Chipper Over Inkjet Coding
Family-owned Good's Potato Chips bags its old marking system for an inkjet coding system that cleanly and clearly codes cases of its potato chips, simplifying distribution and shelf rotation.
Although small, Good's Potato Chips of Adamstown, PA, is making its mark with cases of homestyle potato chips distributed throughout Pennsylvania. And, facilitating that mark is a new case coder installed in August '00 that enables the family-owned business to ensure the freshness of its crispy, bagged chips in the retail and foodservice environments in which they're found.
Says Greg Good, plant manager for the 60-year-old enterprise, "Eighty percent of the chips we produce are distributed through our own company routes. The codes on the cases aid in product rotation in the stores, allowing us to remove the product when it's past its useful life."
An operator programs the main parameters for the case-coding job, including font size, print direction, print width, line speed and message contents, into the inkjet coders controller.
A crisp, clean 7-dot-font (1/2-in.), seven-digit code printed in black ink against a white corrugated case decorated with Good's trademark red logo and black type facilitates distribution on the company's 16 routes. But, servicing the local grocery stores, sandwich shops, restaurants and clubstores used to be a bit more challenging, as the company's previous coding equipment left cases barely readable to completely illegible.
A messy job
With a 12,000-sq-ft facility employing 12 operators on its one processing and packaging line, Good's began case coding around 14 years ago, when it automated its case- taping operations. While the company offers its regular- and barbecue-flavor chips in a range of sizes, including 11/8-, 6-, 12-, 20- and 30-oz film bags, inkjet case coding is reserved for the 2- and 4-lb-capacity corrugated shippers that hold 1-lb bags of chips. The 2-lb size is sold by the case in clubstores, while the 4-lb is sold to foodservice concerns.
"Basically the code is used just to aid in rotation in the stores," notes Good. A "hidden code," incorporating superfluous numbers at each end and in the middle, prevents consumers from rifling through store racks for the most recently dated cases. "If it [the date code] is not there for them to see, they don't root around as much," he explains.
Until recently, however, the codes thwarted even Good's attempts to keep track of product freshness, due to the poor print quality of the company's coding equipment. "We went through two ink-jet printers," says Good, "and we still weren't happy with them."
In addition to their unacceptable output quality, the machines also demanded nearly constant maintenance. Employing a plastic container with a pressure pump for the ink, the printers required extensive ink purging to maintain a good ink flow. Not only did this result in a costly waste of consumables, but it also resulted in a delayed machine startup. "Then," recalls Good, "there would come a point after two or three months where you pretty much had to take the whole printer apart and run a cleaner through the system. It took about an hour, and it was a messy job."
And, despite the endless cycles of purging and cleaning, the equipment's print quality was still found lacking, says Good, with codes "barely legible or illegible."
A clean, clear solution
Breaking the cycle, Good's installed Diagraph Corp.'s I.V./700 inkjet coders in August '00. In the space of an hour, according to Good, the compact printer was mounted over the packaging line via a bracket–an augur of the equipment's future simplicity in operation. An easy-to-use Motorola 68332 microprocessor with an LCD display and a QWERTY keypad with number keys then allowed Good's to program the job's main parameters–font size, print direction, print width, line speed and message contents–within another hour. "It is pretty straightforward once you become familiar with it," says Good.
Best of all, he notes, is that the printer's pressurized ink canister has almost completely eliminated the need for ink purging. If, for example, he says, operators forget to purge the ink after the equipment has lain dormant for a weekend, "the first box might be only half-printed, but after that, it's fine."
An easy-to-use microprocessor with an LCD display and a QWERTY keypad with number keys, left, facilitate programming of coding of Good's potato chip cases with a seven-digit 'hidden code,' above.
According to Diagraph, the inkjet printer's high-quality output is the result of its patented Integrated Valve (I.V.) technology. This entails a unique rubber membrane that precisely controls ink flow at the valve opening in the printhead face, along with cylindrical valve channels that deliver spherical ink drops without tailing. The printheads deliver a well-defined mark with a maximum print resolution of 18 dots per vertical inch, while the valve design isolates ink from all of the machine's internal mechanisms to prevent ink-related failures.
Good's uses a black, water-based ink specially formulated for porous surfaces, supplied in 13.5-fl-oz canisters that are quickly and easily replaced. With ink changeover and purging no longer an issue, Good says that in the 11 months since the company purchased the equipment, it has not had to dismantle the system once for cleaning.
The final analysis
The packaging process begins when the homestyle chips are filled in 1-lb bags using a Woodman Polaris vertical form/fill/seal machine. A takeaway conveyor carries the filled, sealed bags to an area where workers erect 2- and 4-lb cases from York Container and Southern Container, respectively, and fill them with the bagged chips. The cases are then pushed through a Little David case taper from Loveshaw, after which they are immediately date-coded at 7 cases/min (a cinch for the 250-fpm machine) and sent to an accumulation conveyor. When 10 cases have accumulated, they are manually palletized. Production amounts to approximately 3,000 cases over the course of three to four days per week, over one three- or four-hour shift per day.
While Good says he may not have dollar figures and other statistics to concretize the benefits the new inkjet coder has brought to the company, the results speak spreadsheets-worth. "It has simplified our job a lot," he says. "The printer is problem-free."
More information is available:
- Printer: Diagraph Corp., 800/722-1125. Write No. 205.
- Processor: Motorola Semiconductor Products,800/521-6274. Write No. 206.
- Vf/f/s machine: The Woodman Co., Div. of Kliklok Corp., 770/981-5200. Write No. 207.
- Cases: York Container, 717/757-7611. Write No. 208.
- Cases: Southern Container Corp., 717/393-0436. Write No. 209.
- Case taper: Loveshaw, an ITW co., 800/572-3434. Write No. 210.
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