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Printer codes deodorant cases cleanly, clearly

When you are a supplier to Wal-Mart, it's three strikes, and you're out, says Robert Stanley, plant manager for New Brunswick, NJ-based A.P. Deauville, LLC, a manufacturer of value-brand deodorants and antiperspirants. "If one case [bar code] does not scan, it's a $5,000 fine for us," he explains. "If two cases do not scan, it's a $50,000 fine, and if three cases do not scan, we are no longer a supplier for Wal-Mart. So it's very important that we have a legible code, capable of meeting Wal-Mart's requirements."

Established three and a half years ago by Fred Horowitz, one of the five original owners of USA Detergents, Inc. (sold to Church & Dwight in 2001), A.P. Deauville produces the Power Stick(R) and Extreme lines of men's and women's deodorants, antiperspirants and body sprays. Despite its brief history, the startup company has gained chain-wide distribution in several of the largest discount retail chains in the U.S., including Wal-Mart, Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Fred's.

While A.P. Deauville's personal-care products may be value-priced, the company was launched with the goal of profitably producing the most competitive brands possible. "We have to make sure that we're putting the best quality out there," says Stanley. In initially constructing its packaging line, the company selected a print-and-apply label system to code its cases, but the solution proved too costly. The next solution, an ink-jet printer that required daily ink purging, also became cost-prohibitive.

In April, A.P. Deauville installed a GOTTJET(R) coder from Adolph Gottscho (www.gottscho.com), equipped with ink-jet technology from Hewlett-Packard (www.hp.com/oeminkjet). During a recent visit by PD to the plant, Stanley said that since the GOTTJET was installed, it has proven to be simple to operate, efficient and cost-effective. "We haven't had any issues with the printer," he reports.

Situated at the end of a semi-automatic packaging line equipped with machines from a variety of suppliers in a 22,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility, the case-coding equipment for A.P. Deauville's products provides the essential bar-code, product description and shipping container code (SCC) number information required by the personal-care manufacturer's retail customers.

In 2002, A.P. Deauville installed a print-and-apply system to handle this task. While the resulting labels were clear and legible, Stanley relates that "the cost was approximately four cents per label." He adds: "That's one of the reasons we went for more high-tech automation, where we don't use print-and-apply anymore, we just put the ink right on the case."

However, A.P. Deauville's first ink-jet printing system—a piezo printer—was not as easy a case-coding solution as they had expected. Unfortunately, because of the printer's design, the printheads had to be purged of ink every time the system was shut down. "Since we're a flexible operation, we did a startup and a shutdown almost every day," says Stanley. "Because the printheads have such a fine-point needle, when you purge them, if you don't get all the ink out, it burns inside the head. Each head costs $5,000 to replace. I replaced two of them in a period of about eighteen months, and then I said, 'This is just not the way to go.'"

Through Gottscho's local support agent, Bill Coyle of Maximum Packaging, Malvern, PA, A.P. Deauville was introduced to the GOTTJET coder, which uses HP's industrial ink-jet ink cartridges to provide clean, low-cost, environmentally friendly, on-demand printing. The printer offers a 600-dpi resolution at speeds from 150 to 250 ft/min, depending upon the image size.

Relates Christopher W. Anderson, Gottscho's director of sales and marketing, "A.P. Deauville expressed the need to greatly improve bar-code printing in order to meet their customers' strict compliance. The need to print at very high levels of quality in order to maintain scanability at the end-user level was paramount."

After a test-run of the equipment and an analysis of the costs, A.P. Deauville purchased the 2-in. version, which measures 16 1/2 in. long, 5 1/8 in. wide and 6 3/16 in. high. The printer, equipped with three printheads (upgradeable to four), is being used by A.P. Deauville to print the product description, the bar code and the SCC number in a 1x5-in. print area on three sizes of corrugated cases at 112 ft/min. Programmed via a Windows-based PC, the system uses intuitive menus to guide operators through job setup on a touchscreen monitor. Saved jobs can be accessed within seconds, and changeover takes just 10 to 15 seconds, Stanley says.

Anderson explains that one of the biggest differences between the GOTTJET coder and competitive products is the way that HP technology has been integrated into the system to provide a clean and secure printing solution. "We use a stainless-steel case around the HP cartridges along with easy-to-input connection ports," he explains. "We also provide a universal mounting system that customers find very easy to adjust as well as mount to existing equipment.

"Compared to other ink-jet technologies, customers find our GOTTJET printer/coders simple to use and set up," he continues. "They find the software very robust and Windows 98-, 2000-, NT- and XP-friendly. Recent changes to the software also allow our customers to use their current scanners for bar codes to immediately scan the same codes directly into the printer software program. This cuts down on the need to recreate very difficult codes separately."

Enhanced productivity is another benefit of the new ink-jet printing system. According to Stanley, refilling the equipment's supply of ink is simply a matter of popping in a new cartridge. When the printer was first installed, A.P. Deauville used the standard-size cartridges, which provided enough ink for approximately 4,000 cases. Two weeks after the system was installed, the company added a custom-built bulk-ink system from Gottscho capable of printing up to 80,000 cases before needing to be changed.

Says Anderson, "At Gottscho, we are constantly looking for ways to decrease ink costs for our customers. With the GOTTJET coder, our engineers felt that using the HP quick-disconnect printhead cartridges and a bulk pouch could be useful if we could find a way to get it from the pouch to the printhead. So, with one of our strategic partners, inc.jet, Inc. (www.incjet.com), we came up with a regulator and manifold system. We then discussed this system with Stanley, who felt that the great savings [down to 0.0001 to 0.004 cents per print] would be worth implementing this system

"A.P. Deauville needed not only quality, reliability and low maintenance, but also a low cost per print. This was achieved through the Gottscho bulk-ink supply system."

The ink, a water-based, industrial ink from HP, is formulated to dry quickly on a range of substrates, including some aluminum foils, although A.P. Deauville prints only on corrugated.

With no ink purging required to maintain the coder, maintenance for the system consists of merely wiping off the printheads between shifts.

In the final analysis, because of the stringent requirements of A.P. Deauville's retail customers, if the shipping-case bar codes cannot be read, then the product will not make it into the consumers' hands. For that reason, Stanley says the value of the GOTTJET coder's reliability and legibility is inestimable.

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