Plasticolors, Inc. (Ashtabula, OH), a supplier of colorants and additive dispersions to the plastics industry, was using an inefficient product labeling system. Plasticolors mixes liquid colorants, additives, and inhibitors in large metal vessels, then pours the liquid into five-gallon pails. Prior to shipment, product description labels and bar codes are applied. Using a manual process opened up the potential for labeling errors and slowed down the supply chain. By implementing an automatic print and apply solution Plasticolors was able to cut labor costs and eliminate mishandling.
Manual Labeling Leads To Inefficiencies
Plasticolors was using large die-cut sheets printed on laser printers in the office as its labels, which were applied manually. The 6.6-inch by 16-inch labels were positioned and applied to the curved surface. An AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group) bar code label, printed on the same sheet, also was applied to pails for automotive industry customers to comply with their standards.
Using this system, pails sent to stock for future shipment needed to be sorted and labeled twice. "There was a need to take the label printing operation to the point of use in order to eliminate the time spent by a scheduler and other employees to print, sort, and handle the labels. Handling was a major source of inefficiency and potential error," says Karl Schwarz, facilities engineer at Plasticolors. In this system the scheduler was responsible for all aspects of handling the pail labels. This employee would load the printer, sort the labels, and attach labels to packaging sheets. Other key employees in this process included a material handler and a packaging operator. The packaging operator peeled and applied multiple labels to the pails. Smaller, yellow labels were being used on pails going into stock. On pails coming from stock to ship, the material handler would need to cover the original stock label with a second label.
Label At The Point Of Use
To eliminate the manual labeling system and reduce labor, Plasticolors solicited vendors for product recommendations and quotes. After some testing and research, Plasticolors chose integrator and distributor Lowry Computer Products (Brighton, MI). Lowry assessed the labeling process and recommended two Paragon print and apply labeling systems with a corner wrap module to accommodate the rounded surface of the pail. The solution consisted of two labelers. The print and apply system prints contents, customer name, shipping information, and other important information on the label and applies it. The second labeler prints and applies the AIAG bar code label, and it can print the larger 16-inch by 6.6-inch label if necessary.
Each labeler consists of two Zebra Pax3 print engines and an IBM Twinax Interface. Lowry supplied a Hytrol 190-ACC 6-foot conveyor and microcontroller PC boards. A desktop PC and cabling to interface the labeling system to IBM's AS400 platform were also installed.
Lowry also set up a solution using a portable and stationary weighing scale in the blend weighing process and interfaced them with a central PC using client bridge and radio cards. Wireless connectivity accepts data from about 10 weighing stations and transmits it into one computer on the plant floor, eliminating manual data entry errors.
After the system was completely installed, training was provided for the appropriate employees. "Training involved hardware for basic operations of the machinery and for replacing ribbons and labels. On the software side, employees were trained on how to download information from the AS400 to the Zebra print engines," says Schwarz.
Three Hours Of Labor Savings Per Day
With the new system, all pails get the same kind of label applied automatically. In some cases only a small address label, supplied at point of use by a small desktop printer, needs to be added by the material handler. Because most pails coming out of stock no longer have to be relabeled, the need for the material handler to break apart a pallet of pails to relabel before shipping was eliminated. Plasticolors anticipates a savings of 1 hour a day in this area. More savings can be found for the packaging operator. They will not have to peel and apply the main labels to pails; this will save the company 1½ hours a day. And finally, Plasticolors will reduce the time the scheduler spends handling pail labels by ½ hour per day. This system also allows the company to move forward with its long-term goal of paperless packaging orders.
Plasticolors is looking into working with Lowry soon on other systems to improve efficiency. "The overall plan will include desktop printers for our drum packaging lines and for our backup pail line. We will also install printers to provide address labels for materials taken out of general inventory to ship to customers," says Schwarz.