Automating Label Placement for PCBs

Automating Label Placement for PCBs

Link Hamson has been providing labels and labelling solutions for the UK electronics manufacturing industry for over 35 years. 100’s of millions of labels ALL manually placed on the PCB. Simple identification of the board is the most common reason for labelling the PCB; part identification, batch numbers, lot codes, works order, date codes, serial numbers, product revisions etc. the list is long. The process hasn’t really changed even at a time where automation within the SMT line has moved forward significantly.

2D Barcode Labels for PCBs

At the same time increased density of board population, demand for more production data and traceability is driving more simplified PCB labelling; a single unique serial number in a 2D barcode format that’s logged against the product will significantly reduce the size of the label, making one label more likely to fit all boards. It’s also possible that the human readable aspect of the label is removed completely, especially when using miniature labels less than 5x5mm.

2D code readers are commonplace in critical SMT line processes, these can read the code and log the journey through the manufacturing process with manual scanners used to ‘read’ the code where automation is not possible.

With the label now a single size and likely to be very small, the placement of the label on the PCB becomes increasingly more demanding. Using tweezers to remove the label from the liner and apply it accurately and repeatably in the defined position and orientation for any given PCB is a difficult, manual, and very time-consuming therefore labour costly process.

Auto-Apply Labelling

Auto-apply labels are designed to be easily peeled off the liner and presented by an SMT label feeder, labelling cell or label applicator. The labels are supplied ONE across on narrow widths so that they can be fitted to a label feeder within the SMT placement machine and then simply placed like any other component – fully automating the label placement on the PCB.

We offer 3 label feeder formats to suit all labelling, masking, and PCB gasket requirements.

Slimline Label Feeder – 30mm wide, max. liner 15mm
Medium Label Feeder – 46mm wide, max. liner 30mm
Wide Label Feeder – 65mm wide

Label Feeder for SMT Automated Labelling

Auto-Apply Label Printing for PCBs

Auto-apply labels are provided one label across on narrow widths so that they can be fitted to a label feeder and presented to the pick and place system. There are a few considerations regarding what data you need (job no., works order, batch, lot, date codes etc. will need to be printed on demand when needed) which will ultimately decide how these labels can be printed going forward, however we can offer printed labels as simple starting solution.

Pre-printed PCB labels – As these labels may simply be a unique (non-repeating), 2D barcode with a sequential number we can provide fully pre-printed labels that you simply load on to the label feeder.

Blank labels – For flexibility (and for CEMs) where you may have multiple sizes with varying data by customer, we can provide blank labels you can print yourself. The requirement for Auto-Apply typically demands a 600dpi thermal transfer printer (for small 2D codes and text), high positional and printing accuracy, and the ability to accept narrow web liners. There are only a few printers that meet these needs and one that particularly excels in this type of printing – the cab Sqiux4M.

Miniature PCB Barcode Labels
Automated Label Placement for PCBs

The cab Squix4M also has centred media alignment and printing, this provides better head pressure balance which is crucial for printing on high temperature polyimide PCB label materials.

Auto-Apply Labels

Our LINK Labels, SMT Auto-apply labels can be supplied in a large range of sizes, materials, and formats to suit all label feeders, label applicators and labelling cells.

For many cases one of our existing label sizes may be suitable, however we also offer a custom size solution for when the size, shape or format is critical.

Our range of polyimide materials are designed to survive SMT reflow and all common cleaning and conformal coating processes, making the label both highly durable and highly resistant to chemicals found in electronics manufacturing today.

Below are just some examples of a few of the sizes we stock or can produce using existing tooling.

3.0mm x 3.0mm 3.6mm x 6.0mm5.0mm x 5.0mm5.0mm x 10.0mm 
5.1mm x 16.5mm 6.0mm x 6.0mm6.0mm x 8.0mm6.4mm x 6.4mm
6.4mm x 19.1mm6.4mm x 22.9mm 8.0mm x 8.0mm8.0mm x 10.0mm