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Article | September 30, 2002
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.
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.Learn about packaging innovation at The Packaging Conference in Orlando, February 3-5, 2014There 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 The only options available were to get permission to use outdated preprinted bags or discard unused inventory.”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.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 100ꯠ sq’ Wheeling plant. He estimates the plant runs 25ꯠ 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 5ꯠ 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 $20ꯠ 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 $40ꯠ 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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