Established in 1999, inotec UK has become a worldwide leader in developing, manufacturing and installing durable labels, floortags and line marking solutions.
Product development and testing – Inside inotec’s label laboratory
With customers in a variety of industries including warehousing and logistics, healthcare and automotive, inotec has developed a range of products to meet customers’ specific requirements.
Based in Germany, inotec GmbH’s headquarters is home to its head office as well as its product development, testing and manufacturing facility. Over 20 years ago, inotec built its own laboratory to ensure its innovative products meet and maintain the high standards required by customers. Today, the company produces around 300 million labels a year for customers across Europe and many other countries around the world.
Product testing – Creating specification data
One of the most fundamental aspects of developing labelling solutions is the product testing procedure. Product testing enables inotec to guarantee how long labels will last in a particular environment. This allows it to predict a lifespan for each label type.
On occasion, inotec is asked to produce bespoke labelling solutions for unique environments, therefore having its own in-house laboratory and testing facility is essential to do this successfully.
There is a standard specification sheet produced by inotec to advise customers of product durability and life span. This spec sheet is derived from data collected during its core testing procedures including weather resistance, erosion resistance, adhesive durability and label readability. The thorough testing process allows inotec to provide customers with a report which details exactly how long it guarantees its labels will resist such conditions.
Weather testing – UV light and water resistance
To test a label’s durability against weathering, both UV light and water, inotec uses high specification Q-SUN machinery at the German testing facility. These machines are used by professional laboratories worldwide for the weather testing of materials and coatings. The Q-SUN testing chambers allow inotec’s technicians to continuously run alternating UV light and water cycles to replicate realistic weather patterns. This allows inotec to examine how the labels will last when used outside.
The Q-SUN standards for UV light exposure are calibrated using the number of sunlight hours experienced in the Arizona desert. The US state has the most UV light in a 12 month period – 20 per cent more than even Florida. This ensures that all testing can reliably determine UV resistance above the minimum requirement for less sunny countries such as Europe.
The machine can also be adjusted by temperature and humidity as well as the strength and wavelength of the UV light. Customers can compare both the label quality and readability before and after the weathering cycles to see how durable they are for an outdoor environment.
In-mould label testing for plastic crates
The range of in-mould labels produced by inotec has been specifically designed for use within environments that require a high level of hygiene, for example, those in which meat, food and medical supplies are processed. The in-mould labels are placed inside the mould before the injection of the molten plastic. This allows the label to become a permanent fixture on the surface whilst the crates are produced.
The advantage being that in-mould labels have no adhesive edge so no bacteria or water can sit underneath the label. This is essential not only to maintain hygiene levels but also to ensure that the in-mould labels can endure intensive wash processes for a long lifespan – sometimes up to 10-15 years.
To be able to test the resistance of in-mould labels during wash processes, the inotec lab has wash machines which imitate the wash cycle. The machines were designed and built specifically for inotec and therefore no competitors have the same extensive testing processes.
The lab technicians use a supplied sample of plastic crate or tray with an in-mould label and place this within the machine. They are then able to replicate the wash cycle with various water pressures and temperatures.
The length of the wash depends on the life expectancy of the crate – whether it needs to resist 100 or 1000 washes. The results of the wash cycle test enable inotec to guarantee the in-mould labels will survive wash processes without compromising the quality and readability of the label.
The inotec Label Competence Centre
Within the laboratory, there is a dedicated Label Competence Centre that continuously tests the quality of products to ensure they consistently meet inotec’s specification standards. The specification sheet confirms all labels go through the same testing for water resistance, wash resistance, UV light and temperature resistance and scratch resistance.
Labels are tested to check factors including the quality of the label itself, the adhesive, the reading quality of the barcode, the sharpness of lines and the contrast between black and white. All materials and products are not only tested to the required specification, but also to the point of failure so the limits within various environments can be defined.
As well as testing inotec’s products, the Competence Centre also tests materials from suppliers to ensure that inotec’s products uphold the expected high standards. If a supplied material, such as adhesive, should change in quality inotec will then report it back to the supplier, ensuring any defects are not passed onto customers.
In addition to testing inotec’s products and supplies, the Label Competence Centre is also used to test competitors’ labels and materials. Occasionally, customers will ask inotec to test the strength of the adhesive or durability and reliability of labels. This may be because the competitor’s product has failed or not lived up to standard and therefore customers wish to compare it against inotec’s specification.
Meeting inotec’s specification standards
Test processes for the specification sheet include chemical and acid substance testing. The lab can submerge a range of chemical labels for various amounts of time to ensure they are resistant to damage.
Standard chemicals tested include saltwater, diesel, petrol, soapsuds and acetone. The inotec lab can also handle unique requests – customers provide the lab with a sample and their required spec, then inotec can carry out a bespoke test. The length of time taken to test depends on label life span requirements and can range from five hours to a week.
In addition to UV light resistance, inotec also test labels for heat resistance. This is vital for the food industry which uses ovens, the automotive industry for paint and bake processes and the medical sectors for bacteria sterilisation processes such as autoclaves.
For even the standard specification of testing, inotec’s labels must be resistant to +90 degrees Celsius and -32 degrees Celsius for 24 hours. On request, the lab can test label heat resistance beyond 100 degrees up to 1,200 degrees Celsius to see how long a label will last at any specific temperature. A report is then provided confirming how long the label can maintain readability in operational temperatures of 100 degrees Celsius or higher for a minimum of 24 hours.
In order to check scratch resistance, inotec tests labels with a Taber test. The Taber test machine adds weight to a pen which pushes down onto labels to see how the surface withstands scratching. The sharpness of the pen and the number of rotations can be adjusted to suit testing requirements.
Each type of label is tested to a different standard. For example, in-mould labels cannot be under surface printed so they have a lacquer for a protective covering. The scratch resistance test, therefore, is vital for evaluating the reliability of barcode scanning after possible wear and tear.
Medical and pharmaceutical label testing
For environments that require labels to be rotated, such as medical test tubes, inotec tests the adhesive strength of the labels using centrifuge machines. Labels are tested on rotating test tubes which test up to 5 g. This is essential – if a medical sample lost its label, there could be devastating consequences.
In addition to the UV and high-temperature testing, inotec’s Competence Centre also tests for extremely low temperatures, ranging from minus 18 down to minus 85 degrees Celsius. This is vital for checking that labels and adhesives can withstand being frozen, stored and thawed without compromising their performance. Such low temperatures are usually an issue for adhesive as it can become brittle.
Accurate and reliable low-temperature resistant labels are essential for industries such as medical, chemical and pharmaceutical. The equipment in the Competence Centre allows inotec to replicate actions such as the freezing and thawing of test tubes and blood bags. The extreme temperature of minus 85 is headed towards the scale of cryogenic freezing and is not used for any purposes outside of blood and plasma.
Label adhesion strength testing
To examine label adhesives and the strength of the glue, inotec has devised an adhesion test using clamps. A piece of the adhesive is attached to a test plate and then lifted to see how many newtons’ per 20 millimetres squared it takes to pull the adhesive away from the plate. Using polished steel, glass and polyethylene plates, inotec can determine the strength of the glue and how resistant it is to lifting.
RFID labels – Testing scanning competencies
The performance of RFID inlays is also verified at inotec’s Competence Centre. The technicians can test the maximum reading distances to ensure they meet customers’ required needs. The RFID inlays get tested through various standards, such as chemical assessments, and then have reading distance capabilities tested.
The scanning reading distance range is tested to match European RFID standards. These standards allow inotec to understand and prevent influencing factors affecting readability or causing electrostatic discharge. This enables customers to know the capabilities of RFID inlays to ensure the product is correct for their required use.
Quality Testing Department
In addition to producing and testing labels, the inotec head office also houses a focused Quality Testing Department. Here, technicians check every single label of every order before they are despatched to the customer. When checking the quality, labels are examined for the print quality, correctness of barcodes and material quality. For RFID chip labels, quality testing includes checking for both readability and if the chip content is correct.
Despite having high standards for product development and the materials used, it is still essential for inotec to carry out such extensive quality checks because the available label options are so flexible.
No job is ever the same, with each one having its unique specification and data. It is unusual for a label company to have such a large quality check department, but it ensures that inotec always maintains its high standards for customers.
The importance of an invested supplier
Having such an extensive product development and testing processes is something that inotec prides itself on. The data reports produced in the Label Competence Centre and laboratory ensure that inotec’s specification sheet is consistently accurate. The company can guarantee every batch of materials and every label produced always meet the required standard of quality with no discrepancies between products.
Ensuring the quality of products is essential for efficient productivity and reliability. If staff are unable to scan barcodes after a few years and have to manually type in barcode numbers, those extra seconds can add up to be extremely expensive over time.
Similarly, if you are applying in-mould labels to crates and having thousands made, you need to ensure that the label and chip are going to last as long as the crate, otherwise you will face a big replacement expense. For most products, especially in logistics, it is important to ensure you are investing in durable solutions. This will give you peace of mind that they will still be working for years to come.
If you would like to speak to inotec UK to discuss your labelling needs and find a reliable solution, please call 01482 654466 or email contact[at]inotecbsl.com to arrange a consultation.