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An Inside Look at RPC Thermal Transfer Labels

Posted by IFCO Systems
July 13, 2016

Washed IFCO RPCs are wrapped in the company’s proprietary green stretch wrap, signaling that they have been freshly sanitized and are ready for reuse in the perishable supply chain. Occasionally, however, customers might find a brand new-looking label on an RPC arriving from the wash plant. “A customer finds a perfect looking label, and assumes that the RPC has not gone through the washing process,” Andre Luecht, VP - Operations at IFCO Systems, explains.

“That is not the case,” Leucht elaborated. In the high volume production of the RPC wash plant, occasionally the QC team misses scraping off a label, and so it remains on the crate. “It is highly unlikely that it would create a sanitation issue because it is outside the container. But because people look at the label, and it looks brand new, it incorrectly leads them to believe that it has not been washed.”

The reason that some labels can look so clean and new after surviving the washing process, Leucht noted, has to do with the type of label that has been employed. There are two kinds of label substrates. One is direct thermal, and the other is thermal transfer.

The thermal transfer approach utilizes a thermal transfer ribbon. The heated print head burns the ink onto the label itself. The result is a label that looks cleaner after going through the wash and getting blasted with, on average, 140-degree water along with detergents and sanitizers.

“The wash system removes the dirt and grime,” Leucht commented, “and it will look whiter coming out than when it went into the wash. Unfortunately, the customer sees the clean label and may be concerned that we did not wash the container and simply reshipped it.” That, Leucht stated, is just not the case.

With a direct thermal label, however, it is easier to recognize that washing has taken place. The direct thermal label is made from heat sensitive material. When it comes in contact with the heated print head, it turns black in those locations, creating the black printing on the white paper. If the paper is exposed to heat, however, it will darken. Leucht compares it to a retail receipt that turns black when it is left on the dash of a car on a hot day. When direct thermal labels are exposed to an average of 140 degrees in the wash system, they are affected.

If you see labels that look brand new, Leucht reiterated, it is because they are thermal transfer labels, and yes they have been washed. With new label technologies looking to provide 100 percent removal in the wash system, however, he believes this concern will soon be completely “washed away.” You can learn more about the new label options here.

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