Way back in the distant past, it was Underwriters Laboratories that helped turn Web Graphics into Web Label and, eventually, Advanced Web. We did manuals and other printed material for Litton Microwave, back in the day when a company could actually produce a microwave in the US. Since most microwaves plug into the wall, Litton management felt that UL approval would be a positive thing. They had trouble with their label vendor and asked us if we were interested in producing UL labels for them. We told ‘em heck no. They asked again and we firmly said no again but eventually came around and started printing labels. So much for forward thinking, proactive business strategy in the mid ’70′s. It’s worked out OK over the years however. And a couple of Litton execs made their way into the medical device field, Bill George and Dale Wahlstrom.
A number of our medical customers have devices that plug into the wall. Generators and controllers for arthroscopic surgery, and the console/controller for a blood pump are two examples. Most of those products are UL certified but the question of what type of labels and marking systems are needed can be a bit murky at times.
Both our raw material suppliers as well as Advanced Web can get UL recognition. Basically, they send their blank label stock and a pile of money to UL. We send our printed, laminated, and diecut label stock and a pile of money to UL. They then perform a series of tests, many from a standard called UL 969 (available for purchase) which qualifies our label ‘system’ for use indoor, outdoor or both. Raw material is certified under UL Marking and Labeling Systems Material – Component program PGGU2. Our labeling system is certified under Component Marking and Labeling Systems PGDQ2. In order for us to recommend the correct label system, we need to know the surface it adheres to and the temperature range of the product. That’s it. We have different colors and finishes but that’s basically all the info that’s needed to qualify a label. One thing that tends to throw people off their game is that almost all of these products are tested to be ‘removable intact’. What this means is that the label can be pulled off the part in one piece without fracturing. Many of us think of a ‘UL label’ as the paper label that’s as fragile as a K Mart price sticker with the UL logo on it. That is not what this program is about. When the UL inspector visits your plant, and he visits ours frequently, he will check the carton label and a core or package label on your label inventory. He then looks it up in the Component Directory, formerly a large, thick, yellow two volume book, but now just a number of bytes floating around in cyberspace. Not surprisingly, that’s available for purchase as well. If the label designation on the carton and core are in there, and the surface the label adheres to and the temperature range match, you are golden. If not, bad things begin to happen.
I’m afraid I don’t have much insight on who does or doesn’t need the PGDQ2 or PGGU2 system. I’ve surfed the UL website and spoken to 4 UL employees and its still a bit puzzling to me. We recently had a project where the end user realized that a UL labeling system was needed. Unfortunately it was after the labels had been produced and the prototypes built and put into testing. We had produced the material on UL material (PGGU2) but not using one of our Component Marking and Labeling Systems, (PGDQ2). The verdict is out on whether or not that will do the trick but we should hear shortly.
In a nutshell, if you need a UL system, check with your UL project manager, either at UL, or internally if you’re a gigantic device manufacturer, to see which designation will be needed. I was told by UL that if you guess wrong, only choose the material designation, and they discover the label is printed, that they will test the labels (remember the pile of money?) to make sure it meets standards. The safe route is to choose PGDQ2, identify the material the substrate is made of, determine the operating temperature range, decide on the finish or color of the label, and test a couple samples. Another riff on the UL story is PGJI2, the repackage program. In a nutshell, we diecut blank labels that can be demand printed with thermal transfer printers using qualified UL tested (another pile of $$) ribbons. Keep in mind the removable intact requirement on all of these systems. UL does not say that just because the labels stick nicely to a smooth ABS surface that they will stick nicely to a textured ABS surface. They won’t! Identify the device, identify the UL system, and test. It’s the only reliable way to get what functions well and meets the UL requirements.