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A Star coding system

Dental tool maker Star Dental switches from manual label application to preprinting with a thermal-transfer system to comply with industry bar-code guidelines. Savings are the major benefit.

Based in Lancaster PA Star Dental a division of DEN-TAL-EZ Inc. manufactures dental tools for sale to distributors internationally. Scalers picks and cutting instruments are among the hundreds of instruments packaged into blister cards and paperboard sleeves then delivered to distributors. Until this spring Star Dental applied pressure-sensitive labels containing lot and date code information as well as labels containing bar codes to packages by hand. Because some blister cards hold up to six individual products that meant as many as 12 labels had to be applied to each package creating a costly and time-consuming operation. Recent mandates from the Health Industry Business Communica<> tions Council (HIBCC) Phoenix AZ called for more detailed information on packages including bar codes. This prompted Star Dental to purchase a 985 DT Coditherm Flat Product Printing System from Dalemark Industries (Lakewood NJ). The system prints information directly onto blister cards and paperboard sleeves. It's enabled the company to meet these guidelines while cutting both labor and material costs. "We picked the thermal-transfer system because of its quick set-up" says Donald Nelms senior industrial engineer at Star Dental. "We hadn't found anything like it in the field." The patented thermal-transfer printer produces HIBCC bar codes "the standard used in the health industry" says Nelms. Among the identification included in the bar codes is item/catalog number description lot/date code and a Labeler Identification Code. This code is assigned by HIBCC for easy identification and tracing among distributors as well as for inventory and supply chain management. After orders are received and production and packaging is scheduled flat blister cards or paperboard sleeves are placed into the printer's feeder for coding. An integrated counter allows coding of a precise number of flats. "There are two parts to the machine" explains Nelms. "One is the infeed mechanism a quick set-up for loading into the magazine. Second is the computer-driven printhead." An item number is called up using keypad-operated menu-driven software which holds programs for each of Star Dental's products. Packages are imprinted with the HIBCC code then taken to the packaging line. Quick changeover Although the old system allowed packages to be labeled at the point of packaging blister cards and paperboard sleeves are now coded off-line. While that caused Star Dental to rearrange its packaging procedure the automated system applies codes as needed per item: six-up or four-up for cards or singly for sleeves. This has shaved off labor time. "It takes only fifteen minutes to print 1 sleeves" says Nelms. "If we had to do that manually it would take us four times as long." Nelms indicates that different types of packages take more or less time to print: "Blisters are faster sleeves are slower" he says emphasizing that "speed was not as important as a quality imprint." So far he says there's been no negative feedback about bar-code scannability. Because of the system's floating head design it can handle varied thicknesses of blisters sleeves and cartons. Currently Star Dental's blister cards comprise a 21-pt SBS blister board offset-printed in two colors in front one in back plus a varnish by Colony Papers (York PA). Paperboard sleeves consist of 20-pt chipboard flexo-printed in two colors in a duotone process by Packaging Technology (Lionville PA). To change packages quick-release knobs allow adjustment of length and width of the magazine. No-tool changeover "is really quick" says Nelms. "Then you just call up the next item on the computer." Costs were justified concludes Nelms. "We had payback in less than a year."

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