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Laser coding lowers downtime, production costs

Catching a cold is a lot like downtime on a production line; there is plenty of preventative maintenance that goes into avoiding both, even though each is probably inevitable. But while Vitamin C may be a good way to stop the sniffles, CCB Packaging has found that laser marking can be a most proactive way to prevent downtime in the carton-coding process.

Based in Hiawatha, IA, CCB Packaging is a family-owned, contract-packaging business that serves a wide range of end users. With several facilities throughout the Midwest, the company offers packaging, equipment and support services that are designed to maximize profitability and efficiencies for its customers, it says. It is that mindset that prompted CCB to adopt the Focusw S10 laser-coding system from Videojet Technologies, Inc. (www. videojet.com) to complement its existing ink-jet process on which it has relied for years. Used to code secondary cartons of product for customers including top cereal, snackfood and retail pharmaceutical companies, the new system requires no ink or other fluids, so has no problems with clogged nozzles or with the coder running dry. These benefits translate into less maintenance, which allows CCB's technicians to handle more crucial tasks to keep its packaging lines running.

Equally important for CCB is the flexibility and ease of programming the laser unit offers, along with its ability to produce a quality mark. CCB says it also saves more than $1,200 a year in consumable costs alone.

When its customers cannot fill orders on their own, CCB helps out by expediting the final packaging and shipping processes. For one snackfoods customer, CCB says it receives their products in bulk and fills, closes and seals their cartons for them before palletizing and shipping the packages to their final destinations. A similar process occurs for an over-the-counter drug company that distributes single-dose packs of cold medicine. CCB blister-packs toothbrushes for another customer before placing the blister-packs into display totes and casing, shrink wrapping and shipping them.

Buzzing like a beehive most days, CCB can operate as many as 10 packaging lines each day with different products during three shifts. All of the packaging has to be coded with use-by dates, expiration dates and closed-code characters, along with production time and production shift information. Coding parameter shifts, such as switching from one to two lines of text, are also common.

The sheer variety of packages CCB handles each day and the unique customer coding issues it faces can create coding challenges, which prompted CCB to try a variety of imprinting techniques over the years. Early on, the CP tried an embosser that embedded date codes into paperboard cartons, but bits of the paperboard would accumulate within the coding wheel and the embosser's chain could jump, throwing off the timing position of the code. More recently, the company tried ink-jet systems, including small-character printers for individual packages and large-character case printers.

According to plant engineer Robert Arauz, ink-jet seemed to be the way to go, as its versatility made it attractive. CCB rarely had to shut down a line completely due to ink-jet-related problems. But Arauz cautions, "On average each month, perhaps four to six hours of a technician's time could be spent on ink-jet issues." Arauz says he would have rather had the technicians working on other tasks to keep the lines running. If lines stop, workers must assist other lines or perform housekeeping tasks until the lines are running again.

Laser coding avoids those problems, he says. Capable of printing dates, times, bar codes, logos and foreign language characters, the Focus S10 system delivers steered-beam coding via a carbon dioxide (CO2 ) laser, where CO2 laser gas is electronically excited to provide a laser-light emission. Videojet says the light creates an intense heat source for a microsecond, which affords a permanent surface mark. Arauz says there are no fluid-related issues or maintenance, which is important when coding an average of 40 to 60 cartons per minute (or, as many as 300 cpm in the case of the cold medicine line). "Other than occasionally wiping the lens off and changing the air filters, we don't have to do anything to the laser," adds maintenance mechanic Craig Cross.

One of CCB's larger customers considered installing laser coders several years ago, but instead allowed CCB to use its then-current fleet of ink-jet printers. But when the customer saw the coding generated by the laser system, "they approved the application right away," explains Frank Cotty, director of operations. "The customer likes laser codes better than ink [codes]. The quality is a great improvement."

Cotty adds that the cost savings was a major reason to switch."It's a significant factor," he says. "By eliminating fluids, we have lowered the cost per carton by at least two thousandths of a cent, which equates to a $1,200 per year reduction. It could even be more than that."

The choice of the Focus S10 has allowed CCB to upgrade its technology to meet additional coding demands it might otherwise not enjoy, adds Cotty. He says this helps to maintain its reputation for setting a standard of excellence in packaging and complements its range of coding offerings. "A variety of coding products allows us to better meet customer demands, which increases our value to customers," he points out.

Cross says he's looking forward to the days when laser coding is the norm. "We could use laser coding on almost all of our packaging lines. It's cost-effective to operate and it prints a quality code."


More information is available:
Videojet Technologies Inc., 630/860-7300. www.videojet.com.
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