By doing its own label printing and converting, adhesives maker Endurance Technologies reaps material savings, cost savings and short lead times—all with total control over the entire process.
As a strategy, sticking to the way things have always been done typically doesn’t even maintain the status quo. Dave Hoeffel, owner and president of Endurance Technologies, needed a viable, cost-effective way to enable the company to change labels in a timely fashion for a range of products. He was willing to do so even if the monetary return-on-investment wasn’t immediate and entirely tangible.
That led him to purchase a CX1000 Digital Color Label Press and FX1200 Digital Finishing System Label Press from Primera Technologies installed in September 2013 at Endurance’s headquarters in South St. Paul, MN.
The in-house label printing and converting operation is devoted to the retail side of Endurance’s business, which represents about 20% of its sales. Retail outlets include marine and hardware stores. The majority of the company’s sales are into industrial markets in the U.S. (80%), Canada (15%) and most of the remainder for Europe. The company also does a modest amount of sales into Central America.
“This was a culmination of a number of different things that came to play to make the decision to switch from being a label acquirer to producing them on our own equipment,” summarizes Hoeffel.
It was set in motion in 2012 when Hoeffel’s company acquired an adhesives manufacturer that was in the retail business.
“We then faced label requirements for Europe that would be different than Canada that were different than the U.S.,” he explains. “We also needed to change all the labels to identify my company as the manufacturer, and were given nine months’ time to make that happen.”
The typical four to six-months’ lead time to procure outsourced labels the usual way seemed an insurmountable roadblock. In fact, Hoeffel points to label problems related to delivery times as a major contributor to the company’s growing pains over the first year of business.
Endurance calculated the printing plate charge and set-up fees based on making just the name change on the back of the label to the existing product lines. At the same time, Hoeffel wanted to introduce about 35 new products, each requiring a new label. Multiplied over four different container sizes at $300 to $400 per label, the sum of the changes was a financial blow for the fledging company. Additionally, Hoeffel was eyeing pending regulations that indicated it would need revamped labels across all products in 2015.
The combination of math and foresight added up to one conclusion: Bring label-making in-house.
The company already had limited experience with DIY labels using a Primera LX900 system, so when the time came to take a quantum leap forward, it was logical to turn to them again.
The fact that Primera was also based in the Twin Cities was a huge advantage. “We made a visit to their facility to see what they did, sent them some labels to test and received costing information,” says Hoeffel. “We never looked at another supplier because of the convenience of their proximity along with everything else being favorable.”
The Primera CX1000 Digital Color Label Press is a dry toner four-color (CMYK) laser printer capable of printing in three resolutions of 1,200 x 600 dots per inch, 1,200 x 1,200 dpi and 2,400 x 600 dpi, at a speed of 16.25 ft/min. It prints labels up to 8 inches wide onto rolls up to 8.5 inches wide with a print length of up to 24 inches. It also offers connection ports for USB and Ethernet, and has wireless communication capability.
Endurance purchases unprinted rolls of pressure-sensitive labelstock in 15,000 foot lengths that can be cut into smaller rolls by the FX1200 Finisher.
At an output of about 1,000 labels per day, Endurance gets about six days’ worth of labels per printer cartridge. Except for the size, the cartridges are easily changed just like a home inkjet system.
Seamless label design
Heading Endurance’s internal design effort is marketing manager Derek Shurson, who had been doing the design work for the outsourced labels. Thus, the design work in the changeover to DIY was done seamlessly and without any additional staffing costs.
“We can produce labels made on-demand, which drastically cuts the time to proof a label,” Shurson says. “It makes more sense for us to do the proofing for private-label customers because we have caught errors like typos and can correct and proof within an hour.” He says the minimum practical run they can do is a mere 10 labels.
Shurson starts the label creation process using Adobe In-Design software. That file is exported as a PDF to Adobe Illustrator where he performs some finessing work, including identifying the precise cut pattern around each printed label. The file is emailed to the Primera CX1000 printer, which uses Printer PT Print Software. The CX1000 currently resides in Shurson’s office, but Endurance plans to relocate it soon to the plant.
The information in the form of an embedded EPS file from that same master file will be used and read by the Primera FX1200 when it makes the cuts to the labelstock. That’s currently done by downloading the file to a USB drive and then manually plugging it into the FX Finisher, but Endurance has plans for make the transfer directly.
The labels are typically printed two-up, even the largest labels; label sizes range from approximately 2 x 3 inches to 8 x 10 inches to be used across a range of retail products from 185-mL tubes of epoxy to 55-gal drums. The day of our visit, the CX1000 system was printing labels for caulk-sized tubes of Woodzilla wood-colored epoxy labels for its MAS Epoxies brand.
According to Shurson, every label usually includes the following elements: A picture, a logo, brand name and brand owner—and a lot of copy. Each package receives a back and front label.
Endurance uses standard Primera inks. With the four CMYK toner colors, Endurance can print, in Hoeffel’s words, an infinite number of colors.
The finishing touch
A printed roll of labels is taken to the plant into a room dedicated to the FX1200 Digital Finishing System Label Press and associated supplies. In short, the system takes a roll of labels, then unwinds and precisely laminates, cuts and rewinds the die-cut labels onto a roll.
The lamination is done to protect the label from moisture and chemicals for both aesthetic and safety reasons so that the users have a clear-to-read set of product information and instructions on the label. They need to be chemical-resistant because acetone or other solvent may be needed for cleanup of the product, Hoeffel points out. “We don’t want the label warnings to become illegible. Plus it’s a marketing thing: We don’t want our logo to be smeared.”
Measuring 78 x 30 x 56 inches, the FX1200 is controlled through an integrated color touchscreen LCD panel. Rather than hard-tooled or flexible steel dies, the FX1200 typically uses digitally-controlled tungsten carbide steel knife blades for cutting, though Howard Edlund, retail department manager, who heads the production operations, says they currently use more durable titanium blades.
Finishing speeds of 20 feet per minute are accomplished with Primera’s exclusive, patent-pending QuadraCut technology that uses up to four knife blades at a time across the web. It is capable of cutting any size or shape from various pressure-sensitive substrates including matte and gloss paper, polyester, vinyl, polypropylene and others. Precise re-registration to printed images is accomplished with dual two-zone timing mark sensors.
There are two people trained for the entire label-making operations, but only one person runs each. “This whole process of printing and finishing is probably a one-person job, but we happen to split that between two people,” Hoeffel points out. When production is busy, Shurson can laminate the labels to support Edlund when production demands his attention.
Endurance made a 100% switch to self-printed labels for all retail products once its supply of preprinted labels was exhausted.
Benefits and learning curve
Hoeffel characterizes the initial learning curve as steep and now it is steady. “We reached a point where we instantly kind of figured out a whole bunch of things just to get it done and now they keep refining that process,” he says. “For example, a problem we had early on with the matrix peeling off the roll. This wasn’t a problem caused by the equipment, it was us just learning the layout. They had been printing the labels too close together and needed to babysit the machine. Then they figured to out to round the label’s printed corners so now they peel off better, which solves a number of problems.”
Another key improvement was to have a standard gap between labels to match up with the labeler.
Hoeffel notes that they have found benefits both expected and unexpected.
Over the past months the staff has gotten better at optimizing the amount of labels that can be printed on a roll—for example, ganging up 2 x 3-inch labels onto a roll with 4 x 4 inch labels. The roll can be slit and separated into two rolls on the FX1200 Finisher.
“That saved us money that we really weren’t expecting to save,” says Hoeffel. “Our two guys running those have really gotten this down to a science. We were pretty efficient in saving the costs of label printing and now it just gets better.”
The cumulative time to print and laminate as many as 1,000 labels it may produce in a day is about 45 minutes, Hoeffel says. Although they under-utilize the equipment by a factor of 10, he figures they still come out way ahead.
“We used to pay 35 cents apiece for labels and now they cost 12 cents,” he says, a savings that can be extrapolated over about 30,000 labeled packages a year. “It’s a modest cost savings, but well-worth the flexibility and the ability to produce them just-in-time. We’re not in the business of making labels; we’re in the business of shipping finished product. That’s where our money is made. Anything that interferes with us doing that is bad and unreliable label delivery fell into that category before we brought it in-house.
“We carry no inventories of printed labels and label changes can be made from run to run,” Hoeffel adds, noting that they print and convert more than 150 different labels. “No one external has to coordinate anything for us because we do it all internally. In our business, that’s pretty unique.”
The capability has led to a minor side business printing custom printing labels for other companies in quantities of 50 to 1,000, done mostly for business associates in a pinch.
Yet, in the end, Hoeffel feels it’s all about control. “As a business owner, I try to control what we can control,” he says. “I think on-demand printing falls into that category as a justified investment. It’s not going to make me money like developing a new adhesive formulation, but controlling the label process as is something we had to do.
“We’re probably not the typical user that looks at one of these pieces of equipment and says ‘this is what I’m going to do and make a living doing it,’” he continues. “It is simply another resource we have, another piece of equipment in our plant, but it is extremely valuable as a tool. The bottom line is that internal label-making has been a very good investment for us—and I don’t believe we could have survived without it.”
To read about Endurance Technologies' semi-automatic packaging line that was upgraded from a manual operation along with the associated slideshow visual tour of the line, see Semi-automatic packaging line minimizes operator touchpoints.