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Print-apply labeling for bowling ball cartons

Brunswick bowling ball carton labelingA print-apply labeler and software program help Brunswick accurately label cases for customized bowling balls.

Of the tens-of-thousands of bowling balls Brunswick Bowling’s Muskegon, Mich. facility manufacturers each year, few are exactly the same. Weight and color combinations alone provide for a variety of custom information that needs to be recorded and marked on each corrugated shipping case.

When the company began offering balls with a choice of more than 400 decorative etched graphics, such as Mickey Mouse or a rose, the need to precisely mark each case with detailed information became more than the Brunswick’s case-printing system could handle.

“We couldn’t produce acceptable graphics with the ink-jet system that we had,” says Phil Syer, Brunswick’s senior project engineer. Syer then began looking at case-labeling systems because he preferred the versatility labeling offered.

A game of ‘nine pins’

Syer’s goal was to mark each case with up to nine items of information including a replica of the graphic image etched on the ball and a bar code that retailers could easily and consistently scan. The company chose a Weber Marking Systems Label-Aire Model 2138 printer/applicator.

Brunswick’s decision was based partly on the system’s ability to interface with their computerized graphic etching equipment. Syer says the Weber software accepts digitized graphic information from the etching equipment and prints an exact duplicate of the bowling ball’s graphics on the shipping-case label.

Another key item of information on the case label is weight. Both overall gross weight and “top weight”—the weight of the area where the finger holes will be drilled after the ball is sold—are measured by a computerized scale before packaging. The weight information is electronically delivered to the Model 2138, which includes it on the thermal-transfer printed label.

In addition to coding the label with the graphic image, up to eight other fields of information are printed. Ball name, number, weight are included as is a UPC bar code.

Scannable codes demanded

Being able to include a clear UPC bar code that retailers can reliably scan was an important factor in the switch to a print/apply case labeler, says Syer.

“Our former machine wasn’t able to print UPC bar codes that allowed retailers to scan them consistently,” Syer explains. “The thermal-transfer label printer produces the codes our customers demand.”

Brunswick uses labels that are 3 inches tall by 5-7/8 inches wide. The labels are applied by the Model 2138 through a “tamp-blow” process that peels the pressure-sensitive label and retains it on an applicator pad with vacuum suction. As a carton approaches the labeler, an infrared photocell signals the unit to apply the label. The pad is then extended within 1/4 inch from the case and is blown into place on the face of the 9x9-inch case.

The Model 2138 worked so well on Brunswick’s corrugated cases that when a customer required a different distribution packaging system, Brunswick ordered another unit. The retailer requested two bowling ball cases be shrinkwrapped together so they could be sold as a pair. The retailer also demanded a UPC code on the exterior of the shrinkwrap.

Because the Model 2138 had already proven its ability, Syer says he had no qualms ordering another unit to handle the challenge.

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