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Kenosha Beef makes a case for digital printing

An off-line digital case printer saves $50ꯠ/yr in labor and label costs.See in-plant video
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A visit to Pack Expo in 2000 led Kenosha Beef International to the digital case-printing equipment that’s helped the company reduce labor and material costs while satisfying the needs of a key customer.

The DCP-3200 digital case printer is used off-line to print corrugated case blanks that are transferred on pallets to six different packaging lines in another building at the Kenosha WI facility. The machine was purchased from Iconotech (Clinton CT) and was up and running last July.

“There were three major drivers behind our looking into a machine to replace our previous method of hand-applying printed pressure-sensitive labels to cases of packaged hamburger meat” says Alex Savaglio director of corporate purchasing.

“We wanted to reduce those labor and materials costs so those were two factors that prompted the change” he says.

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The third reason he explains was to provide customer Sysco “with scannable bar codes on all boxes including our brands which they also sell.”

Looking to satisfy Sysco and other foodservice customers that account for about 80% of its business Kenosha Beef sent some of its employees to Pack Expo “where we saw a machine that applied labels to flat case blanks” recalls Savaglio.

Savaglio explains that he discussed Kenosha Beef’s situation with a packaging distributor rep who “told us that Iconotech was opening an office in Wheeling Illinois. So we went down to the Wheeling office” explains the Kenosha Beef director. “We had sent them samples of the details we were putting on our label and some corrugated case blanks. We compared the printed case blanks against our labeled cases and we could really see the quality was much better as was the placement consistency. When you hand-apply labels like we had they sometimes were askew.”

The decision to purchase the DCP-3200 was made after the successful test run at Iconotech and after Savaglio received positive feedback from personnel at four different companies who were using the printer.

Efficient and easy to use

Savaglio estimates that the company uses the printer about six to eight hours per day five or six days per week depending on the season. At the Kenosha plant the company produces primarily fresh and frozen hamburger patties for foodservice and retail sales that are packaged on six different lines. Virtually all of the equipment on these lines has operated for years.

A daily production schedule generated at night determines the next day’s case-printing schedule. That schedule is picked up by the person who operates the machine at Kenosha Beef’s warehouse building. The schedule is also essential to employees in the front office who use a personal computer equipped with a bar-code software program to create the codes and text for a run of cases. That “image” is transferred to a thermal plotter and burned onto a stencil made of nonwoven fiber with a thin plastic backing. This process is completed in a few minutes.

The stencil is manually rolled onto a corrugated core which is reused by Kenosha Beef. Each stencil can be used to print up to 5 knocked-down cases. The stencil is discarded after the print run is finished and cannot be reused. At about $2 each the stencils are economical.

The printer operator mounts the core-stencil combination onto the machine’s spindle. By pressing a button on the machine the DCP-3200 automatically winds the material around the print cylinder. A changeover can be done in about 10 minutes.

An operator stacks case blanks into a magazine at the infeed of the machine. Kenosha Beef uses three vendors for the cases though Savaglio says the primary supplier is Smurfit-Stone (Chicago IL). Cases are typically preprinted with a customer’s logo or Kenosha Beef’s Birchwood Foods brand. Most cases are kraft though mottled white board is used by Sysco.

A shuttle system moves the bottom case from the stack up an incline conveyor 3’ to the print area where the case continues between the print cylinder and a bottom roller. The cylinder rotates and transfers the ink from the fiber material on the stencil to the box blank.

Counting and stacking

As each printed case blank is discharged from the DCP-3200 it immediately feeds into a two-stage restacker also from Iconotech. Each blank is supported at a top station on the restacker by two pneumatic arms. A photocell detects each blank as it enters the restacker. Once five blanks accumulate the PLC-controlled system signals the arms to release the five boxes about 1’ to the machine’s bottom station. Another photocell detects these cases. When five groups of five blanks are in this station the machine releases the 25 blanks onto a stainless-steel roller conveyor from Hytrol Conveyor (Jonesboro AR).

The case blanks are conveyed about 20’ along the horseshoe-shaped conveyor. At the end of the conveyor the operator takes the stack of printed cases and places them onto a pallet. Pallet loads are then delivered by forklift truck to the building that houses the packaging lines.

“We’ve used the machine for more than six months” says Savaglio “We’re running it at about 50 cases per minute which is fairly close to the maximum 60-per-minute rate the machine can do.”

And what about the financial bottom line? “We eliminated the need for one full-time and one seasonal part-time person who used to hand-apply labels” says Savaglio. “Those people are now able to do other jobs. It looks like we’ll save about $50 a year in labor and label-buying costs and that’s a substantial savings for us. We’re anticipating a return on investment in a year and a half.”

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