retermination or a move, add or change, avoiding the need to print a replacement label.


“Additionally, these labels can spin around a wire or cable so that a technician can read the label easily, without having to stand awkwardly or, even worse, bend the cable. Today’s labeling software has more graphical user interfaces and better abilities to move and position label content,” McConnell said.


When comparing labeling systems, McConnell said to look for a complete system of integrated label printers and label media, ease of use, compatibility with newer Windows operating systems, and labor-saving tools and wizards.


Newell Rubbermaid (Dymo) Datacom Segment Specialist Al Feaster emphasized that all integrated system cabling components must be labeled, including, but not limited to, control surfaces, patch panels, control panels and devices.


“In most instances, the preference is to generate labels on-site as the technician knows exactly what is required to be on the label in any given situation,” he said. “Significant improvements have been made to industrial labeling tools. The most recently released industrial labelers are much more versatile and easy to use. Interfaces now resemble smartphones with built-in label applications, and many labelers include preloaded templates for a wide variety of labeling applications, which saves time and helps minimize mistakes. Color screens and the ability to preview what an actual label will look like before printing also helps technicians reduce waste and save time.


“When it comes to durability in the field, these labelers are much more rugged, featuring wipe-clean keypads and integrated rubber bumpers to withstand the conditions of a construction environment when required. The newest of industrial labelers connect to PC-based labeling software to allow for customization and updates of the labeler itself.


“Presized labels and labels that may be customized in the field are essential. Labeling materials that can withstand certain environments for both interior and exterior applications are also preferred.


“Labeling software that integrates with newer industrial labelers has also been improved to allow more customization of labels. The software serves as an extension of the labeler, utilizing a similar user interface, making the transition between the two seamless for a user,” Feaster said.