Written By: Noël Daigle
Tracking and tracing equipment with an acquisition cost of over $5,000 for total life cycle. That’s what Item Unique Identification (IUID) labels for the Department of Defense are required to do.
According to MIL-STD-130N, a Department of Defense Standard Practice for identification marking of U.S. Military Property, “Direct identification marking and identification plates, identification bands, identification tags, or identification labels used shall be as permanent as the normal life expectancy of the item and be capable of withstanding the environmental tests and cleaning procedures specified for the item to which it is affixed.”
Furthermore, the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) 252.211-7003 further states “Unique Item Identifier (UII)” means a set of data elements permanently marked on an item that is globally unique and unambiguous and never changes in order to provide traceability of the item throughout its total life cycle.”
In effect, this system or process is designed to help defense and military equipment manufacturers utilize label markings to identify and keep track of essential and valuable equipment. Implementing an effective IUID System helps keep inventory consistently tracked, accountable, and properly managed. The problem is, in order for a system like this to work, the labeling technology and process needs to be consistently reliable.
According to the Item Unique Identification (IUID) Environmental Survivability Testing Report 20121 conducted at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division IUID Center, these label marking requirements are not being met.
According to the report, tests were conducted on adhesive based labels formulated and applied to High Surface Energy (HSE) glass, Low Surface Energy (LSE) polypropylene and CARC. In conclusion, they recognized two main problems that “permanent” IUID tracking labels encountered when tested for longevity and durability, 1). The label/mark fell off the item or was forcefully removed, or 2). The label/mark was worn to the point of being unreadable.
In the report, they correctly state that “these types of failures suggest the need to adapt tests to be more applicable to data matrices” due to the complexity and diversity of environments in which the DoD operates (sea, space, air, desert, tropics, arctic, etc.)
But that statement is prefaced on the fact that label suppliers are continually experimenting with adhesives to help labels endure in the environment in which they will reside. One type of adhesive may be formulated to endure high heat desert climates while another must take on high humidity. The problem is, no one adhesive works for every environment.
Global label suppliers have offered labeling technologies for LSE Plastics for years.
But the truth is, these common labeling technologies such as adhesive based stickers, In Mold Labels (IMLs), Heat Transfers, Hot Stamp Foils, and Screen-printing Inks for use on high surface energy (HSE) materials, are merely attempting to “adhere or bond” to the surface of the LSE polyolefin plastic, which they can’t achieve for very long. Why? Because the very nature of low surface energy plastic is to reject foreign materials. In fact, some label companies even recommend that the surface of LSE plastics requires to be primed or flame treated in order to create the higher surface energy conditions needed for the label to bond as best it can. If that doesn’t work? Then you might need a special adhesive formula to try it’s best achieve the results you need. This requires extra steps, processes, money, time, and labor in the hope that it will work. Why won’t it work long term? Read below to find out.
The reason Low Surface Energy Plastic is used frequently in military/defense equipment today because in comparison with other materials such as steel, plastic is able to meet the defense industries needs in multiple capacities.
Plastic offers uniformity in many diverse applications, making them adaptable for a variety of uses. Because of LSE plastic’s unique structure and properties, they are highly durable, especially in the harsh and varying environments in which defense or military equipment needs to be operable. Plastic is also lighter, which assists in troop or equipment transport mobility,
Using LSE Plastics also allows manufacturers and OEM’s to eliminate secondary operations such as machining or painting, and lower the cost of manufacturing and products significantly because plastic parts or items can be designed with great precision to exact specifications in less the amount of time, and designed with less necessary parts.
Industrial Designers and Engineers have chosen these plastics specifically for their ability to stand up against chemicals, harsh/diverse environments and heavy impacts. They can be interchangeably used and expected to withstand diverse environments that defense equipment would be found. Whether it’s land, sea, or air, LSE plastic performs consistently in its ability to withstand every environment on the planet from tropical to freezing.
The problem appears when you take high precision designed plastic parts, made from a LSE plastic specifically for its ability to withstand all the factors mentioned above, and then try to comply with IUID requirements to keep track of the equipment with the typically used label marking technologies that are currently offered.
First and foremost, these common labeling technologies mentioned previously, are incompatible with LSE plastics. They are comprised of a multilayer construction: an adhesive based or bonding substrate followed by printing inks and then completed with a protective varnish or protective overlay. And while the durable polyolefin plastic these labels are attached to will continually withstand harsh environments, abuse and chemical exposures for years to come, the incompatible label won’t. Ultimately, it will crack, peel, fade, or fall off entirely, leaving defense companies with an inferior IUID system unable to adequately perform its essential function.
This label failure will occur even in the mildest of environmental conditions. When you consider that military and defense operations require the ability to withstand harsh, severe, and long-term exposure to differing and extreme environments, harsh chemicals, or heavy impacts, it will accelerate that label failure. If you are working within a defense or military capacity, we encourage you to test the labeling system you currently utilize. Chances are, those labels cannot hold up to the rigorous standards in place for IUID tracking and tracing systems.
SO what then, is the solution? Polyfuze Fusion Labeling Technology. Polyfuze Fusion Labels are different from every other labeling technology out there because they’re 100% compatible and made from the exact same olefin-based material that the plastic part itself is made of. Once the fusion process is complete, the two polyolefin materials have combined to form one finished piece of seamless and flush polyolefin plastic with no change in durability or structural integrity.
The Polyfuze Fusion Label becomes just as durable and chemically inert as the plastic part itself, able to withstand every harsh environment, chemical contact and more. Click Here to view our Test Data Reports, describing the extreme tests to which we subject all of our Polyfuze Fusion Labels.
A simple illustration showing the difference between Polyfuze Fusion Labeling and other labeling technology, is to consider the difference between a temporary vs. a permanent tattoo. Temporary tattoos are applied topically and stick to skin. While it somewhat “bonds” to the skin, with repeated exposure to soap, water, sun, and time, it eventually disintegrates (usually quickly). A temporary tattoo is simply an incompatible ink that is coloring the top layer of the skin for a temporary amount of time. This is how a typical sticker, decal, heat transfer, IML, or Hot Stamp Foil will react to LSE plastics, every time.
On the other hand, a permanent tattoo is a compatible ink being deposited deeply into the subsurface of the skin. The two individual components, ink and skin, are now one.
Compatible Polyfuze Fusion Labeling Technology has solved labeling problems for manufacturers of LSE plastics in a variety of industries for over 30 years. These industries include a variety of equipment that can be found in all types of environments. Whether it’s high/heavy impact such as powersports or equipment, nonstop exposure to environmental impacts such as watersports, waste and recycling, or consistent exposure to harsh chemicals such as in medical equipment, waste or sanitation, when customers are experiencing difficulty with label failure, Polyfuze Fusion Labels are able to solve their unique problems.
In order for IUID labels to meet the requirement of permanent “life use” on polyolefin plastics used in defense applications, such as the majority of military cases for example, something other than adhesion based labeling must be implemented. Something compatible!
As the only 100% compatible label in the world for polyolefin plastics, Polyfuze Fusion Labeling Technology exceeds every testing requirement set forth in MIL-STD-810 for polyolefin products and can be utilized in every differing environment in which the DoD operates such as sea, space, air, desert, tropics, arctic and more guaranteeing performance that easily meets the intent of MIL-STD-130N and DFARS 252.211-7003 “normal life expectancy” and ”total life cycle.”