Inability to print bar codes excessive maintenance and mediocre print quality led Sunnyside Corp. to install an off-line digital case printer early last year. Sunnyside a Wheeling IL producer of solvents chemicals and oils installed a Model DCP-3200 from Iconotech (Clinton CT).
The DCP-3200 prints knocked-down (KD) cases with bar codes product description item and batch numbers a D.O.T. statement regarding hazardous product and graphics. Many cases go through the printer twice so that both sides of the KD case are printed. Once the case is erected the copy appears on all four case sides.
Printed KD cases are then delivered to manual case-erecting stations at any of five packaging lines at the Wheeling plant. Lines are dedicated to metal quarts and pints metal gallons high-density polyethylene gallons plastic gallons and quarts and there is a fifth “all-purpose” line.
Sunnyside still does some in-line case marking using ink-jet coders on two of its packaging lines but the digital printing has eliminated the need for four ink-jet units that had been used on two of its lines in a two-per-line configuration. “We had the four ink-jet machines in here for years” explains Reyhan “Rey” Hurdogan Sunnyside’s plant manager.
“The maintenance costs on them were high because each unit had to be purged and conditioned once a week” he recalls. “We had a total of eight units and it took a good hour to clean each one of them. At times we were short on maintenance personnel so sometimes we’d miss purging them. Over the weekend the ink would dry in the printhead and clog the nozzles. There were some Monday mornings that we had a tough time getting the coders going. It probably took a good hour to get each printer running.”
But the overriding reason for adding the 3200 Hurdogan claims was bar-code printing a capability Sunnyside did not have with its ink-jet units. “We knew we were going to need to print bar codes on cases in the future. Even though our customers didn’t require bar codes yet we began printing bar codes on each case with information about the product in that case. We bought the system mainly for its bar-code ability.”
“The impetus behind our decision to go with the digital case printer was that many of our customers were just beginning to use bar codes” confirms David Osiadacz Sunnyside’s director of operations. “Without the ability to print bar codes we were penalizing ourselves from pursuing other markets.”
Lower labor costs
Sunnyside produces about 100 products that are case-packed. Individual items range in price from about $1.70 to $20 for a gallon of paint and varnish remover. Production is shipped to distribution centers for retail sale and to industrial customers. “Normally we run about three packaging lines one shift per day” Hurdogan says.
The Iconotech printer can mark up to 60 boxes/min. It is manned by one employee. Typically the machine isn’t used all day. When it’s not in use the operator tends to other tasks in the plant.
Unlike the ink-jet units the digital case coder “requires little maintenance” Osiadacz notes. “And because we’re a union shop there’s a different pay-rate schedule for employees. With the ink-jet units we had maintenance personnel repairing them. With this machine one general factory person can work on it at a much lower wage rate. That person is capable of purging and cleaning the machine when necessary so we’re not only allocating far fewer hours to maintenance but also doing it with lower labor costs” compared with the ink-jet units.
How it functions
The 3200 includes a bar-code software program from an outside vendor that allows Sunnyside to design graphics text and bar codes on a PC. That image is transferred to an imager or thermal plotter that burns the image onto a special film stencil made of a nonwoven fiber with a thin plastic backing. The material is 11” x 32”. The machine burns the image off the plastic backing exposing the fiber.
The stencil is easily hand-rolled onto a corrugated core and mounted onto the spindle on the DCP-3200. With the press of a button the machine winds the film around a cylinder. One stencil is used for each run which is economical owing to the stencil’s approximately $2 cost.
To prepare the machine for a run an operator stacks the knocked-down cases in the magazine section of the DCP-3200. On the machine a reciprocating-motion action allows the bottommost KD case to drop into the bed of the machine where a shuttle system of pusher assemblies or fingers moves it about 3’ from the magazine into the print area.
The KD case continues between a bottom roller that provides cushioning and a top printing cylinder. As the flat case passes through the cylinder rotates and the ink from the fiber “plate” is applied to it. The printed KD case is discharged onto a restacking device that stacks 25 cases. A powered roller conveyor carries the stack back toward the infeed area of the printer so that the operator can turn the stack over and reposition it in the magazine to print the other side of the case.
The process Sunnyside says is quite efficient. “We have a weekly schedule that we follow and we produce boxes to that schedule” Hurdogan says during Packaging World’s plant visit. “We’ll run all our six-pack gallon cases first for example then move on to a different box unless a customer calls with a special order. We do lot sizes with each KD case printed with two impressions one on the top and one on the bottom.”
Hurdogan continues “We try to stay about a week ahead of the production lines. If there are any problems on any of the lines we can switch over to another case [to accommodate a different product]. We keep cases in inventory and one might say we’re using up a lot of warehouse space on case blank inventory but if there’s a change in schedule we might need those cases quickly.”
New markets better print
Osiadacz admits “From a manufacturing point of view we might be adding a little cost” by acquiring the printer. “But we’ve secured more [customers] by having the capability to print bar codes on all four case sides. We’ve also added some contract-packaging business.”
Along with the bar codes Sunnyside uses the digital case printer to print graphics including images of the packaged products inside the box. “So for the mass merchants who display product in cases we can provide an attractive-looking case” he believes.
Appearance is another key benefit of the new printer. “We’re regulated by the Department of Transportation” Osiadacz explains. “Certain products require specific case markings such as an indication that the product is flammable. One of the issues with shipping hazardous materials is having clear concise D.O.T. markings. The old systems weren’t doing a very good job. This printer addresses the clarity issue.”
Custom printing single supplier
The flexibility to print type bar codes and graphics means that Sunnyside can tailor boxes for specific customers. For example “We have a paint manufacturer that receives a dressed-up case even though [that company’s business represents] very little volume” explains Osiadacz. He contends “The customer is thinking ‘Sunnyside is going out and buying corrugated [with printing] just for our business.’ But we’re just buying generic cases and customizing them for the customer.”
Purchasing “generic” cases with minimal printing provides a financial advantage for Sunnyside. “If you go out and buy [preprinted] corrugated in very small quantities your costs are extremely high” notes Osiadacz. “So we buy massive truckload quantities from one vendor. Then we can print the customers’ bar codes graphics logos and product descriptions offering small-quantity customers a package that looks like it was customized for a high-end user.”
He says that Sunnyside enjoys pricing advantages by buying the primarily 29-ECT (edge crush test) and 32-ECT corrugated from a single supplier in this instance Packaging Corp. of America (Lake Forest IL).
The digital case printer’s lengthy list of advantages justifies Sunnyside’s investment in the machine. “Our decision to go with the machine was based on a cost-per-unit basis including labor” Osiadacz recalls. “Our cost to print cases is significantly less than before. The digital case printer is a very good system and a very good choice for a company like Sunnyside that does a lot of small batch processing.”
“We’re estimating a two-year payback on the machine” Hurdogan concludes.