RP’s Pasta Co., Madison, WI, (see the main feature Pasta packaging perfected in two dimensions) had been hand labeling its pasta thermoformed tray packs prior to the spring 2014 installation of a custom, three-applicator print-and-apply labeling system from ID Technology (IDT), a division of Pro Mach.
The decision for the upgrade was simple, according to CEO Peter Robertson: “For every one person I had on the front end of the line making pasta, I needed one person on the back end to label the package.”
When he needed to expand again earlier this year, he decided that his modest company’s rapid growth finally outstripped doubling the number of operators and that it made more sense to automate the operation.
The upgrade also coincides with a move to preprinted labels; while RP’s had been self-printing its labels, it has plans to print product information and production data, as well as a use-by date, online to the preprinted label using this system. It currently prints the variable information using an offline printer and applies the labels using the IDT system.
Positioned perpendicular to the horizontal semi-rigid tray thermoformer, the customized labeling system includes three Citronix continuous inkjet coders each paired with an IDT ST1000 applicator that’s capable of 1,000 inches of web per minute.
A brightly lit, touchscreen display offers a complete and easy user interface. A change in background color from green to orange to red provides highly visible applicator status.
As many as two top labels and one bottom label can be printed and/or applied. RP’s applies 4-inch square top and bottom labels to its 9-oz trays. “With all that label area, we have cooking and handling instructions with the UPC code; the other label is the Nutrition Facts and recipe suggestions—so we’re able to offer a lot of information,” Robertson says.
Harbo Label provides the bulk of RP’s preprinted labels.
IDT says this system can label 60 packs per minute, though RP’s runs at 20 to 30 packs per minute.
Robertson says the application is not a tamp device, but a dispensing sweep of a small brush. “It’s a clean, efficient application,” he states. “The entire system arrived so well designed that there really wasn’t any learning curve other than making the settings on the applicators.”
The system is equipped with “hugger belts” on each side that can be adjusted for the pack style and size. They grip and transport the packs past the label applicators. “The rubber belts have a slightly tacky surface,” Robertson points out. “We can have the option of orienting the package either lengthwise or cross-wise by a simple adjustment of the distance between the belts.”
The belts are driven by a pair of Allen-Bradley PowerFlex 4 variable-frequency drives from Rockwell Automation. Each applicator head is microprocessor controlled.
“We were able to essentially triple the output with that one machine without adding any more people,” says Robertson. “It’s a great, highly accurate unit.”
RP’s was assisted by IDT area sales manager Rob Manak. “Rob understood exactly what we needed to do and came up with an arrangement that was amazingly good for our packaging,” says Robertson. “Now we have one basic background-preprinted label and then overprint with the information per the specific item.”
This summer, Robertson unveiled his new preprinted label design, which is Generation 3. Robertson explains the label has progressed from Gen 1, a simple oval logo designed by a friend, to Gen 2, which was done by his designer brother nearly eight years ago. Gen 3 features a red banner across the top as the corporate indicator, a white banner across the middle and a product line color scheme below: yellow for the traditional wheat pasta and green for the gluten-free products.
Harbro Label, 630-593-5900