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Companies acquire physical assets as their business grows, and they need to manage them effectively. In order to maximize their significant investments, they need to understand where their assets are located and what condition they are in. Tagging physical assets with barcode labels and asset tags, which come in all shapes, sizes, and materials, is the first step in that process. Metal labels are best for items exposed to environmental conditions that can degrade polyester or vinyl labels, but some metal substrates are better suited for certain operating conditions than others.

Understanding the different types of metal labels, identifying the use case, and knowing label tradeoffs are key to making the best choice. That’s why we’ve created this guide, which will cover:

  • An Overview of Metal Labels
  • Metal Label Options
  • How are Metal Labels Used?
  • The Benefits of Metal Labels 
  • Which Industries Need Metal Labels?
  • What to Look for When Buying Metal Labels

An Overview of Metal Labels

When examining the options, businesses should start with label quality and application. Mother nature can be hard on devices.  When assets are located or transported outdoors, the potential exposure to rain, snow, extreme temperatures, and ultraviolet light increases. Also, sand and dirt are also common contaminants that can cause damage from abrasion, especially in coastal areas and dry climates. In some cases, the apparatus is exposed to corrosive chemicals or solvents. Finally, sources of impact, such as other pieces of equipment or vehicles, are common in many manufacturing settings. For these applications, it’s crucial to select the materials that can withstand the expected operating conditions.

Metal labels are stronger, more durable and longer lasting than alternatives, such as plastic and paper. Metal labels provide reliability, durability, and security. In adverse conditions, a metal label is the only option. In these cases, metal labels are typically used as a permanent means of identification. Therefore, metal labels are the leading choice for meeting stringent item marking specifications and usage requirements.

In fact, it is a formal and legal requirement in some industries, such as aerospace and defense, for machinery and other assets to be properly marked with a durable metal label. Consequently, equipment manufacturers must get the design and the construction of the metal label right so that they don’t face any problems from regulatory authorities.

Metal Label Options

Suppliers offer many different types of metal labels. Their resistance tends to vary widely; therefore, labels constructed of different materials work best in different types of environments.

Metalphoto® Anodized Aluminum

Rigid Metalphoto anodized aluminum asset tag

Metalphoto® Anodized Aluminum is the most durable label material available, and as such, it’s used for the most demanding industries and applications. In fact, Metalphoto has been specified by government, military, and industrial organizations for more than 50 years. In the IUID Environmental Survivability Study, conducted by the U.S. Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Corona Division, the Metalphoto photosensitive anodized aluminum labels submitted by Camcode earned more high scores than any other material evaluated.

These labels are created using a unique manufacturing process: a silver-halide-based image is embedded within the anodic layer of the aluminum, providing the necessary durability in harsh environments. These labels survive temperatures up to 650°F, have an expected exterior lifespan of more than 20 years, and offer excellent resistance to abrasion and corrosion.

In addition, specialized extra high temperature (XHT) Metalphoto labels  increase the temperature resistance to 1200°F. Standard Metalphoto labels can be purchased as a rigid or a flexible foil version or enforced with a Teflon coating for additional chemical resistance. Here’s a closer look at some different Metalphoto label options.

Foil Metalphoto Labels

Foil Metalphoto label

Foil Metaphoto Labels are 100% aluminum equipment identification tags that are quite popular. The image is sealed beneath an anodic layer of the aluminum, providing long-term durability for harsh indoor and outdoor environments. At the same time, they’re flexible (low stiffness) so they can be attached to high surface energy metals and plastics and textured and contoured surfaces using a high-performance permanent pressure-sensitive adhesive.

Foil Metalphoto Labels offer excellent resistance to chemicals, abrasion, and solvents, and they can withstand exterior exposure in the harshest environments, including extreme cold, heat, and UV. When treated with Camcode’s image intensification process, these labels have an expected exterior lifespan of more than 20 years.

Rigid Metalphoto Aluminum Equipment Tags

Rigid Metalphoto Aluminum Equipment Tags are durable because they are made with anodized aluminum and can be attached to surfaces with pressure-sensitive adhesive or mechanical attachment. With a variety of thicknesses for improved impact resistance and graphics sealed within an anodized layer for superior abrasion, UV, and chemical resistance, these metal equipment tags can last more than 20 years, even in harsh environments.

Teflon™ Coated Metalphoto Barcode Labels

Teflon coated Metalphoto barcode label

Teflon™ Coated Metalphoto Barcode Labels are ideal for industrial manufacturing applications requiring resistance to paint and highly caustic or acidic environments. These anodized aluminum labels are coated with Laminated or Fused Teflon that is resistant to cleaning, pickling, painting, e-coat, and powder coating processes, as well as caustics and strong acids.

Extra High Temperature Labels

Etra high temperature metal label

Extra High Temperature Labels have an anodized aluminum face stock that’s treated with Camcode’s proprietary XHT process, enabling them to withstand exposure to temperatures up to 1200°F. This makes them ideal for the most demanding industrial high-heat applications. In addition to extreme heat, Extra High Temperature Labels offer excellent resistance to chemicals, abrasion, and solvents, and they can withstand exterior exposure to extreme cold, heat and UV.

Stainless Steel Labels

Stainless steel label

Metalphoto isn’t the only metal label substrate material. Stainless Steel labels come in two versions: 316 and 304. Type 316 stainless steel labels are thicker with a more decorative look that can withstand punishing environmental conditions, such as exposure to salt spray in marine applications. Type 304 stainless steel labels use a ceramic-marked 304 stainless steel and also work well with any application that requires frequent cleaning with strong caustics.

Brass Labels

Brass label

Another metal label option, brass labels are often used in environments where ensuring that sparks are not struck, such as in fittings and tools used near flammable or explosive materials, is necessary. Furthermore, this material provides a clean and professional look for industrial and decorative applications. Brass possesses excellent chemical, temperature, and corrosion resistance. However, brass is a soft metal and can be prone to abrasion, but when printed with standard black graphics, these labels have excellent UV resistance and can be used in outdoor applications for long periods of time.

How are Metal Labels Used?

Corporations operate in distinct manners, collect devices in a variety of ways, and need labels for a wide range of reasons. Some common metal label types include:

  • Data labels include serialized identification data, such as barcodes.
  • Instruction labels display user instructions for gear.
  • Maintenance labels contain maintenance and servicing details and allow for reliable and fast documentation of maintenance activities.
  • OSHA safety labels are designed to comply with OSHA safety standards.
  • QR code labels feature QR codes that, when scanned, direct users to additional product information.
  • Serial numbers help to identify and track specific products during and after production and distribution.
  • UID labels provide a Unique Item Identifier (UID) marking that helps companies track products and equipment.

The Benefits of Metal Labels 

Durable metal labels sometimes have a slightly higher unit cost than alternatives, but they have other advantages that make them worth the investment. In fact, metal labels can actually save your company money in several ways, starting with longer expected lifetimes. Since these labels are more durable than plastic or paper alternatives, they remain readable for a much greater time.

Maximizing the usable life of expensive assets requires ongoing monitoring, maintenance, and repair. Metal equipment ID tags save time by eliminating manual data collection practices. Efficiency also rises because there are no more input errors. These tags are designed to indicate model and lot numbers and can provide usage and safety information. They support a number of functions:

  • Equipment monitoring. Adding metal equipment tags to assets is a reliable way to track the movement of items among departments, facilities, and other locations. Barcode scanning checks assets into and out of a centralized asset management system. Many businesses implement equipment identification tags to help them streamline their processes and modernize their operations with an enterprise asset management system.
  • Improve system reliability through regular maintenance and repairs. Most devices will experience an unexpected failure at some point. By monitoring expensive equipment effectiveness and performance with equipment ID tags, corporations better track maintenance and repair records and lower the likelihood that unanticipated failures will occur.
  • Prevent inventory loss due to theft or unauthorized transfer.  A company’s most valuable gear often does not necessarily stay in one place, leaving expensive assets susceptible to theft and unauthorized transfers. Metal asset tags reduce the likelihood of both theft and unauthorized transfer and make it easier to track down equipment that’s shared between departments or work sites.
  • Validate service activity. Clearly marking and properly tracking assets reduces the risk of potential damage and loss. Companies utilize metal asset tags as a permanent way to standardize their equipment monitoring methods, especially when operating expensive assets. These tags can also be used by personnel to easily coordinate and document maintenance work and other important activities so there are fewer disruptions. Many industries have large, distributed fleets and other assets that can be difficult to manage without a standardized system. Metal equipment tags also help streamline compliance activities and audits by having a unique and permanent identifier for each asset.
  • Control inventory. The typical warehouse, factory, or other facility has hundreds or even thousands of assets that must be managed every day. Maintaining accurate equipment inventory is much easier when items are tagged in a systematic way using labels that have been optimized for use with equipment. Proper metal equipment labels are difficult to remove and give the team confidence that the tags will remain in place and remain readable throughout the equipment’s lifespan.

Therefore, paying a bit extra for a label that exceeds requirements is usually more efficient and cost-effective in the long run. Often, labels identify equipment that is used for several years or decades, so the added durability proves useful. Labels that meet only the minimum requirement weaken over time, need to be replaced more often (adding to your overall asset management costs) and are not as reliable.

Which Industries Need Metal Labels?

Not all companies and applications require metal labels. The need is greatest in those markets in which equipment is exposed to the elements or harsh environmental conditions. Here are a few typical use cases:

  • Aerospace and Defense. Both of these industries are governed by strict requirements for the operation and tracking of equipment. One relevant example is the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), which requires unique identification (UID) tags to track and monitor the use of controlled equipment. There are also many extreme environmental conditions that DoD assets may be exposed to, especially for airplanes, ships, and military vehicles. Companies operating in these industries often turn to durable metal labels, such as rigid Metalphoto tags and labels, to ensure the integrity of their asset management efforts.
  • Food Processing: Nearly all equipment used in the food processing industry must meet strict levels of cleanliness and use materials designated as “food-grade.” One of the most common materials found in food processing equipment is food-grade stainless steel. Because stainless steel has a smooth surface and the ability to be cleaned repeatedly over time without degrading the surface, it provides a safe and reliable way to maintain high levels of cleanliness.
  • Heavy Industry: Industrial equipment can often experience abrasions, extreme temperatures, and chemical exposure. Many businesses choose metal as a label material to ensure that their asset labels can withstand such harsh conditions. Installing a durable metal label in an industrial setting ensures that it will remain readable regardless of the wear and tear of production, transportation, and storage. Metalphoto aluminum and stainless steel labels are often used in industrial and heavy equipment applications.
  • Oil and Gas: The oil and gas industry is a 24/7 operation, relying on machinery and equipment every moment of the day. Tracking and monitoring the use of this equipment and scheduling regular maintenance are necessary to ensure that operations run smoothly.
  • Utilities: The energy industry, like many other modern markets, makes use of heavy-duty equipment to deliver its services to constituents. Much of this equipment is outdoors and often exposed to harsh weather conditions, requiring durable equipment ID tags for continued readability throughout the usable life of equipment.
  • Telecom and Cable: Without working equipment, the telecom and cable industry faces many unhappy customers. Equipment tags enable telecom and cable industries to maintain equipment with ongoing maintenance and repairs, ensuring consistency of service delivery to the customers these companies serve. In addition, they track the high-value equipment used for field services and throughout the organization.
  • Manufacturing: Manufacturing involves the use of heavy-duty equipment that is susceptible to failure over time. To keep these expensive assets in optimal working condition, metal equipment ID tags are used to keep track of ongoing maintenance initiatives, maintain stock replacement parts, easily procure out-of-stock parts, and enable manufacturing companies to keep pace with modern demands.

What to Look for When Buying Metal Labels

Metal labels for equipment are the most durable labels that a company can purchase for its asset management needs. Before placing an order for new equipment identification tags, it’s important to consider some of the unique qualities of these metal tags. Here are a couple of the most important points to keep in mind when comparing the various options:

  • Compatibility. Always compare the demands of the work environment with the specifications of each metal substrate. Most metals are durable, but some may provide unique protection against extreme temperatures, moisture, and other contaminants. For example, Metalphoto Extra High Temperature (XHT) bar code labels are great for niche applications because they offer temperature resistance up to 1200°F and are an excellent choice for commercial ovens and equipment operating under extreme conditions. If the equipment tag substrate is not compatible with expected environmental hazards, there is a risk of degradation and damage to the label surface.
  • Attachment method. Most metal equipment identification tags are rigid and must be attached to a flat surface using an adhesive, bolts, or another mechanical method. Some labels, such as foil equipment tags, are more flexible and can often be placed on textured or curved surfaces. Before making a purchase, consider the attachment options for any equipment that will be tagged. This step ensures that the metal equipment tags can be securely affixed to the asset’s surface.

Corporations have invested lots of money in complex, expensive equipment. They want to maximize the usage of such devices. Metal labels are a great fit for the apparatus operating in harsh environments. They provide needed durability and become the foundation for modern asset management solutions, allowing businesses to better track and maintain their devices.

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