VIDEO: The Most Interesting Labeling Application in the World: Steel Rails

• It labels a product moving at more than 135 feet per minute. 

• It applies a label to wet metal – while its moving. 

• It’s over 18 years old and still working.

It’s the Most Interesting Labeling Application in the World: Steel Rails 

Yes, my friends, it’s true.  The customer needed to apply 3.5″ x 2″ (89mm x 51mm) labels to 66′ – 86′ (20.1m – 26.2m) steel rails used for railroad tracks.  This would seem like a simple task; however, there were challenges to overcome.  The rails were moving at rapid pace – 138′ per minute (42m/min) – that’s 2.33′ per second (0.71m/sec), my friends – and a new rail would be presented approximately every 12 seconds.  Four to six labels were to be applied to side of each rail.  To complicate matters further, the rails were cold and wet, very wet.  What was a steel manufacturer to do?

Thankfully, FOX IV had the solution! The labeling station that was installed included FOX IV 8051 Standard label print and apply systems, environmental enclosures, high speed tamp-blow applicator pads, a liner encoder, and label stock with specialized adhesive.  The Datamax based 8051’s were mounted inside stainless steel environmental enclosures and outfitted with high speed tamp-blow applicator assemblies which enable the applicator head to come extremely close to the moving steel rail and blow the label onto it.  A linear encoder triggers the label application approximately every 14 feet.

One of the biggest challenges was to find a label that would adhere to the wet rails as they travelled by the printer-applicator at such a high rate of speed.  The label would need to have excellent initial tack and be able to stick through the water onto the steel while being able to be printed and peeled by the FOX IV print and apply unit.  Luckily, FOX IV was able to supply a synthetic label (after all, paper wouldn’t do very well with such a wet environment) with a specialized adhesive that has excellent print quality and the ability to be peeled from the liner by the printer-applicator.

This system was installed in 1999 and continues to work for the customer today.

Until the next installment, keep labeling, my friends.