23 Aug Why most craft brewers are choosing rotary labelers for beer bottles
5 reasons to choose a rotary labeler
Despite the current trend for craft brewers to invest in canning lines, many are still offering their products in glass bottles. Whether you are investing in a new bottling line or if you need to upgrade an existing labeler, you should consider rotary labelers for its many advantages over inline labelers when it comes to decorate glass beer bottles.
You will agree that nothing looks more like a beer bottle than another beer bottle! You packaging and especially your labels become a very important differentiator when your bottles are sitting on the shelves. Here are the key benefits of using a rotary labeler for beer bottles.
1- Easier to apply neck ring labels
While the body label is fairly simple to apply, the neck label is always trickier. This is due to the angle in the neck and the banana-shape of the label to compensate for this angle. The right way to apply such labels is to tack the center first, and than rotate in one direction to apply half of the label and rotate in the opposite direction to apply the remaining portion. This is quite simple to do on a rotary labeler because we can control the rotation of the bottle at any given position on the machine carousel. With a rotary labeler, it is common to apply a partial wrap neck label or a full-wrap neck label with overlap.
2- Pressure-sensitive OR cold glue labels is your choice
With a rotary labeler for beer bottles, you can choose between two labeling technologies: pressure-sensitive labels from the roll or cut & stack cold glue labels. Both technologies have their advantages, depending of your situation. PS labels are supplied on a roll and can have contoured shape or different size and still be applied by the same label applicator without format parts, other than a set of brushes maybe. Pre-cut labels applied with cold glue are coming in stacks and the label magazine, glue palettes and grippers are dedicated to one size and shape of label. Running a new label size or shape involves format parts, therefore additional cost and set-up time.
Machine cleaning is also a major difference between both labeling technologies. A PS labeler requires no cleaning other than removing some glue residue on a drive roller once a month, and blasting compressed air to remove some dust. A cold glue labeler must be cleaned after each production, which means taking apart the glue palettes, rollers and other parts in contact with the glue.
A cold glue labeler offers two main benefits to breweries: low label cost and non-stop production. Labels are inexpensive because they come without adhesive, backing paper, core etc. When you are running at 250 bottles per minute and applying 3 labels per bottle, it is adding up quickly. The second key benefit of a cold glue labeler is you don’t have to stop production to replenish the labeler with labels. You simply add a stack on the label magazine while the machine is running. With a PS labeler, you need to briefly stop the labeler to change the roll of labels, unless you have redundant label heads or automatic slicer.
Finally, another difference between both labeling technologies is bottle condition at the time of labeling. With a pressure-sensitive labeler, bottles must be dry for maximum efficiency, which means bottles could be labeled before the filling or excess water could removed with air knifes just before they enter the labeler. Cold glue labelers are more permissive when it comes to wet bottles, provided you have the right glue to have sufficient tack between the label and the web bottle.
3- Bottle orientation prior to label application
Whether you need to orient the bottles or you want to give yourself the option to do this in the future, rotary labelers for beer bottles are well-suited for the task. Depending of your bottles, orientation can be achieved mechanically, with optical sensors or with cameras.
In Europe, a classic case of orientation is for bottles with clip-lock caps (think of Grolsch bottles), because a label must be applied to the clip for tamper evidence. This could be achieved mechanically in the infeed starwheel or with a combination of camera and servo motors on the bottle plates. If you need to perform orientation because of an embossed logo in the glass, chances are the bottle has a notch at its base and mechanical orientation is possible, otherwise a multi-camera system may be used in combination with servo-driven bottle plates.
4- Foil-over-caps or label on caps
While it can be argued that foil labels covering the cap will give your bottles a “too European look”, it can certainly be a great way to make your specialty beer stand out. Foil labels are pre-cut and can cover the neck area under the cap only or cover the cap completely. The later is more challenging to achieve for many labeler manufacturers, but not for a Bavarian manufacturer with a history of serving the breweries across the world, big and small.
For marketing purposes, you may want to apply labels on top of the caps and this is something easy to do with a pressure-sensitive labeler. If you are looking for another way to stand apart, you can also apply a “L” shape label that is applied on top of the cap and down to the side of the bottle neck. This label can be aligned with the main body label and applied at high speed if needed.
5- Label inspection
For breweries with automated end-of-line machinery like case packers, label inspection becomes necessary. From basic label presence sensors to more fancy camera systems to inspect proper label positioning, barcode or variable information printed on the label, rotary labeler makes it easy to integrate such systems. Because we can control the bottle rotation on the machine carousel, we can expose any angle of the bottle to a camera for a specific inspection. With multiple cameras and servo-driven bottle plates, we can even do a complete 360⁰ mapping of the finished bottle for quality control. In any case, faulty bottles are automatically rejected on a separate conveyor for further inspection by operators.
Here are key questions to determine what type of labeler you need
- What kind of bottles will run on the labeler
- What label goes on each bottle
- Speed requirement for each bottle
- Do you need to apply multiple labels to the same bottle
- Do you need to perform bottle orientation prior label application
- Do you need to print variable information (date, lot #) to the label
- Do you need to inspect the information printed on the label or the label placement
- Do you know which labeling technology is best for your application (cold glue VS pressure-sensitive)