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'Eggsact' carton coding

Midwest Poultry’s 30 laser coders improve ease of use, efficiency, and uptime while etching a precise, permanent mark. See video
FILED IN:  Applications  > Food  > Proteins
As one of the top 10 egg processors in the country Midwest Poultry relies on consistent trouble-free production to pack under numerous private labels for the likes of Wal-Mart and Kroger.

The company recently installed 30 Focus S10 laser systems from Videojet Technologies to improve the crucial carton coding part of its operations.

The 30 systems were procured through and installed by Flex-Pac at three of the company’s plants. Ten units each are operating at Fort Recovery OH at Loda IL and at its biggest facility Midwest’s headquarters operations in North Manchester IN which Packaging World visited in September 2005.

The compact laser systems replace older clamp-style stamping machines that embossed the codes into the cartons. The company initially considered ink-jet units—and uses some in their operations—but comparisons tipped the overall benefits heavily toward lasers.

Midwest Poultry director of operations Mark Casper says the major advantage is that “there are no consumables versus ink-jet coders which require constant cleanup and upkeep.” Each ink-jet coder uses $5 yearly in consumables Casper figures. At this plant Midwest currently operates four ink-jet units that will soon be replaced by laser coders according to Casper.

Permanent marker

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Midwest has operated the laser coders in North Manchester over a double shift for two years now. Laser coders at Midwest’s two other plants which were installed in summer 2004 receive similar usage. “They were really ‘plug and play’ simplicity” asserts Casper who also likes the codes’ durability. “Once the code is applied it cannot be changed or altered.” He notes that any ink-applied code can smear. He adds that the company’s ink-jets occasionally spray ink onto the eggs which must be destroyed. The low wattage of the Focus S10 laser units just 10 watts isn’t strong enough to mark the eggs even if the lid is not closed at the point of coding so there’s no chance of damaged product.

The coders are located on the line after the eggs are cartoned and the lid is closed. The cartons are conveyed past the laser which codes them on one end at a rate of 40 per minute.

Casper says production is evenly split between expanded polystyrene and molded pulp cartons. There’s no adjustment of the laser between these formats.

The two-line coding features plant identification and day/yr format on the first line while the second line displays the expiration dating which varies depending on the customer. An expiration date for 30 days from the day of pack is not uncommon. The laser-coded characters are 1¼4” high.

Because Midwest packs eggs for private label customers the operation is continuously making changeovers which require a coding change. That’s done through a hand-held terminal with an alphanumeric keypad.

Labor-saving rollover

Unlike with previous coders the date rolls over automatically with the Videojet laser systems. That’s a huge improvement for Midwest Poultry.

“Date changes took 10 to 15 minutes for each clamp coder so this is a big labor savings” notes Casper.

“We merely have to turn the coder’s switch on.”

The only “maintenance” required is that the operator dusts off the laser lens twice weekly Casper points out.

“We’ve had no readability issues or complaints in the field after two years from the upgrades” says Casper who emphasizes that no news is good news. “Sometimes ink-jet codes can get smeared making them hard to read.”

As Midwest’s efficiency has increased leading to throughput rising by 30 cases of eggs an hour bad codes have been eliminated along with the complaints. Midwest has reduced the rework associated with improperly coded cartons by 60 dozen cartons a year according to Casper who pegs payback at less than five years.

Sums Casper “We’ve had good success with these coders “ which was eggsactly what Midwest Poultry had wanted from the start.

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