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Optimized Case Coding Takes Contract Manufacturer From Manual to Automated Operation

TruFood Manufacturing is a co-manufacturer specializing in protein bars and chocolate products. A recent installation automated case printing of key information such as best-by date, customer name, flavor, bar code, etc.

Videojet ink-jet printers are making a big difference at TruFood Manufacturing.
Videojet ink-jet printers are making a big difference at TruFood Manufacturing.

A lot of corrugated cases run through its three Pittsburgh facilities, and not long ago management took a big step toward optimizing how lot and date code information is applied to those cases.

“Many times we were printing a sticker for this information and then that was applied manually to the case,” says Engineering Manager Rob Ulishney. “Imagine how much labor is involved with that and the time spent manually applying those stickers. Ink-jet printing directly on the case is much more efficient.”

The flow wrappers used by TruFood for primary packaging have their own date code printers on them. Then a robotic pick-and-place cartoner puts bars into corrugated cartons before closing and gluing the cartons shut, at which point the cartons are manually inserted into corrugated cases in a variety of counts from 2 to 18 per case. It’s at this point that manual application of stickers with lot and date code information is being replaced by Videojet ink-jet printers. “When we’re done we’ll have installed a total of four of the Videojet 2361 models,” says Ulishney.

In the most recent application, one case run on the line is taller than the others. “So for that one we need one ink-jet printer to print the top half and another to print the bottom half,” says Ulishney. “At the end it looks like one solid imprint clearly and efficiently identifying the best-by date, customer name, flavor, bar code—the usual information.”

VIRTUAL FATS: Whether it's ink-jet coding equipment or a piece of machinery from countless other categories, it looks like virtual Factory Acceptance Tests are not going away anytime soon. Go here to read more about this trend. 

Ulishney adds that the Videojet template management software called ClariSuite brings its own level of accuracy and efficiency. “We have a data base on our server,” he explains, “and we have a bar code scanner at the printer along with all the SKU bar codes printed out on a laminated sheet so they can be easily scanned. All we need to do when it’s time to change what we want to print on a case is scan the bar code. It tells the printer what needs to be printed. It’s a great way to avoid human error because no one needs to punch in the new information. We scan it in.”

The ClariSuite software package consists of the following:
• A template management database that stores all print jobs and associated code information

• A user interface that enables the status of all printers to be viewed and print jobs/data to be downloaded

• A WYSIWYG design package for creating print job files.

With the end-of-line coding upgrade now nearly complete, Ulishney says he’s pleased by the operational benefits gained and by the outstanding service the Videojet sales and service techs have provided. “Outstanding,” he says.

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