Behind the Label: Making a Mark—That Sticks

Behind the Label: Making a Mark—That Sticks

For most people, labels are inconsequential. They merely lurk on furniture, cars or telephone cords. But for Brady Corp., they’re everything. They have qualities normal labels do not.

To Brady, they are “high performance” products.

Take Brady’s B-478-479 labels, one of the 50,000 items in its catalog. They include an adhesive that dissipates static. That makes them useful in electronic devices, where electrical charges are harmful. So you’ll find them attached to printed circuit boards during manufacture, because they limit electrical charges to 50 volts. They also can be useful after going through wave-soldering baths as hot as 493 degrees. On the other end, labels and signs affixed to pipelines in the Alaskan wilderness can withstand cold of 50 degrees below zero—or more.

Then there are Brady’s “Mondo Bondo” labels, which include a glossy layer of white polyester, a second layer of permanently adhesive rubber and a third layer for thermal printing. The Mondo Bondo labels adhere to oily, greasy pipes or highly textured surfaces, making them useful in industrial plants.

Other submersible devices have to withstand extremes of pressure. Routine safety labeling must have adhesives strong enough to withstand wear, jarring and abuse.

Brady’s safety signs don’t just identify exits. Some glow in the dark. Some emit sounds. Some detect motions. They even can deliver recorded instructions, such as directions to another entrance or warnings about nearby hazards.

Simple can be good. Labels that identify parts in a child’s toy are attached with a nontoxic adhesive, and are far less complex than thin, multi-layer labels that go inside compact disc players, computers and cell phones.

But in manufacturing, none of this is child’s play. In a variety of processes, labels are printed in ink on plastic and paper, are burned onto heat-sensitive chemicals spread onto backing materials like aluminum, and are glued onto other materials that customers require. Some labels are printed on sheets of paper, where each “unit” can be hand-peeled from a sheet and applied. Some are die-cast to raise embossed letters.

Brady also produces devices that print labels. These include handheld machines that will spit out labels-to-order on the spot. They’re used, for example, by telecommunications workers who need to temporarily classify wires and cables in telecom closets.

Today, the company’s labels are found in cell phones and computers, and other sophisticated hardware. The company, which got its start manufacturing road signs, also makes signs and labels for hazardous-waste handlers.

For Seagate Technologies, Brady makes very small lightweight labels that go on disk drives. For Bell telephone and other telecommunications companies, it prints identification markings directly onto plastic sleeves. These numbers help technicians sort through wiring in complex switching systems.

It’s hardly a hometown business. Brady makes and distributes its labels from 47 locations around the world, with 13 plants each in Asia and the United States, 12 in Europe, four in Latin America, two each in Australia and the United Kingdom, and one in Canada.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Baseline.