When your Amazon order arrives on the doorstep, you probably don’t pay much attention to the outside of the package. You’re more interested in what’s inside, unless you’re Jerry Wade. With every Amazon package he sees, he studies his company’s handiwork – the shipping labels that direct Amazon orders to their final destination.

Did you ever wonder what all the letters, numbers, and barcodes actually mean?

Wade is the regional sales director at CTM Labeling Systems, located in the small manufacturing town of Salem, Ohio, 71 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The company has been designing and manufacturing labeling equipment since 1991. “Everything changed,” Wade said when CTM got a phone call about 10 years ago from Amazon.

“I had to make sure that they actually said 'Amazon' because it was a pretty big name,” said Wade. “They asked us if we can help them go faster. And we said, ‘Heck yeah, we can do this for you.’”

Amazon relies on thousands of American businesses to help deliver to customers. In the last year alone, Amazon worked directly with more than 9,600 U.S. suppliers.

Today you’ll find thousands of CTM Labeling machines humming along inside Amazon fulfillment centers. Packages move along conveyors to the SLAM line, which stands for scan, label, apply and manifest. They pass under the labelers, which print scanned shipping information onto the label. Sensors determine the height of the package. The labeler’s robotic arm, called a servo tamp, instantly adjusts to that height and applies the label to the package through a burst of air. The entire process takes about one second per package.

“There are literally millions of products that go through those facilities in North America every day,” said Wade. “Our engineers push the envelope right along with Amazon engineers, and it’s worked.”

CTM designs and manufactures all of its labeling equipment inside its 50,000-square-foot facility in Ohio. As CTM continues to grow with Amazon, so do the opportunities in Salem.

In the decade since that phone call from Amazon, CTM has doubled the size of their facility, invested in high-tech manufacturing equipment to meet growing demand for their labelers, and hired more people to assemble them.

“Above and beyond just labeling equipment, there is a bigger picture that's painted here, and Amazon's a big part of our community, not only CTM but the community too, and we’re pretty proud of that.”

A man works in a manufacturing space with high shelves and workbenches.
Photo by MEG COYLE
A CTM employee works on a robotic arm, part of the labeler that applies shipping labels through a quick burst of air.
A metal tool extends from a barrel-shaped device and cuts into a metal structure. Cooling liquid sprays from the edges of the tube.
Photo by MEG COYLE
CTM's success has allowed it to invest in efficiencies like machining centers that cut metal components for the labelers that are then assembled on site.
A woman in a blue polo shirt and black pants stands at a work table and assembles electronics.
Photo by MEG COYLE
CTM Labeling Systems employee works on one of the assemblies for a commercial labeling machine.
Rows of metal machines. They have labels on them that say "Amazon." A series of spools of different sizes are on the machines.
Photo by MEG COYLE
CTM labelers destined for Amazon fulfillment centers in the U.S.
Sparks fly as a worker in safety gear uses welding equipment.
Photo by MEG COYLE
A welder works on one of the assemblies for CTM Labeling Systems.
An church and an American flag are at the center of the image. A sign in front of a stone building reads "Salem Historical Society Museum."
Photo by MEG COYLE
Downtown Salem, Ohio.
A man wearing safety glasses looks at a device that includes a spool that holds labels.
Photo by MEG COYLE
CTM's labeling machines are designed, manufactured, and assembled at their facility in Salem, Ohio.
A man in a polo shirt and jeans stands among rows of tall metal machines.
Photo by MEG COYLE
CTM Labeling Systems Regional Sales Manager Jerry Wade.