As a 60+ year old company that specializes in automatic labeling, we, here at QLC, have just about heard it all when it comes to automatically applying a label to a product.  On the other hand, one newer application that seems to be becoming more and more common is “Flat box automatic labeling”.  There seem to be a few main reasons for this trend:


  • Cost – in all the cases we work on, the result of converting to the process of automatically labeling flat boxes means an overall reduction in cost.
  • In many cases boxes are currently being labeled by hand, and often, this causes a production bottleneck. Hand labeling is generally significantly slower than using an automatic labeler.  Labeling by hand has gotten less and less attractive as the force labor has gotten tighter. 
  • Sometimes, there is not room to squeeze an automatic labeler in the area where it would need to be on the production line after the box is filled. As companies grow it is often difficult to increase production in the same footprint.    
  • Recently, customers have increased demands for the number and type of labels due to the need for automation in their plants. It used to be as long as there was a label on the box and it was clear, you were good.  Now, many customers have demanded side adjacent labels, wrap around labels or even labels on all four sides.  Additionally, there have been much more strict label placement requirements added to allow for scan-ability.   Machine applied labels are almost always much more accurate and consistent than applying by hand.  This allows for better presentation as well as potential for improved machinability. 

Automatically applying labels in a separate area can allow a company to “feed” multiple lines prelabeled boxes.  Example: if you have 5 lines but don’t want to buy 5 labelers you can just automatically label boxes off-line at a much faster rate and feed each line, as needed

How does it work when it is done right?

So, you are convinced.  You want better, faster, and more accurate label application to a flat box, ……and you want a machine to do it to reduce your cost of application.   Well, there are a few critical details you need to know to determine the best method.

  1. What are the minimum and maximum box sizes? Remember, you will need to measure or determine the length, width and height of the boxes while they are still flat.
  2. What are your label sizes (min and max)?
  3. Do you plan to print on the label during the application process?
  4. How many sides do you need to label? (You can conceivably label all 4 panels)
  5. How fast do you need/want to go?

Once you have the details, you are ready to determine what labeling system is your best option………… Sounds great, so what are your Options?

  • Conveyor and automatic labeler – This method requires one person to feed and one to retrieve. You can label up to two panels.
  • Horizontal automatic feeder, conveyor, automatic labeler and gathering conveyor – One person can handle depending on speed requirements. Label up to two panels.
  • Vertical automatic feeder, conveyor, automatic labeler as well as automatic gathering section – Highest speed- One person can handle both feeding and gathering but this method is generally difficult for one person to keep pace with. Label all four panels. 

Large Birdseed company

This company has many customers/companies that buy the same size suet cakes, so packaging was generally consistent.  Of course, fortune 500 customer “W” demands a new product with an inner tray for display purposes. They contacted us here at QLC and shared their story.  We helped them organize their goals, determine their application specifics and ultimately helped them both accommodate their customer’s request as well as decrease their costs.


The key is that the inner case needed to have the front panel label with the product “flavor”.  The customer did an equipment space assessment and determined that the inner trays needed to be labeled “off-line” and be manually put into a case erector due to their limited line spacing.  The case erector was far more critical to the production line.  They started by labeling the flat cases by hand with 3 people labeling and stacking them, so they could be pulled and used in their production line.  This caused a space issue as they ended up with stacks of flat boxes waiting to be run. 

So they had the following challenges:

  • Three employees dedicated to manual labeling. They were labeling about 40 trays per minute. 
  • Significant space in their storage area was being taken up with their flat labeled boxes as well as the unlabeled flat boxes.  

SOLUTION: Horizontal Automatic Flat-box Labeling System that contained:

-Automatic Feeder and Vacuum Transport System (stream feeder)

-Label-Aire 3115 wipe on labeler

-Shingling conveyor (stream feeder)

Total cost of the system was less than $60,000. 


 Our customer was able to reallocate one full employee, increase production, improve label accuracy as well as reduce the space needed to handle the off-line process.  In this current tight labor environment, the custoemr was ecstatic with their ability to reassign an employee to another part of the plant.  Since the new automatic labeling system was able to keep up with the line speed the line operator was able to grab boxes and feed the case erector real time instead of going back to a stock area.  The vacuum conveyor and Label-Aire labeler combination provided much more accurate label placement at an increased speed.  They went from using 3 people to label and stack 40 flat trays per minute to using 2 people to label 60 flat trays per minute.    The shingled gathering conveyor allowed storage for up to 3 minutes of production time which allowed the machine operator ample time to feed the case erector.  At a burden rate of about $60,000 per year for their production employees they were able to reduce head count by one and get complete payback on their investment in less than a year.