An electrical or datacom job isn’t finished until components have been clearly marked with easy-to-read, durable labels. Today’s on-site labeling tools make it easier than ever to produce quality, heavy-duty labels.
Chris Gauthier, global market manager for aerospace/defense/mass transit at Brady Corp., Milwaukee, said wires and cables are most commonly identified using heat-shrinkable sleeves, self-laminating wraps and flags.
“Sleeves offer the ultimate durability, adhesion and aesthetic appearance,” he said. “Self-laminating wraps offer maximum protection against abrasion, solvents, oils and more, featuring a clear, nonprintable area that serves as an over-laminate. Flags are popular when a large amount of data needs to fit onto a label or when a thin-diameter cable/wire needs to be identified. Each offers great resistance to abrasion, heat, UV and various liquids.
“Equipment and systems are most commonly identified using all-weather, metalized or multipurpose labels. All-weather labels offer maximum protection against wind, rain, UV and other outdoor elements,” Gauthier said. “Metalized labels offer a metallic look for asset tracking, rating plates, calibration labels and more. Multipurpose labels come in a variety of colors, finishes and adhesions and are good for general identification needs.”
Gauthier said the growing popularity of mobile devices on work sites and changing technology expectations led to the recent launch of Brady’s M211 label printer.
“Driven entirely by the Brady Express Labels app, users can design, preview and print labels from their phone or tablet. Weighing less than 1.2 pounds, the printer features optional magnet and belt clip accessories for maximum portability,” he said. “The Express Labels app offers over 10 label design guides, offering versatility for identifying wires, cables, patch panels, breaker boxes, terminal blocks and more.”
Gauthier believes the greatest changes to labeling software in the last few years center around mobile apps and label and data sharing. Labeling software has expanded for mobile devices, where the greatest improvements are possible for labeling efficiency.
“For example, using Brady’s Express Labels app, a customer can choose to have office staff design all the labels needed for a project or installation, and then email those label files to the field technician to simply print on-demand. Or, the data needed to be applied to a label could be emailed or placed on a cloud storage location for the field technician to access and print labels,” he said.
When evaluating label-making equipment, Gauthier advises first to consider whether labels will be printed in the shop or if field locations are most efficient.
“Sometimes, the answer is a mix of both,” he said. “Brady has printer systems and label rolls/cartridges that can accommodate high-volume print jobs (for shop) or as-needed point-of-use labels (for on-site). Contractors don’t have time to type labels one at a time, so we are developing tools that integrate label data into label template formats. Also, Brady uses systems that both print and apply labels on wires for harnesses and control panels.”
Besides the typical questions about label types, volume and point of need, users should look at a labeler from a perspective of time-saving features, he said. Other questions to ask include, can repeatedly printed labels be stored on the printer? Can label data be imported directly into label templates of the printer? What type of software or app with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity is available with the printer?
Brady manufactures a full line of portable label printers to support labeling projects. Durable, lightweight printers have an easy-to-use interface, making them designed for quick and efficient labeling. Label materials engineered to withstand environmental conditions provide a long-lasting legend to ensure they remain legible for the label’s life. Brady also carries bench-top label printers and automated applicators that print and apply labels for medium- and larger-size wire identification projects.
“Brady’s goal is to recommend a solution that matches the style of labeling that is required for the work the users need for their jobs,” Gauthier said.
Todd Morse, senior sales manager at Brother Mobile Solutions, Westminster, Colo., said labeling tools have come very far in the last few years.
“With today’s labeling tools, there are models that have direct connection between a smart phone and labeler. The two tools talk to each other, and all functions can be controlled on the phone, if preferred. There also is the ability to download an entire database onto your phone and either work directly from the smart device or transfer that database directly into the mobile printer,” he said.
Morse said there is a new type of label that strays from the “old-school” style of self-laminating labels. It repeats the identifier all the way around the cable, eliminating the legibility issues and decreases your risk of a future tech accidentally disconnecting something when they twist the connection around to read a single-sided label. It’s a continuous tape that is cut to length based on the cable templates embedded in the printer. It doesn’t matter where you start or finish, you get the cable identifiers all the way around the label.
“Another seemingly simple, but game-changing feature, is the half-cut label. Historically, when working in the field, the back must peel off each label,” Morse said. “This is labor-intensive and can create a mess, but time is money. With the half-cut feature, wrapping cables or wires, select the size of the cable/wire with embedded templates, pull data from a transferred database and it will print with a perforated cut in between each label, eliminating the arduous task of printing one label at a time and peeling the backing off of each one.”
Extra-strength tape is a game changer for outlets/disconnects and any rough or uneven surface. These tapes use a softer adhesive to get into the microsized nooks and crannies that a traditional adhesive can’t. It offers softer adhesion and will help with chemical polymers found in those plates.
“There are many variables in electrical contracting labeling,” Morse said. “By using a mobile printer, you’re able to adjust accordingly and print directly in the field. Especially by having direct access to an embedded database, the contractor is not limited in what they print. It also gives your people in the field the option to correct old or incorrect labels on the fly that they may not have expected to need.
“QR codes have skyrocketed in the past few years,” Morse said, “and I expect them to continue to grow in popularity. So much data and information can be input via a QR code, so contractors aren’t limited to a finite space to share information to the next field worker or facilities manager. With the point of a smartphone, it’s easy to access what’s on the label in an easy-to-read, organized way. If one needs to edit the QR code, it can be done via an app or the labeling software.”
Morse said the most effective way of tracking inventory or equipment is using a reliable labeling system.
“Labeling makes tracing and troubleshooting faster by telling viewers exactly what they are looking at, and what it’s connected to. A visual listing of information will direct you to the cables and components that can be traced back to specific floors and rooms for proper support and faster maintenance,” he said.
Morse suggests careful evaluation of labeling equipment and labels, including durability, simplicity and support.
Durability: In the active, sometimes harsh environments that electrical contractors find themselves in, a mobile printer that allows workers to label on-the-go, has been drop-tested and has battery life that lasts the whole shift is a game-changer.
Simplicity: With the demands on contractors’ time, efficiency is key for their business and customers. That’s why having a mobile printer that is easy to learn and simple to use is so important. User-friendly features such as an intuitive menu, versatile print options like QR codes, panel schedules, cable wrap templates, warning labels, built-in label keys and convenient connectivity options make it easy for contractors to quickly create and print professional, legible labels.
Support: Choose the hardware and software partners with care and consideration. A good partner supports the product and users’ specific needs.
“Brother’s line of label equipment includes handheld, mobile industrial label printers that are small, yet mighty,” Morse said. “The printers allow electricians and workers in other trades to do their job quickly and efficiently with durable, laminated labels that last. The printers are accurate, on-demand and simple to learn and use, allowing workers to focus on the task at hand.”
The Brother P-touch Edge handheld industrial label printers are engineered to help electrical and datacom infrastructure professionals tackle even the toughest labeling projects with efficiency.
Brother also introduced an on-demand safety label solution that makes it simple to create safety and compliance signs and labels.
This helps support compliance with continuously evolving OSHA signs, ANSI labeling standards, the National Electrical Code and other safety codes and standards.