Replacing its old, low-quality marking system with a new printer that readily interfaces with the fruit-filled fiberboard cases passing through its scanning system has made a big difference to Farmington Fresh of Stockton, CA. The partnership of five growers is benefiting from a vastly improved sorting and shipping system for its apples, cherries, pears and asparagus.
"The chief advantage of the new marking regimen," says plant superintendent Pat McCaig, "is better assurance and reliability that our customers?retail chains and outlets in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America and the Far East?are getting what they ordered."
Key to the success of the relatively new, '95-founded company is its overall redesigned inventory-control system. This, in turn, has depended heavily on replacing the company's old, outdated printer with a Matthews International S.C.I. F.I.™ 3200 ink-jet marking system, which uploads up to 1,200 different product IDs to a PC via Matthews' proprietary MATTCOM™ software. The system acts as a foolproof interface between the scanning system and the case-marking setup.
A direct advantage of the automatic marking system to Farmington Fresh was a sizable reduction in the direct labor costs involved in the former hand-stamping of the fruit. "Every time you changed fruit type in that old manual system, you had to change stamps," says McCaig. "And, when the first printer was added, every time the system broke down, we had no effective support from the supplier. With the new Matthews 3200, we've had no technical problems, better two-line print quality in terms of legibility, and flawless scanner compatibility."
The new system preloads all of the product data into the computer. "We mark each case on top with a bar code," says McCaig. "When the case moves to the print area, the scanner determines what is in the case and bounces that data back to the printer. The printer marks the case with the product description and the grower lot number, and a second head marks it for USDA [U.S. Dept. of Agriculture] inspection."
All fruit is packed in a standard fiberboard case. The Farmington Fresh "high-end box" has a high-gloss clay coating that requires fast-drying ink to prevent smearing. The Matthews Jet-A-Mark S.C.I. F.I. 3200 system is a durable, small-character drop-on-demand printer that was developed for industrial environments. It can print a character height from 1/8 to 13/16 in., and has a throw distance for difficult applications and specially formulated inks.
McCaig is quite proud of the company's airport location. "We're the only packing house in the world so placed. We can actually bring a 747 to our back door and load it with fresh produce. This puts us in the air cargo business. We also probably have the largest refrigerated dock in the world."
Farmington Fresh not only packs for the owner, but also for outside accounts, says McCaig. "This means a lot of inventory control. When we run these cases, we have to know whose they are and track them through the plant. We looked at several such systems, knowing that custom software routines were needed, and we found that the Matthews system gave us what was needed."
So far, so good with the new system, and Farmington Fresh is looking for means to exploit the system further.
More information is available:
Printer: Matthews Intl., 412/665-2500. Circle No. 236.