Traceability coder juices up production

Lauren R. Hartman

January 29, 2014

4 Min Read
Traceability coder juices up production

A traceability coding system that recovers lost downtime for a copacker that processes millions of juice containers is just the healthy boost Whitlock Packaging Corp. needed. After the company installed a new marking system from Matthews Intl. (, it began to notice a welcome change to its case-packing operation.

Founded in 1980, Fort Gibson, OK-based Whitlock is perhaps the largest contract manufacturer of noncarbonated soft drinks in the U.S. It has two facilities that package juices, teas and energy drinks in cans, polyethylene terephtlatate bottles and aseptic containers—one plant in Fort Gibson and its main plant in Wharton, NJ.

The Wharton operation packs about 200,000 cases a day for owners of some of the most renowned and popular brand names in the country. It has been able to recover about a hour's worth of downtime experienced before in coding within any 8-hr shift of its daily juice-pack production, thanks to its drop-on-demand, Jet-A-Mark® DOD 5400 large-character ink-jet printers with R44 controllers.

The main plant ships roughly 1 billion fruit juice containers each year worldwide, so ink-jet coding-equipment malfunctions aren't wanted, says Dean Collins, who heads Whitlock's coding operations. “Finally, we have a reliable system with minimal downtime,” he points out.

The traceability factor for case and tray codes has become a larger part of Whitlock's quality-assurance program. Whitlock and its customers have become more conscious of providing the market with tamper-evident juice containers free of contamination, as well as the need to keep accurate track of production. Most of the copacker's output of branded juices is in PET bottles and paperboard/foil cartons. Output includes many popular retail orange, grapefruit, cranberry cocktail juices and drinks as well as other juices and iced teas. The filled containers, which range in size from 10 to 64 oz, are tray-packed into 8- to 18-in.-long coded trays that are later transferred into marked corrugated cases. The cases convey to a nearby distribution center for eventual shipment to retail outlets across the country and overseas.

The application of the codes to the corrugated trays and shipping cases is part of Whitlock's quality-assurance program at the New Jersey operation. Six distinct groups of information ink-jet-printed on the trays and cases include a packing date and military time, a plant code, a production shift number, a product flavor, a best-buy date and, frequently, the case count.

“This gives us the traceability data not only important to us, but to our customers,” says Collins.

After the primary juice containers are filled, they're tray-packed and the trays are loaded into corrugated shipping cases. The ink-jet coding is applied to both sides of the cases. “We also code the whole tray when it's flat before it's formed,” Collins adds. “As the process moves forward, the trays are pushed mechanically by activated moving parts that can vibrate and generate dust. While other coding systems might be bothered by this amount of abuse, the 5400 isn't affected by it, which makes it a good system for us.”

Whitlock added seven DOD systems that print characters from ¼- to 1 ¾-in. high and up to two lines of text in various fonts that can be selected on-demand. Matthews included the Easy Select® bar-code scanner, which creates and stores setup messages in the controller under one file name.

Once the messages are stored, the system prints a sheet of bar codes with the corresponding file names. During daily operation, the plant operator can scan the relevant bar codes needed to change a message to be printed. Whitlock is now comfortable with regular programming, so no longer needs the scanners.

The DOD 5400 comes with a choice of 16- and 32-valve printheads for coding up to five lines of text and graphics with up to 32 dots/in. resolution. The copacker selected the 16-valve version, able to generate character heights from 3/16 to 5 in. using Matthews' valve-jet technology to form printed characters and graphics. With a built-in network, up to 64 units can be linked and controlled from one keyboard or from a PC, PLC or mainframe. The tiltable action of the printheads works in tight spaces up to 90 deg. Collins says they're also vertically adjustable.

Each R44 controller regulates up to 16 DOD ink-jet printheads and can be equipped with up to four central processing unit modules. Multiple controllers can also be networked to provide control of up to 64 units. As a packing tray advances, the characters print straight and neatly. “We can now handle any customer's coding demands,” concludes Collins.

More information is available:

Matthews Intl., 412/665-2500.

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