“It takes a lot of equipment and money to make one cornflake,” says Sterling Savely, chairman and CEO of California Cereal Products, Oakland, CA. “So when the equipment sits idle, it’s pretty expensive.” Even one machine sitting idle for several hours can result in thousands of dollars lost—a problem that happened frequently with the company’s previous case-coding system.
“The first few times the coder shut down, no one could figure out what was wrong,” says Savely. “So we’d have to get hold of an emergency technician to get some magic override code.” Eventually, the company discovered the problem: The coder was programmed to use up a bottle of ink within a certain time period, and if that period of time elapsed, the computer system would shut the machine down regardless of whether or not the ink was finished. “It may not have been a problem if we’d used this machine for the same product and ran it 24/7,” says Savely, “but as a co-packer, we have lots of different customers and lots of different products.” If the printer wasn’t in use one month because a customer didn’t place an order, the computer’s internal clock kept ticking as if the printer was still in use. In addition, the machine was hard to keep clean. “If you stopped for awhile, you’d immediately have to start putting solvent through the system so it wouldn’t plug up,” says Savely.
Keep it simple
It took a cold call from a Squid Ink (www.squidink.com) sales rep for California Cereal to finally replace its existing coding systems with a simpler, more cost-effective solution. As a result of the call, the company purchased from Squid Ink a large-character, drop-on-demand ink-jet printer called the SQ/2. “We paid about $2,500 per print head,” says Savely, “and there’s one on each side, so that’s $5,000. That replaced a $25,000 piece of equipment, and it’s 100 times more reliable.”
The company uses the coder to print the appropriate identifying information—typically manufacture and expiration dates—on both sides of the case, depending on the customer’s needs.
According to Chad Carney, Squid Ink’s director of marketing, the SQ/2 Scorpion uses a 16-dot matrix code and is low-maintenance for simple case coding. Machine speeds reach about 200 ft/min. The system also uses Squid’s low-maintenance ink that won’t dry out if the machine sits idle for any length of time. “It’s very simple to use and has the flexibility we needed,” says Savely. “It’s also easy to clean, and we can use any ink. We use Squid’s ink because it’s reasonably priced.”
From ink to laser
Savely was so impressed with the SQ/2 Scorpion and Squid Ink’s customer service that he began to investigate an upgrade in carton coding, too. “We had the same problem as we did with the case coder,” he explains. “If we stopped using the system for three weeks because we were making a product that didn’t need a carton, the machine wouldn’t run. It would happen in the middle of the night, and the mechanic would spend hours troubleshooting.”
The company tested a number of options, and it soon became apparent that the code imprinted on the carton would have to dry instantaneously. “The cartons are going through so quickly that there’s no time for drying,” explains Savely. At one point, California Cereal was so frustrated with its existing carton coder that the company bought rubber stamps to stamp the expiration date on the cartons manually. But the slick carton finish prevented the ink from drying. The co-packer finally solved the problem by purchasing a SmartLase 110 laser coder from Markem (www.markem.com).
With its new coding systems in place, California Cereal no longer has to worry about shutdowns. Keeping it simple, says Savely, goes a long way.