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The Frequent Misapplication of the Print and Apply Process in Small Parcel Shipping

Posted by Rick Williams on Feb 17, 2017 2:20:26 PM

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For those not familiar with warehouse automation systems, using print and apply processes typically means you are placing a label or labels on a box – in today’s example, we are specifically speaking of a small parcel shipment – that needs to add a carrier and/or box label automatically, via a print and apply mechanical process.  

There are a number of different types of print and apply methods, including blow-on, tamp down, roll-on, etc., print and apply applicators.

Is Print and Apply Effective for Your Operations?

Determining whether print and apply is really effective for your operations requires you or your client to assess two critical questions.  The first question to ask is, does the client ship enough parcels/packages to justify a print and apply process? These systems typically cost from $5,000 to over $100,000.  

So, depending on the actual application, unless you are shipping more than 3,000 to 5,000 packages per day, a packing with an integrated shipping process may be much more cost effective.  Additionally, some operations using print and apply would be far better off pre-manifesting.  

If you are using a packing station to pack your orders and then printing a license plate at the packing station, only to later be scanned just prior to the print and apply process, I have to ask, "Why?"

Printing a license plate label and placing it on the box, so it can be placed on a conveyor, so that it can then be scanned and weighed to place another label on the box makes little sense to me. Why not just add a scale at each packing station, print the carrier shipping label and completes the transaction at the packing station?  

I have no problem with a post-packing verification scan, but except in very specific and valid applications, print and apply can be a huge unnecessary expense, a major point of failure, and cause maintenance and label restocking downtime at critical shipping times of the day. 

While there are a few exceptions to the examples used above, such as box building with integrated label applications and high-volume accumulation packing (Building boxes/orders as part of predefined shipments) and any operation that doesn’t use packing stations, but these are not as common as packing station operations. 

How Is It Affecting Productivity?

The print and apply point can become a jam point in your business if it can’t handle the number of packages that you need to be labeled. Usually, print and apply systems handle one package every two seconds or about 1,800 packages per hour. As business increases, you would typically add additional print and apply machines to handle the volume. 

As your volume increases and before you ever have the time to add additional print and apply machines, you are probably adding more packing stations. Adding the carrier shipping or UCC-128 label to the packing station, only adds an almost insignificant amount of time to your shipping process.

If you are using a high-speed shipping system, it adds only a few seconds to the packing process, while spreading the single point of failure of a print and apply process out across the many pack stations you already have. Applying a shipping label at five or 55 pack stations significantly reduces the risk of failure from just one point – the print and apply machine(s)to almost nothing.   

Print and apply can actually become a limitation to your operation, if your shipping operations are being held up because even one of your print and apply machines are not functioning properly and you have thousands of packages to ship. 

Final Thought

Over the past few years, I've begun to see a growing use of print and apply for applications that make little or no sense to me. Most of these print and apply vendors are great companies and I’m sure the majority are being approached by companies asking for print and apply, as it seems to have become a catchphrase indicating an efficient process.

If you’re planning to include print and apply automation in your shipping process, it’s important to get several opinions.  Talk to your shipping system vendor, perhaps think of hiring a consultant not linked to the print and apply process.  Before any company considers an expense of this size, they should seriously consider all possible and typically less expensive options to place carrier and carton labels on boxes. 

Taking just these few simple steps will help you determine the cost effectiveness and efficiency of print and apply automation for your business.

Pack and Ship Station

Topics: warehouse, shipping system, packing