Nearly one year ago, food manufacturer and co-packer Casa de Oro Foods was experiencing difficulties with ink-jet date coding its tortilla bags and taco-shell cartons. According to Seth Yoder, plant manager at Louisville, KY-based Casa de Oro, illegibility of the code was a major problem. “Often the ink wouldn’t dry quickly enough, so when one bag of tortillas would fall on the other one, the impression of ink would smear onto the other bag,” he says.
“We’d had problems with the [previous coder] as far as reliability and user-friendliness of the programming. We also had a lot of downtime with that equipment,” due to difficulty in programming and changing out ink, adds Shaun Showalter, plant superintendent. “We thought there had to be better printers out there than what we had.”
Separately, Casa de Oro purchased a Diagraph (St. Louis, MO) coder in June ’98 to code packages on a microwave popcorn line, and Showalter says he was happy with its performance. So when the company decided to replace its date coder for the taco shell and tortilla line, turning to Diagraph was a natural choice.
The Diagraph Linx 4800 small-character ink-jet printer prints a one-line use-by date code on paperboard cartons of taco shells packaged for Fullerton, CA-based ConAgra Grocery Products. These are sold in Wal-Marts nationwide under the Great Value brand name. Another Linx 4800 prints a use-by date directly on flour-tortilla bags that Casa de Oro makes under the Casa Mamita brand of Batavia, IL-based Aldi. Casa de Oro has its own brand of flour tortillas, too, but these are sold to the foodservice market.
All of these products are shipped in cases. To print date codes on the corrugated cases, Casa de Oro purchased a Diagraph I.V./700 large-character ink-jet printer about two years ago.
The nested taco shells are introduced onto the packaging line in sets of 12, 18 or 20. A flow wrapper wraps a clear sheet of polypropylene around the shells and seals the film to form a bag. The bag of taco shells is conveyed through a shrink tunnel, then moved to the carton erector. The carton is erected, and the shells are gently pushed into the carton. The carton’s major flap passes underneath a sensor, which triggers the Linx coder to print the date code on the flap. Casa de Oro runs the Linx at 33 cartons/min, 24 hours/day, five days/week.
The carton is then glued, sealed and conveyed to a pack-off stand, where cartons are manually placed in a corrugated case. When the case is packed, the operator sends it down a roller conveyor into a case taper. At the same time the case is being taped, the I.V./700 coder prints the one-line date code directly on the case. The case is then conveyed to a palletizing station. The I.V./700 runs at speeds to three cases/min.
Lynn Hall, field supervisor for ConAgra Grocery Products, says date codes on its taco-shell cartons are important to retailers and consumers. “We use the date code to control the freshness of our inventory,” Hall says. “The freshness of some of our products, including taco shells, is sensitive.”
Casa’s Yoder is thrilled that he no longer has to deal with smeared or illegible date codes. “So many times in today’s market, you see print that is smeared or not legible,” he says. “With the print from the Linx ink-jet, consumers can read it, and it’s a big plus for us as well as them. Should they need to report any type of problem with the food product, they can clearly see the code on the carton that was purchased.” Yoder adds that in the event of a recall, a clear code is necessary to identify the product.
Showalter says the operating costs of the Linx coder and the previous ink-jet coder are comparable, but the benefits of the Linx coder outweigh any interest in cost savings. “The Linx code is cleaner, the machine is easier to use and it doesn’t break down on us,” he says. “And Diagraph offers us good customer support.”
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