As the compressed gas industry continues to adapt to the “new normal” of doing business today, it’s no surprise that gas suppliers and distributors continue to face a host of unanswered questions as they adjust their forecasts for the second half of 2020.

Questions like: how many more waves of the Covid-19 outbreak are around the corner? Do my suppliers have a strong enough supply chain to bounce back from the “stop-start” lead-time chaos? And most importantly…What will be the long-term impact of my company’s financials, my employees, and my company’s overall outcome?

Since the start of June, we are beginning to see the economy come back slowly, including the industrial gas market. But the pandemic and political uncertainty continues to resurface across the country, which in turn could affect our economy once again. These same trends directly correlate with the number of gas cylinder labels we produce.

For readers not aware of Label Solutions Inc., we print and supply durable pressure-sensitive gas cylinder labels for the compressed gas industry in North America and the Caribbean. We also help gas suppliers and distributors improve their production line efficiencies by introducing them to unique five-year warranty and weather-resistant substrates, inks, and adhesives. And during the first half of this year, it was a wild ride for us just like the rest of the material suppliers to the compressed gas industry.  

One of the most apparent trends I noticed was how quickly companies adapted to more digital technology. For example, prior to 2020 few businesses relied on using video conferencing to conduct business with their customers and suppliers. But in less than six months, downloads for videoconferencing apps jumped 90% due to the pandemic, according to Computerworld. Our national media and major corporations, along with the majority of small businesses, were all forced to adapt to video as their only means of virtual face-to-face communications instead of meeting in person for that traditional handshake.  

Video might be a great meeting application, but what about gas companies and their material suppliers that need their employees and managers to be on-site to produce gas-related products? And what label technologies are available today to help ensure on-time delivery during these chaotic times?

Today, plant managers and procurement teams have access to a variety of advanced digital services. This includes tech-services in the label industry. And of those technologies, here are the top five digital technologies that Label Solutions specifically recommends for the compressed gas industry:

  • Converting flexo labels to a high-speed digital label format when possible
  • Utilise ProofPRO cloud-based artwork approval services
  • Use portal(s) to allow management and procurement to order pre-configured labels 24/7
  • Include digital wide-format services for bulk tank labels, “social-distancing” floor signage, and EHS Signage
  • Enhance your brand with in-house graphics design technology

These digital technologies from Label Solutions are actual services you can utilise immediately for those expedited rush orders, or help your company reduce ongoing long-term label costs when negotiating your next multi-year purchasing agreements. Let’s dive a little deeper about why these top five digital label technologies are true gamechangers.

1. Converting your flexo labels to a high-speed digital label format when possible

Flexo labels (also referred to flexographic) may seem like the best way to produce gas cylinder labels for high-quantity needs. Say for example, if your annual forecast goal is to produce 500,000 cylinders. You will ideally need at least 500,000 labels. So, should you buy all those custom labels upfront to get the best price?  

This sounds like a good idea at first, thinking you’ll get that volume discount. But if you purchase 500,000 custom labels all at once on flexo, then you now incur print costs and expensive printing press plate costs. In addition, you will also be using up more inventory space in your warehouse on the long-term. Keep in mind that for every change you make on your artwork requires the purchase of a new press plate when using flexo.

What if something in your forecast suddenly drops or changes where the content of that label needs to be changed? What if there is a regulatory compliance update or your company announces a merger with another company within that year (logo, name change, etc.)?  

Here lies the financial risk. Are those thousands of custom labels still good to use or will they go to waste? This may not sound like a lot at first, until you factor scalability into your supply chain models.

The cost savings alone by using high-speed digital printing gives you a more secure way to preserve current inventory metrics and maintain accurate regulatory compliance content while still controlling label costs. One trick to keep in mind is to know that as long as your labels stay the same size and dimensions (as in die-cut tooling), you can easily make content changes to digital labels without the need to incur additional press-plate costs like you would with flexo printing. The reason?

Press-plates are not used in the digital printing process. 

2. Utilise ProofPRO Cloud-Based Artwork Approval Services  

Source: Label Solutions

Regulatory compliant oxygen label

Our ProofPRO technology is a cloud-based artwork approval system that allows customers to access a password-protected portal to review, modify, notate, and approve artwork electronically from your computer browser…from anywhere you have internet access. This easy-to-use service gives our customers the advantage to prioritize up to five approvers per label, so several departments or independent contractors can be involved in finalising the approval process. Another advantage here is that approvers can all be sitting across the hallway in your building or located in separate remote offices across the globe. This solution is not location-specific, but you do still need internet access.

You would think sending simple PDF files via email would be an easy enough solution until you realize that tracking each change-request between marketing departments, regulatory compliance teams, and production managers becomes cumbersome. These teams need their comments added so all data (think accountability) can be centrally archived, as well. The approval system can store all artwork modifications and notation so historical data can be retrieved by those who have permission.

3. Use portal(s) to allow management and procurement to order pre-configured labels 24/7

Most gas suppliers and distributors either have their own portal or already work with online buying portals with their customers and suppliers. Label Solutions takes that same approach by offering our customers a way for their employees to order pre-configured and pre-priced gas cylinder labels from anywhere in the US and Canada on our secured portal.

For those still using fax and email to place orders, portals not only allow gas companies to place sizable orders from remote locations 24/7, but it also integrates into our accounting software so we can offer quarterly reporting for our customers that request it.  

4. Include digital wide-format services for bulk tank labels, social-distancing floor signage, and EHS Signage

For non-cylinder, hand-applied, and pressure-sensitive labels, another type of printing technology is called wide-format. These types of printers are designed to print large labels and can also be used when it’s not cost effective to produce on a high-speed digital press. Wide-format print solutions are for large bulk tanks, floor signage, trade show material, retail end caps, as well as for EHS (Environmental, Health, and Safety) signage for filling plants and production facilities. Our commercial-grade digital wide-format solutions include extended high-resolution waterproof prints that uphold a five-year durable label warranty that are specially designed for outdoor storage and flatbed delivery applications.   

Our wide-format solutions also integrate directly with our ProofPRO approval system, just as it is with our high-speed digital printers giving our customers the advantage to simplify the ordering process and to speed up production time.

5. Enhance your brand with in-house graphics design technology

Our in-house graphics design team has some of the latest color matching and label management technology available today. The benefits to you behind this digital technology is that marketing departments can request specific branding color requirements, even for gas customers that outsource to third-party marketing firms. This becomes even more important when logos and image design play a key role with your branding and retail point-of-sale applications.

Aside from our standard time and material fees, these digital services are available through Label Solutions at no additional cost to the compressed gas industry. There are a variety of service options to choose from, and the Label Solutions team can help you determine the best approach for you to take.  

In summary

There’s no doubt companies are rapidly changing their operations to a much more fluid way of doing business to prepare for the rest of this year. There is one thing for certain: the faster you can convert to digital technology that helps maximise productivity, the faster it will help you adapt to the new normal.

My goal for this article was not to alarm you, but to introduce you to some of the most efficient label technologies used today so you might think about how you can plan around future supply chain disruptions and avoid production delays without taking on excessive risk. Although gas cylinder labels may seem like the smallest part of your production worries, it is still a key component of the overall final product.

About the author

Rob Freeman is the director of business development and marketing at Label Solutions Inc. He specialises in helping companies accelerate sales, monetise brand strategies, and improve customer loyalty. He can be contacted at rfreeman@easylabeling.com

Label Solutions will soon be a minority-owned WBENC-Certified WBE company by the fourth quarter of 2020.