As sales of its synthetic oil soared, Amsoil found prelabeled bottles too costly to buy and store. A labeler that applies labels in-line to the HDPE bottles saves $50ꯠ a year, frees space for finished goods and virtually eliminates skewed labels.
Market demand for quart bottles of Amsoil's synthetic motor oils transmission fluid and other lubricants has increased 20% in each of the last five years. These sales gains revved up the privately-held Superior WI manufacturer while pressuring production and packaging. "We had to increase our inventory of quart bottles to compensate for increasing sales" recalls plant manager Alan Amatuzio. His father Albert founded the company in 1972 after learning first-hand as a fighter pilot how synthetic lubricants reduced friction and wear in jet engines. Larger orders of prelabeled bottles would increase Amsoil's costs and consume valuable warehouse space. "Our bottle molder charged us 3 cents a bottle to apply a label" says Amatuzio. Larger inventories of prelabeled bottles would have further strained the 100-sq-ft Superior facility. "We ordered prelabeled bottles by the truckload in quantities of 50" Amatuzio says. "To accommodate additional bottles we would have had to erect a mezzanine level or acquire more space which is very expensive." Amsoil sought an alternative to prelabeled bottles. In-house labeling Last February Amsoil purchased a Labeljet® (Fort Worth TX) Model 2350 front and back labeler through its distributor Industrial Label (Omaha NE). It "fit in nicely on our quart filling line between existing capping and drop packing equipment" Amatuzio notes. The labeler he says "will give us payback in a year." Payback is attributable to numerous benefits. The most obvious perhaps are the savings from not ordering prelabeled bottles. "Our annual savings are about $50" Amatuzio estimates. Labeling in-line freed up approximately 3-sq-ft of warehouse space "which we need to store finished ready-to-ship inventory" he says. And by ordering unlabeled bottles Amsoil enjoys significantly greater control of bottle inventory label placement accuracy and quicker product changeovers. "We run 15 different labels on our quart bottling line" Amatuzio explains. "When we ordered prelabeled bottles we could only estimate our production requirements. We'd put in a blanket order and have a 10- to 14-day lead time. If our estimate for a specific product was too low we'd wind up short on bottles. Sometimes our inventory would get severely depleted and we'd have the potential of running out of a particular product in the market. We'd have to order a larger volume for that product bottle the next time to compensate." Conversely if Amsoil ordered more bottles than needed extras would have to be warehoused. Changeover from one product to the next took about 15 minutes with prelabeled bottles. Before moving on to the next product operators had to manually remove prelabeled bottles from the bulk hopper/unscrambler at the front end of the line. By using the same bottle only the label material and filler are now changed. This reduces changeover to 4 or 5 minutes according to Amatuzio. The Labeljet 2350 lets Amsoil control label placement. Label specifications for each of the 15 quart varieties can be input easily into the microprocessor-driven labeler. Mechanically synchronized handling devices work with the microprocessor controls to sense the bottle and to time label release for accurate placement. Mis-applied labels also posed a control concern for Amsoil. "We caught many of the bottles that had askew labels but in checking them manually there's a margin for error and some bottles were shipped with slightly crooked labels. We don't want that in our business because image and esthetics are at a premium." Bottle uses post-consumer resin Not only did Amsoil switch to an unlabeled bottle for its quart varieties it also incorporated post-consumer resin to its high-density polyethylene bottles. Empak's Container Products Div. (Chanhassen MN) extrusion/blow molds the custom bottles for Amsoil. The 38-mm 69-g bottle comprises 25% PCR HDPE between two virgin HDPE layers. Amatuzio says it represents Amsoil's first use of a coextruded bottle. "There were two primary reasons for going to a bottle with recycled content" he says. "One post-consumer resin content is being mandated in several of the states we sell our products in so we're taking a proactive step. Two we may be an oil company but we have considerable environmental concerns. We're not marketing the recycled content on the bottle label right now but we are informing our sales force." Curiously the 3-layer coextrusion is priced a shade below its monolayer predecessor. Amatuzio believes part of the reason for the pricing relates to Amsoil buying the bottle direct from the molder compared to purchasing monolayer bottles through a distributor. Both bottles use white with a blue hue. New for the current 3-layer coextrusion are a view stripe on the side panel that shows how much liquid is in the container. A gauge provides oz and ml level. Also new is a 38-mm finish that replaces the earlier bottle's 28-mm finish preventing a "glug" effect during pouring. Amsoil operates six filling lines in Superior ranging from an 8-oz HDPE bottle to a metal drum line for sizes up to 55 gal. The quart line produces as many as 180 bottles/minute. At the front end of the line an operator dumps bottles into a unscrambler. As bottles convey to filling a new Control Print (Cedar Grove NJ) Genesis(TM) ink-jet coder applies a seven-digit numeric code near the base that indicates production date and batch number. Coded bottles index to a 16-head positive displacement filler from PackWest Machinery (Baldwin Park CA). The machine fills 16 bottles at a time and discharges them. The next set of 16 unfilled bottles is then delivered into fill position. An existing capper then applies Alcoa Closure Systems' (Indiana-polis IN) 38-mm Drop-Lok®closure injection-molded from polypropylene. The closure provides tamper-evidence. Capped bottles then index to the Labeljet. Microprocessor-controlled The entire labeling process is controlled by a microprocessor. As bottles enter a dual feedscrew they are aligned and spaced to facilitate labeling. Bottle position is further stabilized by a belt positioned above the top of the bottle. This hold-down belt runs at the same speed as the conveyor to help prevent movement fluctuation. A fiber-optic sensor is mounted onto the top hold-down belt. When it detects a bottle it triggers label application. Industrial Label converts the semi-gloss paper labels with a pressure-sensitive adhesive using a 60# facesheet and 40# liner. Measuring 3 1/4" W x 3" L the labels are printed letterpress in four colors. Two unwinds one from each side of the conveyor deliver labels to corresponding applicators which feed them to two brush applicators that apply the labels simultaneously to the front and back of the bottle. The bottles pass by a foam roller that smoothes down leading and trailing edges. Labeled bottles are collated and automatically case packed 12/case. Cases are erected and bottom flaps are glued shut. Once bottles are packed into the case glue is applied to top flaps to seal the case. Cases proceed to automatic palletizing equipment. Corner posts and plastic banding stabilize loads which are trucked to one of 11 Amsoil distribution centers within the U.S. Quarts are sold at retail. "We sell primarily to do-it-yourselfers who are well-educated on the use of our product within the automotive market" says Ama-tuzio. "We provide a top-end product that's expensive because it delivers exceptional performance characteristics. For example the retail price of a quart of our oil is about $5 while you can buy a quart of regular oil for about $1. For somebody to spend that much more on our product they have to recognize its quality." With annual sales growing by 20% it's apparent the word is spreading to consumers. "We no longer have to mess with hoards of empty bottles when we change products" says Amatuzio. "All it requires is to simply change a roll of labels. Our philosophy on capital equipment purchases is to buy quality durable equipment. Experience has shown us that buying equipment of a lesser grade to save a few bucks up front will cost you more in the end with malfunctions failures downtime and parts replacement. With the Labeljet we're now better equipped to handle our increasing sales demands."