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Muffin Town makes the most of ink-jet coding

J.S.B. Industries' Muffin Town Div., Chelsea, MA, has whisked into an extensive baking operation over the years. J.S.B. produces more than 700 stockkeeping units of baked goods, including muffins, cornbread, sweet goods, donuts and bagels (the initials J.S.B. stand for the names John, Scott and Brian, all vice presidents and sons of the company founder Jack Anderson). The company now has two semi-automated, large-capacity bakeries in Winthrop, MA, and in Chelsea that produce orders for supermarkets, clubstores, coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, school systems and other outlets.

Muffin Town, along with Aesop's Bagels, the other half of J.S.B.'s business, bakes and freezes quality baked goods under its own label and under private labels and ships them to retail and foodservice customers across the U.S. Primary containers include cartons, clear plastic, compartmented clamshells, bulk trays, individual film wrappers and structures that meet customer requirements. Quality-control personnel constantly monitor all aspects of the operation, and a product-development team is there to work directly with customers to create baked goods that meet their precise requirements.

Known as a premium value bakery, the company now makes millions of muffins a week, producing and shipping 100,000 cases of product a month.

Coding so many packages and shipping cases properly and precisely could become a muffin malady, but it's not an issue for Muffin Town. The company relies on the IJ3000® Impulse Jet large-character ink-jet coder from Diagraph Corp., an ITW co. ( Equipped with two IJ768 printheads, the Tridentw-powered ( system codes opposite sides of the bakery's corrugated shipping cases with at least eight lines of text per side and a 14-digit, Interleaved 2 of 5 bar code. The text includes a product description, ingredients, the company name, a numerical production code, the case quantity, a manufacturing date, an expiration date, the case weight, a product count and ounces per individual package. The system also includes network software to manage Muffin Town's 700-plus product database, which contains assorted product descriptions, ingredients, traceability codes and bar codes. The system's reporting feature tracks production data such as item numbers and production start times and dates, stop times and dates and quantities.

Installed in September 2005, the ink-jet unit marks Muffin Town's cases in black ink with crisp, easy-to-read characters and codes from one of the two printheads mounted on each side of a conveyor. The baking company uses the printer with approximately 20 different case sizes, including 200#-test and 32 ECT single-wall corrugated cases from Smurfit-Stone Container ( and Southern Container ( . A centralized ink supply pumps ink from one location through a single tubing line to both of the printheads in the system. This also keeps the ink supply away from critical electronic components in the printhead.

Offering a user-friendly graphic interface and a color touchscreen, the system can print up to 10 lines of characters in sizes from 1/4- to 4 in. tall at speeds rated at more than 200 ft/min, and can store up to 500 messages. Though Muffin Town's printer is equipped with two 4-in. printheads, the system can be equipped with up to four 4-in. printheads supplied with 1 L of ink. To merge the IJ3000 into the company's main packaging line, Diagraph outfitted Muffin Town's printer with a customized conveyor with centerline printhead mounts on the guiderails. A dual-crank option enables line operators to simultaneously adjust both of the ink-jet system's printheads and the guiderails with ease when running multiple bakery carton sizes. This ensures that both printheads are aligned properly.

The system has successfully replaced label printer/applicators that were applying 4312-in. corner-wrap labels to the cases. Says vp Brian Anderson, Muffin Town particularly likes the ink-jet system's easy-to-manage touchscreen controller and the printheads' automatic cleaning feature, which requires little maintenance. The Autoclean system also purges ink residue and removes any dust from the printheads, which Anderson says minimizes human involvement in printhead maintenance. "Our objectives were to more efficiently mark our cases and to gain a reporting functionality," he adds.

Operating three eight-hour shifts a day, the Muffin Town plant in Chelsea has a rigorous schedule for any packaging equipment. The plant houses a 9,000-sq-ft freezer and about 40,000 sq ft of manufacturing space. There are three muffin-manufacturing lines with one main line that produces more than 250,000 lb of product each week. The plant's three semi-automatic packaging lines (the company is about to add a fourth) include a main line and another line that individually wraps and finseals baked items in clear film at "close to" 300 pieces/min or 4 cases/min. A third bulk line can pack 100 cases/hr.

In production, after the products are baked and packaged in their primary containers, they convey downline to a manual case-packing area, where they will first pass through a metal detection system from Safeline Corp. (www. and undergo a final inspection before being loaded into the cases. The sealed cases pass by the ink-jet unit. Each side of the cases is quickly imprinted with customer-specific information by the two integrated-valve printheads on either side of the line. The codes are crisp and legible. And lastly, the cases are manually palletized.

To change the print information on the IJ3000, operators can select a new message programmed into the touchscreen controller. The message is sent to the IJ3000 printhead and is ready to go when the next case passes the printer. While the system is currently used as a standalone unit, it can also be networked to other printers in the future. In addition, print message changes or updates can be quickly downloaded to the controller on the production floor from a PC simply by entering a product number on the touchscreen keypad. "We like the reporting feature the controller provides," notes Anderson. "We also like the IJ3000 because it is able to print the UPC code that we need to use."

Anderson says Muffin Town should see a return on its ink-jet printer investment within a year, mainly because it will enjoy an annual cost savings. In fact, Muffin Town has been so pleased with its ink-jet system that it's about to add a second system this year when it completes a plant expansion and it gets another packaging line up and running. "So we'll be adding [even more] ink-jet equipment," Anderson says happily.

More information is available:
Diagraph, an ITW co ., 800/722-1125.
Safeline Corp., 800/447-4439.
Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., 312/346-6600.
Southern Container Corp., 631/231-0400.
Trident, 203/740-9333.
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