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The Complete Guide to Data Plates

Labels & Tags

Every organization with equipment or facilities needs to be able to identify, track, and manage its equipment and other important assets. Data plates are an efficient way to do this at scale.

However, if you’re new to using data plates, you might wonder which use cases they’re a fit for, which materials to use for your data plates, and how to read data plates.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain what data plates are and how to read them, as well as share tips on how to design data plates that keep your company both safe and compliant.

Worker using a CNC machine

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In this article, we’ll discuss:

What Are Data Plates?

Data plates are durable labels that are affixed to machinery, equipment, or tools. They provide essential information like:

Organizations in manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, energy, heavy industry, military, and defense use data plates to communicate information about their assets to employees.

Because data plates communicate such crucial information, they’re usually manufactured from durable metal substrates. In some situations, a business might make its data plates out of a strong plastic or composite material. The goal is to choose the most durable and appropriate data plate substrate for your use case.

Industrial equipment

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Popular Materials for Data Plates

Data plates are used for a range of different purposes, which is why they come in a variety of different materials. However, some materials are more popular than others. Metalphoto®, anodized aluminum, and brass are just a few of the most popular data plate substrates available for your business.

Metalphoto® Anodized Aluminum Data Plates

Data plates made from Metalphoto® anodized aluminum are created from the most durable aluminum substrate available. MPC’s Metalphoto® data plates last outdoors for over 20 years, even when exposed to extreme environmental conditions.

We seal the data plate’s graphics beneath a hard anodic layer, which makes the surface virtually impenetrable and resistant to:

  • Abrasions
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Damaging UV rays

Data plates made by Metalphoto® will not fade, chip, or peel, either.

Anodized Aluminum Data Plates

Data plates made from anodized aluminum are very durable and offer excellent resistance to chemicals, cleaning solvents, abrasion from dirt or sand, and harsh temperatures. MPC’s regular anodized aluminum data plates are a cost-effective alternative to Metalphoto® in certain applications.

Aluminum Data Plates

Data plates made from aluminum are lightweight and easily formed, yet strong enough for use in exterior applications. Aluminum is less expensive than other metals, which makes it an economical but durable choice for businesses that need a large volume of data plates.

Robotic machinery

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Stainless Steel Data Plates

Stainless steel is a strong, low-maintenance metal with an expected exterior life of up to 20 years. Data plates made from stainless steel will withstand corrosion, chemicals, and high heat.

Stainless steel is naturally antimicrobial, so it’s popular for food service and healthcare settings. It also performs well in caustic or acidic environments that could destroy aluminum data plates.

Brass Data Plates

Brass data plates are highly effective for both indoor and outdoor use because they offer exceptional protection against salt water, chemicals, and corrosion. Brass is a low-friction metal that doesn’t produce sparks, which makes the material a safer choice for environments with potentially explosive elements or fire.

Polyester Data Plates

Polyester data plates work well for indoor equipment and industrial use because of their durability, clarity, and versatility. They resist chemicals and abrasions and can handle varying temperatures and humidity levels. MPC’s polyester data plates are lightweight, easy to print, and die-cut for faster production.

Polycarbonate Data Plates

Data plates made from polycarbonate (a strong plastic) are a popular option for product identification, labeling, and packaging thanks to their strong mechanical properties. Polycarbonate data plates are easier to read because of their high light transmission and low haze.

Equipment operator using a forklift

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How To Read Data Plates

Data plates communicate essential information to manufacturers, installers, and end users. As long as you use consistent labeling on your data plates, everyone in your organization can use this information to stay productive and safe.

Data plates might seem like a jumble of information, but they’re easy to read. You read a data plate the same way you read a book: from left to right, top to bottom.

Of course, the content of a data plate depends on the use case. Applications for data plates vary widely, so there will be nuances to each data plate in your business.

For example, a data plate on an industrial forklift is usually located on the instrument panel near the operating controls. This data plate will likely include:

  • Basic information: This includes brand, model, serial number, and forklift type. Reading this information is helpful for service, repairs, or warranty questions. For example, locating the model number on the forklift’s data plate allows the service center to dispatch the appropriate technician for maintenance.
  • Parts and components information: This is information like tire type, tread, and size. This information helps operators understand how much space the forklift will occupy. A data plate also shows the mast type of the specific forklift model. Fuel-type data shows whether the machine is powered by electricity, liquid propane, diesel, gasoline, or compressed natural gas.
  • Weight and load information: This data shares information on the overall weight of the forklift with and without a battery or attachments, maximum lift weight and height, and degrees of back or forward tilts. Operators need this information to understand how much weight the forklift can handle for both safety and productivity reasons.

What Information To Include on a Data Plate

The data included on a data plate depends entirely on the piece of equipment and use case. For example, a forklift should include information about the machine’s weight, size, and capabilities. But if you’re labeling a different asset, it might require more or less information.

Before ordering data plates for your assets, research the information required for the plates, whether for safety or compliance reasons. At a minimum, your plates should include:

Automotive manufacturing vehicle robotic assembly

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Common Use Cases for Data Plates

From microwaves and furnaces to airplanes and elevators, data plates are everywhere. They help identify and track products, ensure safety, and maintain regulatory compliance.

A wide range of industries relies on data plates, including businesses in the automotive and transportation, food processing and service, telecom and cable, energy and utilities, manufacturing, and defense markets. Let’s look at some of the most common use cases for data plates across different industries.

Automotive and Transportation

This industry uses data plates on finished automobiles, commercial vehicles, and airplanes. Some parts and components also require data plates.

The challenge is that many transportation assets are outdoors, so they’re subjected to a range of environmental conditions like extreme temperatures and UV exposure. Because of these tough conditions, automotive businesses often use data plates made from durable materials like Metalphoto® or anodized aluminum.

Food Service

Worker using cheese molds in a food manufacturing facility

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels

The foodservice and food processing industry has a lot of specialized equipment in need of labeling. Food and beverage companies label this equipment with data plates to communicate information to operators and service techs.

Many food service companies use data plates to label equipment like:

  • Ovens
  • Refrigerators
  • Freezers
  • Industrial mixers
  • Conveyor belts

The added challenge is that food service materials must be safe enough to come into contact with food.

The food processing and foodservice industry has strict cleanliness requirements, so it’s best to use data plates made from stainless steel. It’s naturally antimicrobial, withstands extreme temperatures, and resists chemicals, which makes it the most durable substrate for the food industry.

Telecom and Cable

From telephone wires to cable boxes, the telecom industry handles a lot of equipment. Telecom and cable companies use data plates for:

  • Circuit identification
  • Safety instructions
  • Equipment specifications
  • Network organization
  • Inventory management

Field service is the standard for this industry, which is why it’s so important to use durable labels. Telecom equipment is usually located outside, so rugged labels made from Metalphoto® are the best fit.

Energy and Utilities

Energy and utility companies rely on a lot of equipment to offer power, water, and other utilities. This industry faces frequent equipment inspections, so clearly-marked data plates can significantly speed up this process.

This equipment is usually outside and exposed to the elements, so it’s best to go with data plates made from Metalphoto®. This substrate has an expected exterior life of over 20 years, which helps utility companies avoid the hassle of ordering replacement plates.


Medical researchers using microscope and other equipment in a lab

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The healthcare industry is highly regulated. Data plates on medical equipment must meet stringent safety and quality control requirements. Metal data plates are the standard in this field, where organizations use data plates for:

Because of stainless steel’s antimicrobial properties, this metal substrate is the most popular option for data plates in hospitals and surgical centers


The manufacturing industry uses data plates on equipment, machinery, and tools—including everything from forklifts to move materials to packaging machinery to prepare goods for storage and transport—to identify equipment and provide safety information. Manufacturers use data plates for:

  • Identifying machine make, model, serial number, manufacturer, and manufacturing date
  • Sharing safety information, including operational parameters and safety instructions
  • Specifying maintenance intervals
  • Maintaining quality control

Metalphoto®, anodized aluminum, and stainless steel are durable options for manufacturers. However, if you work in an environment with open flames or sparks, it’s best to go with non-reactive substrates like brass.

Military jet

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Military and Defense

In military and defense, there’s no margin for error. Mishaps come with disastrous consequences, which is why there are so many regulations for military and defense data plates.

In addition to identifying information, military data plates also have to meet specific standards for:

  • Size
  • Shape
  • Thickness

These standards ensure that the data tags stay legible in even the most extreme conditions. It’s tough meeting all these requirements, but substrates like Metalphoto® anodized aluminum ensure the plates’ longevity with maximum performance.


Marine companies use data plates to identify vessels as well as critical equipment. Seafaring vessels, underwater structures, pipes, and equipment are constantly exposed to wind, salt, water, and varying temperatures. These are tricky conditions, which is why it’s so important to use data plates made from durable materials like:

  • Stainless steel
  • Anodized aluminum
  • Metalphoto® anodized aluminum
City port with ships and equipment

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3 Tips for Designing Data Plates

Used effectively, data plates speed up maintenance, improve workplace safety, and maintain compliance. Even so, it’s best to optimize your data plates to glean as much value as possible. Follow these best practices to design better data plates.

1. Ensure Compliance

First things first, understand which regulations you need to comply with before you order or design your data plates. Some industries have very specific requirements for data plates.

If you’re in a highly regulated industry like defense, food service, or healthcare, there might be industry-specific regulations for data plate materials, sizing, or shapes. Work with your legal department to understand all the parameters your tags need to follow.

2. Select the Appropriate Substrate for Your Application

What are the environmental demands like? Metal is a solid option for harsh environments, but it doesn’t always hold up in environments with corrosive chemicals. Stainless steel is ideal for sanitary environments, while brass is best for environments with fire or sparks.

3. Choose the Best Attachment Method

Designing your data plates is just the beginning. Plate durability certainly matters, but you don’t want these plates to fall off your assets, either. Decide which attachment method works best for your use case.

For example, industrial data plates usually come with mounting holes to attach the plate to equipment with screws. However, pressure-sensitive adhesive is sometimes a better fit for other environments.

Keep in mind that especially harsh environments or extreme temperatures might require a combination of the two for a more secure attachment.

Construction site with a water truck and heavy equipment

Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

Choose a Custom Data Plate Manufacturer

Data plates convey important information to installers, technicians, and operators. The details on a data plate vary by industry, equipment type, and use case, so it’s important to customize them for your business.

Data plates are a must-have for both compliance and safety. Protect your business with a reputable data plate manufacturer like MPC.

Our experts help you choose the best metal substrate for your application. We can even help you add graphic elements like text, barcodes, and full-color logos.

Once we finalize your data plate, you can request a prototype for on-site testing before submitting an order.

Contact MPC today to request a quote and create custom data plates for your business.

Frequently Asked Questions

What information does a data plate include?

At a minimum, data plates include the following information:

  • Model name
  • Serial number
  • Tracking information
  • Operating instructions
  • Safety or hazard warnings
  • Serial number or barcode

How do you read a data plate?

Data plates read like a book. Look at the information from left to right, up and down. However, the exact format may differ depending on the use case.

What’s the difference between a data plate and a nameplate?

There is no difference between a data plate and a nameplate. These terms are used interchangeably. They refer to the durable plates businesses attach to machinery, assets, or equipment.

Questions about the article? Let us help!

Our sales engineers are experts in automatic asset tracking, tagging and identification,a nd can answer all your questions. Get in touch now.

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