Monday, July 23, 2018
Publication Date: 06/1/2007
Archive >  June 2007 Issue >  Production > 
Automation for Labeling Circuit Cards and Assemblies

Many user-specific applications suffer from the lack of network integrated, print-and-apply labeling machines compatible with standard SMD and SMEMA process requirements. This has slowed the electronics industry's investment in labeling automation. As a partial solution, some manufacturers have made their first attempt at automating their labeling needs by sacrificing a portion of the capacity of their expensive SMD placement machines to one of the many labeling tasks.

Now manufacturers can find a selection of affordable, process-compatible machines that facilitate network control of the many print-and-apply labeling requirements. The real value of any print-and-apply labeling system is derived from the power of its software tools and networking options. These provide manufacturers with a database-driven approach to managing and recording, across their entire manufacturing enterprise, the printed codes, serial numbers and other critical data that are to be delivered by the label and referenced throughout the life of the labeled product. Recognizing the sophistication of today's many robotic mechanisms, printing and accurately placing labels automatically is almost a "given".

To be valuable enough to justify the capital investment, the labeling automation must also provide:

  • Software controls for remote creation and authentication of the program that defines not only the label layout and content but more importantly, the "rules" for serial number printing.

  • A scan, feedback, and archiving scheme that authenticates not only that the serial number has been printed and delivered, but the printed code has passed a scan quality or verification test.
  • The ability to specify a centralized network location from which all labeling programs and label templates are served on demand, to each installed print-and-apply labeling machine on the user's network.

  • Custom factory integration software for seamless interaction with the user's ERP and MRP systems to support warranty and other traceability needs.

WIP Tracking. When the label will provide real-time feedback about the work in process (WIP) tracking, it is most useful to apply the label at or near the beginning of the assembly process in a kitting or receiving area. Some manufacturers elect to place the labeling automation within the assembly line in a space typically filled by a SMEMA controlled transfer conveyor or following the solder printing or AOI process. Today's label materials are designed to support solder reflow requirements and most other process requirements. This allows labels to be applied early in the assembly process and facilitates multiple opportunities for labels to be scanned as the product is assembled.

Multiple Label Sizes at Multiple Locations. When panelized products require multiple labels of different sizes to be applied at more than one x-y location on the circuit card, the labeling machine may be required to provide multiple printers, multiple placement heads and verification of the printed data. In most cases, a scanner capable of linear barcode or 2D code scanning is appropriate. However, some applications require a vision system capable of optical character recognition (OCR) to be effective at verifying the printed data.

Following AOI or Test. When labels must deliver coded and/or alpha-numeric information derived from optical inspection, ICT or functional testing, the labeling automation must provide the capability to communicate with the network, or directly with the inspection machine, then print and deliver the data required to differentiate "passed" from "failed" product. In such applications, the labeling automation must have the capability to place labels on or across soldered components of varying thickness.

Labeling after Rework. When the manufacturing process fails and a product must be "reworked", often the identifying label will be destroyed. The labeling automation must offer control and reprinting options that allow the manufacturer to properly identify and serialize repaired products according to the "serialization rules" the user has established.

Labeling Odd-Form Objects. When automated labeling must serve unique applications such as placing labels on an odd-shaped object, the labeling automation must be adapted or customized to accommodate the conveyance of a pallet that carries the object through the automated process.

Effective automation of the many labeling tasks found in today's EMS and OEM manufacturing facilities offers solid opportunities for capturing a significant R.O.I. As managers continue their pursuit of process improvement, they will no doubt focus more attention on the elimination of the obvious (and not so obvious) costs associated with error-prone and labor-intensive labeling issues.

Amistar Corporation develops, builds and distributes automation equipment for a variety of industry segments, including electronics assembly, product labeling and identification, sports equipment, and plastic lens manufacturing. The company also provides design services to companies who choose to outsource engineering operations and prototype manufacturing. Amistar is the North American Distributor for the iPULSE brand of SMD placement and optical/x-ray inspection machines.

For more information, contact: Amistar Corp., 237 Via Vera Cruz, San Marcos, CA 92078 760-471-3923 fax: 760-471-9065 Web:

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