IJR Inc. is a leading supplier of re-manufactured ink-jet cartridges sold to office supply retailers club stores and OEM ink-jet printer manufacturers. As a leader the Phoenix-based firm reserves the right to change the way things are done including all things packaging.
Typically ink-jet cartridges have been packaged in chipboard cartons with hang tags for easy display. Lightweight small and convenient for the shipper and the retailer these packs are also conveniently pocket-sized for the shoplifter. Retailers have discovered that the combination of a small package and a price tag of $35.00 and up creates a likely target for theft.
Electronic Article Surveilance (EAS) tags are one option available to foil thieves but they’re fairly easy to defeat by removing the cartridge from its chipboard carton. Another option is keeping cartons in a closed area and relying on store employees to dispense them. But this adds to labor cost and reduces opportunities for impulse purchases.
So in January 2005 IJR began offering a different more practical packaging alternative to retailers’ theft concerns: cartridges packaged in plastic-to-plastic blister packaging that is too large to be pocketed and impossible to open in-store. A transparent blister also allows viewing of the product (a frequent consumer preference) and the enclosed paperboard card can carry a pre-applied EAS tag for additional security if the retailer prefers.
The larger footprint of the new packaging may require more display space and more frequent restocking but the potential gains of lowering labor cost and eliminating pilferage easily offset such additions to the cost structure.
Automating the process
The new blister packaging system at IJR was the result of consultations with SCA Packaging Consumer Products (formerly the Alloyd Co.) a leading supplier of custom-designed blister packaging and automated blister packaging equipment.
“This was a change we needed to make” says IJR president Bob Allen. “Both to give our customers more secure packaging and to help us handle our accelerating output.” For years the firm had packaged cartridges manually a very labor-intensive operation.
During the latter part of 2004 SCA introduced Allen to the blister packaging process and began making the tooling and the molds that would form IJR’s first blisters. In January of 2005 a new automated blister packaging system was installed at IJR.
The system an Alloyd AERGO™ 8 Duo Blister Packaging Machine automatically places a custom-formed bottom blister into tooling designed specifically to hold its shape. The machine indexes the blister material through three product loading stations where operators manually place cartridges then to a station where a printed card is placed onto the blister followed by a station where the blister top is placed. At the seventh station the package is heat-sealed and the eighth station is a finish press that extracts heat from the sealed package to prevent warping brittleness or discoloration before the package is ejected ready for case packing.
The “Duo” designation reflects the fact that the Alloyd Aergo 8 can fill and seal either blister-to-blister or blister-to-card packages. Currently IJR uses only the blister-to-blister capability.
The Aergo 8 operates at up to 20 cycles per minute delivering 20 blister packages when sealing one up and higher multiples when filling and sealing two or more blisters at a time. It can run as slowly as 4 blisters per minute to accommodate blisters holding multiple products that require more placement time.
A typical IJR blister pack for two black cartridges will measure 8” long by 7” wide by 2” deep—far more “roomy” than necessary—to provide adequate theft deterrence. For one office products customer alone there is a range of dual- and single-cartridge sizes. Club stores which typically package larger quantities of cartridges in each “economy” package sometimes require multiple packaging—blisters within blisters.
“Right now” says Allen “we are alternately running three sets of tooling on the machine and another set for club store use is being made at SCA. As we change over more products we’ll be adding more tooling. One of the advantages of having a single source for the molds tools and blisters is that everything comes ready to use with none of the miscommunication between multiple suppliers that can slow things down.”
Blister material used by SCA to form both top and bottom parts is polyvinyl chloride supplied by Klöckner Pentaplast.
Changeover to a new package is simple and efficient thanks to drop-in tooling that is placed in the machine stations that hold the bottom blisters. No tools are needed. The touch screen controller which stores up to 100 package parameters features operator prompts in both English and Spanish letting the operator select the appropriate parameters quickly.
Comfort and safety
SCA designed the Aergo 8 Duo and the other machines in its Aergo line for operator comfort as well as for high productivity. Ergonomic design features include a 36” high turntable enabling operators to either sit or stand while filling. Also the turntable edge is padded and below it is a footrest covered with non-skid matting.
“These comfort features were a selling point” says Bob Allen. “Our workers are important to us.” He also notes that workers who were replaced by this automated operation were redeployed elsewhere in the company.
The Aergo 8 Duo has been operating at IJR since early January with what Bob Allen describes as remarkable results.
“We have had virtually no problems” he states. “Where we had 6 to 8 people packaging cartridges in chipboard cartons we have 2 operators producing as many blister packages more quickly.” —Pat Reynolds