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Bag printing enriches JW Allen

Digital printer reduces inventories of preprinted bags and flexo plates at Rich Products’ JW Allen bakery mix facility in Wheeling, IL.
FILED IN:  Applications  > Food  > Bakery
A bag conveys up a belted incline conveyor (top) into the digital printer's press where text, graphics, and bar code are printedA bag conveys up a belted incline conveyor (top) into the digital printer's press where text, graphics, and bar code are printedJW Allen produces a stencil off-line for each different bag type. The stencil is placed on a core and mounted to the 

At JW Allen’s Wheeling IL facility an off-line digital bag printer enables on-demand printing saves costs and shelf space and also improves printing speeds and flexibility. The plant which produces dry cake donut and bread mixes uses the stand-alone printer to print product name product tracking numbers bar code and an ingredients statement onto flat empty bags that are later filled with 50- or 30-lb quantities of the dry bakery ingredients.

A bakery supplier for 120 years JW Allen was purchased in January 2000 by Rich Products Corp. Buffalo NY. At that time the Wheeling plant was using a flexographic printer to print a limited amount of information onto bag stock. About 70% of the information on those bags was preprinted. The preprinted bags had to be purchased in large volumes which proved costly. Storing some 200 different bag varieties required valuable space at the plant as did the flexographic printing plates that were necessary for each different printed bag.

There was another drawback: “Whenever we had to change a formula the Food and Drug Administration required that the change be reflected in the ingredient statement. The only options available were to get permission to use outdated preprinted bags or discard unused inventory.” That’s according to Harold Storer the plant’s purchasing manager when a new printer was sought. Applying a label on the bag was considered too tacky.

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Aware of the plant’s bag-printing limitations Storer toured a Rich’s plant in Fort Erie Ontario Canada. There he watched a digital case printer printing bar codes and production information onto corrugated shipping cases. Storer learned that cost savings and consistent bar codes led Rich’s Frozen Food Division to standardize its case-coding process with DCP digital case printers from Iconotech (Clinton CT).

Finding that Iconotech had an office in Wheeling IL Storer contacted the company and discussed JW Allen’s bag-printing challenges. In the spring of 2001 JW Allen began using Iconotech’s DCP-3200-V3B digital bag printer.

Typically the printer runs eight to 12 hours a day five days per week according to Terry Bleecker general manager of the 100 sq’ Wheeling plant. He estimates the plant runs 25 bags per week through the machine.

Supplied by the Kansas City MO plant of Smurfit-Stone (Carol Stream IL) the adhesive-laminated multiwall bags include a .8-mil high-density polyethylene liner that provides moisture barrier with three outer 50# extensible paper layers of either kraft or bleached white material. Bags are used for dry mixes that are shipped either to Rich plants or to in-store bakeries.

Process pays off

On the day of Packaging World’s visit both Bleecker and cereal mix manager Tim Mann commented on how easy the machine is to operate and maintain. About 70% of the flat bags arrive preprinted only with the colorful JW Allen logo. The other bags are custom printed for specific customers. The Iconotech machine prints only black ink onto the bags.


An operator loads bags onto the printer’s lift table magazine which holds as many as 100 flat bags. The lift table rises as bags are picked one at a time from the top of the stack. Each bag is conveyed a short distance up a belted incline conveyor where vacuum cups feed it between rollers into the machine’s press.

There the appropriate bag graphics text and bar codes are transmitted from a PC to a thermal printer or imager that burns the image onto a stencil made of less than 2-micron-thick polyester film adhesive-laminated to a long-fiber tissue backing. The ink dries in about two minutes. Iconotech supplies the material that is manufactured in Japan.

The stencil is produced off-line using the PC and special software from another vendor. Stencils are kept in an enclosed cabinet just outside of the room that houses the 3200-V3B printer. The stencil is hand-rolled onto a corrugated core and mounted onto the printer’s spindle. A new $2 stencil can be changed over in minutes. Each stencil can print about 5 bags. Printed bags are delivered to the filling lines that accommodate the mixes.

On the packaging lines JW Allen uses older ink-jet coders to print a batch number and use-by date onto the bags. “We don’t print that information with the Iconotech because we print bags the day before filling” says Bleecker. “So if our schedule changes it may change that information that needs to be printed for [potential] recall purposes” he notes.

The switch to the digital printer has provided JW Allen with greater printing flexibility at the plant. In fact Bleecker says some jobs have been done on-demand. “If we get an order in by 8 a.m. we can get it out that night. We had one job that we received at 2 p.m. on a Friday and we had it to the customer by 4 a.m. the following Monday.”

The printer has also eliminated the need for the company to buy a $450 plate for each change in printing as it had to previously. Storing those plates took up more room than storing the current stencils.

The Wheeling plant also enjoys material cost savings. The plant now orders a weekly shipment of bags so large inventories are no longer needed. That saved an estimated $20 in bag costs during the first year after the printer was installed. And it’s less labor-intensive to store the small number of printed bags it now produces than it was to order stack and track the flexo-printed bags.

The company estimates that since using the Iconotech digital printer it’s avoided $40 in flexo-printing plate-replacement costs that would have been necessary to make text changes to satisfy regulatory concerns.

Storer and Bleecker note that the new equipment provides consistent bar-code quality. “That’s becoming more important to the bakery brokers like Aramark and Sysco who in turn ship product to bakeries restaurants and hotel chains” notes Bleecker. “The brokers scan the bar codes printed by the Iconotech machine for distribution tracking and delivery. More and more these companies are fining suppliers $50 for each incidence of unscannable bar codes. This digital printer gives us a low-maintenance and clean system that’s working really well” Bleecker concludes.

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