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Top 5 Challenges in Chemical Labeling

Today’s chemical manufacturers are faced with a wide range of requirements that complicate labeling—and leave many companies accepting their current process as the cost of doing business. But it doesn’t have to be.

Today’s chemical manufacturers are faced with a wide range of requirements that complicate labeling—and leave many companies accepting their current process as the cost of doing business. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are five of the most common labeling challenges, as well as some helpful tips and proven approaches to overcome them.

Meeting GHS And Other Regulatory Requirements

Even as OSHA’s GHS labeling deadlines have come and gone in the U.S., companies still struggle with compliance.  There are also international GHS guidelines stipulated by various countries and regions that must be met. The challenge of course with GHS and other regulations is managing all the information that goes on each label. Not only do you need accurate data—including hazard statements as well as your transactional data—you also must accommodate a wide range of symbols, color printing, different size products and containers, and multiple languages.

To accurately create GHS labels, chemical companies often have to pull data from multiple systems. They may rely on a source of record like SAP or Oracle as well as at least one system for regulatory information. There are other systems that can also come into play like warehouse management (WMS), manufacturing execution (MES), lab systems, and product lifecycle management (PLM), to name a few. A good labeling system that meets good manufacturing practices has the ability to retrieve data from multiple systems for the same label without having to manually replicate the information.

And because regulations, not just GHS, continue to require color elements on the label, it’s recommended that companies transition from preprinted label templates with pictograms, warning symbols, etc.—which can quickly become an outdated and wasted expense—and adopt a color labeling solution that can support the wide array of labels across your global enterprise.

Printing And Supporting Different Languages

The chemical supply chain is as complex and global as any industrial supply chain. Companies need to manage raw materials, feed stock, commodity pricing, regulatory issues and more—both locally and internationally. To ensure the swift, efficient transfer of product, either upstream or downstream, labels need to be in the native language of receiving countries. There may be other requirements on the label, depending on the destination. For example, China has special labeling demands that if not met can result in costly delays, fines, even returned product.

There are instances where companies will stock a particular SKU of the same product in the same size container, and use five different labels—each to meet the specific language and compliance requirements of different regions. Because of how their systems are being used, they have to print labels ahead of shipping, which leads to escalating costs in added inventory, warehousing, and employee productivity.

There is a better way. By standardizing on a single, end-to-end labeling solution with robust design capabilities and configurable business rules, chemical companies can enable label formatting and content changes—including languages—dynamically. Using this approach, chemical companies can actually label containers with the correct languages later in the process. This has resulted in some companies reducing inventory of SKUs by up to 60%, which translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost savings. 

Managing Variable Data on Labels

Language is just one of the many changing elements on today’s chemical labels. Manufacturers are increasingly asked to meet additional customer requirements, which can range from special handling instructions and regional requirements to barcodes, logos, graphics, and other branding elements. Depending on a company’s customer, supplier, toller or 3PL base, this label variability can be difficult to manage as some manufacturers may have literally hundreds of unique label templates that they have to maintain and update. Not only does this create inefficiencies in time and labor, but also opens the door for costly errors.

This is where you’ll want to look for a solution that has those built-in business rules to enable formatting changes like language, barcodes, even imagery to occur dynamically within the same template. By applying business logic to automatically update labels, you can keep up with constant variability while greatly reducing the number of templates. Also a centralized approach to labeling—where labels are created, shared and updated across an organization—further optimizes the labeling process and improves overall supply chain efficiency.

Extending Labeling Beyond Four Walls

For years chemical companies have struggled with how to integrate partners like distributors and tollers into their processes. Today many companies use third parties as extensions of their own business for value-added services like direct shipment to customers. When it comes to labeling, companies handle third parties in multiple ways—but it’s commonly a difficult, manual process. Many manufacturers still package and ship the labels right to the partner or they pay to have the labels printed for the third party by an outside vendor. These options can be extremely costly as well as wasteful if the labels become outdated over time.  

Now there are innovations in labeling that enable suppliers, tollers or other partners to quickly access and print labels locally via the web. Chemical companies can implement such a solution in a secured environment so third parties have restricted access to specific data, labels and printers. This approach ensures consistency of labels produced by business partners while eliminating the costly, time-consuming process of relabeling goods upon receipt. Additionally, because you’re leveraging the data that is fundamental to the labels, you can ensure the labels created upstream also meet the requirements for downstream use.

Adapting to Growth, M&A Activity

Based on recent projections from the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry is expected to grow exponentially over the next few years. As companies look to expand operations and add new facilities, it becomes more important than ever to standardize on technology and processes—including labeling. A labeling solution already integrated with enterprise applications like ERP and PLM systems across multiple sites makes it that much easier to scale and bring on new plants and users. The browser-based capabilities of some labeling solutions further simplifies expansion to more users—even in the event of a merger or acquisition. 

Major players throughout the industry continue to acquire new companies, spin off separate businesses, or sell divisions. When these developments occur, one of the first things a company will want to tackle is the consolidation of labels to reflect proper marketing or branding information and ensure one face to the customer. With a standardized, centralized labeling solution, chemical companies can quickly and efficiently design new labels or, better yet, update existing templates to accommodate the new acquisition or division. You can pull information from trusted data sources as well as connect to new sources of data using the same system to ensure accuracy and consistency of the new chemical labels.

When it comes to labeling, few industries are as complex and challenging as the chemical industry. From stringent regulatory requirements—with their heightened demands for accuracy and auditability—to the pressures of globalization and need for greater flexibility, agility, and cost-awareness, chemical companies need to look at labeling as a strategic process. With the right solution in place, organizations can not just overcome challenges, but improve supply chain efficiency and better meet operational goals.

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