Labeling’s Link to Lean

May 23, 2011
The old adage “A place for everything and everything in its place” is just a folksy way of describing the lean philosophy. A good system of labeling supports that wisdom.

With today’s emphasis on error proofing, while still maintaining high throughput, an effective labeling system is critical to lean organizational capabilities.

This starts with management establishing an identification system, and then supporting that system with solid procedures and good labeling hardware. Well run companies realize that misplaced or misidentified items can contribute to quality problems and shipping delays that ultimately cost the company money. A label holder system is an investment that can pay dividends daily.

Labeling’s Evolution
The ultimate goal of labeling is to know where everything is – all of the time. That’s not always possible when label designations change or when human error is present. Clear plastic insertable label holders, with printable laser inserts offer a versatile solution for an efficient warehouse.

The “original” clear plastic insertable label holder was derived from C.R. Chamberlain’s 1950 patent for “HOL●DEX.” This first insertable label holder was intended for file drawers and loose leaf binders. To change designation simply remark the insert and slip it into the holder.

C.R. Chamberlain, president of the Cel-U-Dex Corporation (an office products company), was the author of a book entitled “Filing Facts,” which featured the insertable label. The relationship between filing in an office and storing material in a warehouse is strikingly identical.

The Label Holder diversified into many other markets: Libraries, Retail Display, Communications and then finally Warehouse Storage in the 1970s.

Label Selection
Depending on the amount of label detail needed and the space available, size is the first concern when choosing a label. The frequency of label changes is also a significant factor, as it corresponds with choosing the best backing option: Permanent adhesive, Removable Adhesive, Magnetic, Hook & Loop fasteners, or a custom “Snap-On Extrusion.”

Application solutions can apply to pallet racks, flow racks, wire shelving, plastic bins and totes, floor storage, coated pipe modular components, and extruded aluminum “T-Slot” modular components.

Added Protection
Barcode labels must be protected. An unprotected bar code label can be damaged beyond readability or repair by dust, dirt, grease, moisture or smudged label ink. It’s just a matter of time in a warehouse environment before an unprotected bar code label becomes useless. Then it either will not scan or, even worse, scans inaccurately (the wrong product…). This can cause serious shipping and inventory problems which not only creates internal problems, but will irritate or possibly cause the loss of a good customer.

Cost Justification
Whatever the initial investment cost is for a labeling system, it rarely exceeds 4% of the total warehouse cost. This relatively small investment pays big returns in:

• Improved accuracy of inventory
• Knowledge of material locations
• Employee productivity
• Ease of normal designation or location changes
• Savings in labor needed to apply and remove permanent self adhesive labels
• Clean up time.

The Bottom line is, an effective labeling system contributes mightily to a lean, efficient warehouse.

Mark Aigner is president of Aigner Index, Inc. For additional information visit

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