by Mike KIRK
Monday, June 27, 2022

Electric vs. pneumatic applicators: a short guide

When considering types of print and apply labeling applicators, manufacturers face an important choice: pneumatic or electric? This decision can have an impact on areas such as speed, efficiency, production costs, and labeling precision.

In a print and apply solution, the applicator element typically delivers the label to the product using a pneumatic or electric actuator with a label pad. The applicator will extend out or rotate and apply the adhesive side of the label to a product. In many systems, an air assist is used to drive the label via high-pressure onto the label pad while the vacuum builds behind the label ensuring the label holds in place. In some electric systems, the air assist is a small external fan which projects airflow to help get the label to the pad. 

Making the most appropriate choice for your business calls for careful consideration of the benefits and limitations of each option, balancing performance, reliability, compliance and environmental impact.

Electric vs. pneumatic applicators

Pneumatic applicators

The Benefits

Pneumatic applicators are easy to use and able to operate for extended periods without the need for high levels of maintenance.

Safety is another key benefit of pneumatic applicators. While they may not be as fast or forceful as electric applicators, they present fewer risks. Using air in a Tamp applicator for side or top label application provides flexibility thanks to a level of natural ‘sponginess’ of the air cylinder which also makes it less potentially dangerous for the operator. Air driven solution are more capable of compensating for product tolerances or movement so can ensure a product label is applied even if the pack is slightly off the expected application distance or is skewed, which can easily happen when guide rails are loosely controlled or not present.

Additionally, air is generally available in many production facilities and is understood by most site engineers.

The Limitations

Larger applications distances require larger cylinder types. This results in higher levels of force required to move the applicator, causing it to use a great deal of air at fairly high pressure. This presents a potential safety concern requiring additional safety measures or a significant drop in performance to mitigate. It is also hard to stop a pneumatic cylinder and reverse its motion, especially when it is at an unexpected point in the programmed cycle. This creates not only risks for the operator and additional safety considerations, but also labeling compliance risks for the manufacturer. Making applicators such as Tamp safer, especially as production demands increase and safety requirements improve, involves adding guarding or setting it to operate more slowly or weakly, reducing its effectiveness in applying the label and ultimately decreasing operational effectiveness.

The generation of compressed air consumes a lot of energy. Typically, an applicator may use one to two litres per cycle, with every label applied being a cycle. The issue is not about the air being used, but the cost of the air generated and the air loss throughout the air distribution system across the factory. The cost of air rises in alignment with the ever-increasing global cost of energy production. 

Electric applicators

The Benefits

An electric drive is generally faster and easier to control than a pneumatic solution. As a result, it also allows for potentially higher production output and more precise and easily repeatable results that ensure maximum labeling reliability.

Another important benefit of electric is the reduction of energy consumption as it is using a direct source of power - rather than an indirect source of power such as compressed air which consumes high levels of energy. This speed and efficiency provide cost benefits, giving faster potential of return on investment.

The financial benefits are increased by the fact that the use of electricity means less maintenance or risk of damage if the air source is not regularly maintained.

The Limitations

The very advantages of electric applicators - speed and force - create their most notable limitation: safety risks. Speed of application translates to potential hazards meaning companies must counteract safety risks by adding sensors and safety guards. Equally the fact that electric applicators are precise can become their downfall, as when a pack is slightly out of position the application could fail or result in damage from being hit when the applicator is at full speed in motion. Overcoming this results in the use of external sensors.

Making the best choice

As both options present potential strengths and weaknesses, making an informed decision based on your specific requirements is essential. At Markem-Imaje, we can advise on the best type of print and apply applicator to meet your needs.
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