Air Assist Support

Important information and specifics to ensure the air assist components of your print and apply or pre-printed labeling automation systems are functioning correctly.

OVERVIEW

Standard on every Panther Industries print and apply or pre-printed pneumatic labeling automation system, the air assist helps a label stay flat as it feeds across the tamp head. The air assist mechanism is comprised of an adjustable bracket that holds a tube containing three very small holes that blows air onto the underside of the label.

Without it, a label would not feed flat onto the tamp head, preventing the vacuum from holding the label prior to application.

The tamp head of a pneumatic system has a pattern of shallow channels that, coupled with air flow driven by a vacuum generator, helps the label to remain on the tamp head until it is applied. The air assist keeps the label flat as it travels across these channels so the vacuum can properly “grab” and hold the label prior to application.

The air assist is also present on our Predator systems that feature the NEXTStep applicator. The label – comprised of both a shipping label and pack slip – is 12” long and feeds across two heads (a fold head and a tamp head) prior to being folded and applied. So the additional assistance to keep the longer label flat as it travels across those two heads is critical.

They can be challenging to adjust because they are positioned differently based on the size of label you are using for your application. One approach doesn’t fit all circumstances, but standard practices outlined below will provide an operator with a good starting point to get you where you need to be for your specific system.

SETUP, ADJUSTMENT, AND FINE TUNING OF THE AIR ASSIST

Pay close attention to the position of the air tube, both in terms of distance from the platen roller and the angle the air is blowing onto the underside of the label. As you begin your setup, the recommended starting distance between the tube and the platen roller is 0.75″ below the platen roller.

From this starting point, the distance can then be easily adjusted with the air assist bracket to get the air tube to the ideal position required for your application. To adjust the mounting bracket, loosen the bolt to affect the horizontal and vertical position of the air assist tube (shown below).

Typically, the holes of the air tube should be blowing onto the underside of the label at a 45º angle. Longer labels may require a slightly shallower angle. During setup, we start here and, through trial and error, adjust until the label feeds out flat, centered, and without wrinkles or waves.

From this starting point, the angle of the air holes can be adjusted with the clamping bolt. To adjust the mounting bracket, loosen the bolt to position and angle of the air assist tube’s holes (shown below).

The air assist tube has three holes in it, spaced 2.5″ apart. The number of holes used for the air assist function is dependent on label width, as described below:

For Label Width 2.4″ or Less
Use the outermost hole on the air assist tube, centered on the tamp head.

For Label Width 2.5″ up to 5″
Use the two outer holes on the air assist tube, centered on the tamp head.

For Label Width 5.1″ or greater
Use all three holes of the air assist tube, centered on the tamp head.

To ensure the label does not skew or otherwise feed incorrectly onto the tamp head, the hole(s) are centered on the label’s width, typically by visual inspection. However, if facility conditions are present where it is challenging to view the holes of the tube (e.g., limited or restrictive working space), an experienced technician can manually enable the air assist output of the system and use their fingers to feel where the air is flowing from the holes in relation to the label’s position on the tamp head.

To do this, access the Operator Display (HMI) main screen and select the I/O icon. From there, select “System Outputs” under the “Outputs” section. On the next screen, as long as you push and hold the circular lamp button next to “Air Assist Solenoid”, air will flow through through the air tube holes.

TECH TIP

Once your air assist is set up and working properly, use a paint pen to make alignment marks on the bracket/tube. If the air assist were to ever be out of alignment, finding the correct position can be easier and potentially performed by someone who isn’t familiar with the labeling system.

TROUBLESHOOTING

Air Tube Misalignment
If the air assist tube is blowing air at too steep of an angle, the air from the holes creates drag on the label and causes it to flutter or ripple onto the tamp head (shown below). To correct, loosen the clamping bolt and turn the air holes towards the trailing edge of the tamp head, until the label feeds flat with no ripples or flutters.

If the air assist tube is blowing air at too shallow of an angle, the label is pushed too far forward or completely off of the tamp head (shown below). To correct, loosen the clamping bolt and turn the air holes towards the leading edge of the tamp head, until the label feeds flat with no ripples or flutters.

If the label feeds correctly, but is skewed on the tamp head, the air assist holes are not centered on tamp head properly. Slide the air tube towards or away from the main plate to adjust hole location(s).

Additionally, any adjustment or movement of the applicator mechanism can also affect the air assist function (e.g., tamp head resides too far below the peel bar or is positioned too far away from the peel bar). Vertical or horizontal adjustments to the applicator will cause the air assist to be misaligned with the tamp head, requiring the operator to re-adjust the air assist tube angle or hole position relative to the underside of the label.

Item Collision with Air Tube
This issue can be caused by something colliding with the air assist components (the bracket and tube sit lower than any other portion of the labeling automation system) and the labels no longer feed correctly onto the tamp head. If only the mounting bracket is affected, a simple adjustment to the bracket and angle of the air holes should solve the issue. If the tube is damaged or bent, a replacement air assist tube will need to be installed.

A number of our partners and end users purchase additional air assist tubes to have on hand for this exact scenario. One is included in our spare parts kit, and individual tubes can be ordered separately through our parts department at parts@print-n-apply.com.

Labels Not Holding on Tamp Head
A common support issue we hear from end users is “the vacuum doesn’t work” because the labels are not remaining on the tamp head. More often than not, this issue is related to the air assist components and not the vacuum itself. As long as the air assist tube is not damaged or bent, a simple adjustment to the mounting bracket and/or air assist tube angle resolves this issue.

Labels Routed Around Air Assist Tube
Another issue we see is due to the label liner being incorrectly routed over and around the air assist tube, blocking and preventing it from blowing any air onto the label as it feeds onto the tamp head (example shown below).

It is important to follow the label routing diagram of each system and avoid covering the air assist tube. Even after correcting a label liner routing error, the position of the air assist tube may have been inadvertently affected, causing other issues and requiring adjustment.

PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE

A good preventative maintenance practice is performing regular cleaning of the air assist tube (and holes) with isopropyl alcohol to remove any excess residue or debris that has built up on the tube. This ensures the air is flowing properly from the holes to the underside of the label.

In addition, as mentioned previously, purchasing a quantity of extra air assist tubes to have on hand in the event a replacement is needed demonstrates best practices and maximizes uptime.

Additional information on setup or maintenance of the air assist function of your pneumatic or NEXTStep application can be referenced in the product manual for your specific system.

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For any service or support-related issues related to your Panther Industries print and apply or pre-printed labeling automation systems, please contact us at service@print-n-apply.com or toll-free at 800-530-6018, x120. To order parts, please contact us at parts@print-n-apply.com or toll-free at 800-530-6018, x175