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Master Machine

Company Eliminates Shipping Errors with Zebra's IQ Color

Master Machine

Heat-Activated Color Labels a Flexible, Cost-Effective Solution

About Master Machine Since 1977, Minnesota-based Master Machine Inc. has manufactured top-quality precision ma¬chined parts in materials such as aluminum, stainless, plastics and brass. An ISO 9002 certified precision close tolerance machine job shop, Master Machine specializes in computer numerical controlled (CNC) milling, turning and assembly work for both short- and long-run production needs for a diverse range of industries.

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The Challenge

Every day, Master Machine ships freshly manufactured parts to its customers. Just as precision matters in the products it creates, precision in shipping is critical. An incorrectly shipped order causes delays for customers and re-routing costs for Master Machine.

For one customer in particular, the company ships parts to three different locations. After a few orders ended up at the wrong location, Master Machine sought a way to foolproof its shipping process.

"Missed shipments were not acceptable," said Kim Thompson. "All the same part numbers are shipping to different locations so there was a big potential for human error."

The Solution

Early on, the manufacturer considered color as a way to distinguish between locations. However, trials with colored paper failed to solve the problem.

Likewise, experimenting with colored totes for shipments or sealing shipments in colored plastic wrap were expensive options and not acceptable to the customer.

"The customer was not excited about lots of colors coming in because they already use lots of color in their facilities," Thompson said.

Master Machine turned to Peak Technologies, a supply chain automation company that provided the company's thermal printing labels. Peak recommended labels with IQ Color direct thermal ink technology from Zebra Technologies.

Compatible with Master Machine's existing Zebra thermal printers, Zebra's IQ Color offered just the right solution to the company's challenge. Using direct thermal ink technology, patented IQ Color goes right into Master Machine's printers. It's a flexible, efficient and accurate alternative to methods such as using preprinted color thermal media, laser or ink jet printing, separate color labels, or color markers.

During label manufacturing, Zebra applies up to four invisible ink colors to the zones that Master Machine designated. The printer heat-activates the ink to make select colors visible as the applica¬tion requires. It can reveal the color in the form of shapes, text, graphics or reverse images. Now, Master Machine prints cyan on the labels for all shipments that go to its client's main location. The company chose which parts of its existing label configuration to enhance with color, in this case the name of the customer, the destination, and purchase order and part numbers all print in color.

"The color is a very easy visual for shipping staff," Thompson said.

With heat-activated color, if desired, the company can print non-color labels and then switch to color labels from one print run to the next, without removing the labels.


Using IQ Color, Master Machine found an easy, inexpensive solution to its shipping challenges.The solution required no changes to the company's existing processes. Looking ahead, the company can also add more colors in the future for that customer, or for other customers.

Most importantly, the solution satisfies Master Machine's customer. Since adding IQ Color, the company has not experienced a single incorrect shipment to the customer.

"IQ Color was a super simple solution to a big problem," said Thompson.