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Sherwin-williams carton labelingEastman Kodak Company: a picture-perfect labeling system

Print/apply labeling system surpasses preprinted cartons in efficiency, bar code quality

The Windsor, Colorado, division of the world-renowned Eastman Kodak Company is the only U.S.-based Kodak facility that manufactures and distributes Kodak 110-size film, the self-contained film cartridges very popular with children and senior citizens.

Dick Vogel, the maintenance supervisor and engineer of Kodak's 110 film production and packaging line, was searching for a more cost-effective method of identifying the numerous variations of 110 film orders. While researching alternatives to his inventory of thirty-two different preprinted master cartons, Mr. Vogel discovered Weber Marking Systems' Label-Aire® Model 2081 wraparound printer-applicator, which automatically prints and applies labels to two adjacent sides of cartons.

"Aside from wanting to reduce our stock of preprinted cartons, we had several prerequisites that a labeling system had to meet," says Mr. Vogel. "They included keeping up with our production speed, applying a label accurately and consistently, meeting our customers' bar coding needs, and upholding the Kodak reputation for quality." Additionally, Kodak's marketing department demanded two-sided labeling for easier identification at the company's on-site distribution center.

With its two-sided application capabilities and high-quality thermal-transfer printing, Weber's wraparound printer-applicator not only met but exceeded Kodak's criteria for an effective labeling system.

The focus is on inventory reduction
Labeling systems for Kodak
Founded in 1969, this Kodak site covers 2,200 acres of land and employs nearly 2,500 people. X-ray film, printing plates, color photographic paper, graphics arts films, thermal media and bulk film for the movie industry also are manufactured in this facility. Some on-site label printers and in-line labelers are used for these products, but with so many labeling variations, the 110 film line needed greater versatility than what the existing units could offer.

The master cartons that Kodak had been using were preprinted with the following: a film description that varied with the number of exposures; an expiration date that frequently changed; one of 32 catalog numbers that reflected either U.S. or international orders; and an Interleaved 2 of 5 bar code.

Considering the many identification variables, Mr. Vogel calculated the cost savings of on-demand, pressure-sensitive labeling versus preprinted cartons. Labeling proved to be significantly more cost-efficient.

The wraparound system from Weber allowed Kodak to transform an inventory of thirty-two different preprinted master cartons into an inventory of two master cartons and a steady supply of blank labels. Kodak requires two sizes of cartons to accommodate both carded film (film boxes with hang tabs) and uncarded film (film boxes without hang tabs). Otherwise, according to Mr. Vogel, Kodak's inventory could have been reduced to one generic carton. Each carton is preprinted with a standard quantity and weight, while all variable information is printed in-line on a pressure-sensitive label.

In addition to reducing the carton inventory, the wraparound system sharpens Kodak's bar coding capabilities for its large network of retail customers.

"Since we were getting by with minimal bad bar code reads from the preprinted cartons, our main intention was to reduce inventory," states Mr. Vogel. "But with the print quality we're now receiving from Weber's printer-applicator, we've also improved our ability to meet internal and customer bar code demands."

Kodak distributes 110 size film to all types of retail chains around the world, from Wal-Mart and Kmart to local photo supply stores. And, according to Mr. Vogel, they have some pretty fussy customers when it comes to bar codes, including the company's on-site distribution center.

With Kodak's fast turnaround time at the distribution center, shipping and receiving operators need a quick, easy method of scanning products for order verification. High-quality bar codes visible on both sides of the master cartons give operators with bar
code scanners better access to reading the bar codes and checking against the paperwork originated by the work order.

Kodak's 110-size film line in operation

Approximately 100,000 rolls of film, 500 cartons worth, are produced on each shift of Kodak's two-shift operation.

Loaded film cartridges are delivered via carts from the darkroom to the packaging line conveyor, where they are individually wrapped in an aluminum/polyethylene package to protect from dust and moisture. Each cartridge is then sealed in a 110 film box on which an expiration date is printed with an ink-jet printer.

Ten small boxes of film are automatically packaged together with plastic wrap and staged on the conveyor for packing into the master carton, which holds 20 ten-packs, or 200 rolls of film.

Packed and sealed, the master carton advances along the conveyor to Weber's Model 2081 wraparound printer-applicator, where a 4"W x 9"L label is printed and applied to the front panel and adjacent side panel of the box.

The print/apply system integrates a thermal-transfer printer and a stepper motor-driven vacuum-drum applicator that can keep pace with printing speeds up to 6" per second. With one master carton passing the unit approximately every minute and a half, the system can easily maintain Kodak's production levels.

As one of the "Kodak trade dress yellow" labels is printed by the system, it is automatically peeled from its liner and retained by a vacuum on the unit's unique applicator drum. When the carton reaches the drum, a label is applied to the front of the carton and, as the drum follows the contour of the carton, application continues to the adjacent side. The Model 2081 has a consistent label placement accuracy of ±0.03".

After the label is applied, the carton passes the wraparound's photo eye sensor, which signals the printer to produce another label and resets the air cylinder arm of the vacuum-drum in preparation for the next box. Immediately after passing the photo eye, the product passes an in-line verification unit (Laser Data Scanner Series 9000) that verifies the bar code. If a bad bar code is sensed, the verifier triggers an alarm that shuts down the line and prevents other labels from being printed.

"With preprinted cartons, the bar codes were less reliable," explains Mr. Vogel, who adds that operators would have to empty poorly bar-coded boxes, dispose of them and then re-load new ones. "When it [a bad bar code read] happened, it was time-consuming. But since the installation of Weber's wraparound unit, we have yet to receive a bad bar code read."

Finally, when the master cartons reach a full pallet-load, the pallet is wrapped and transferred to the distribution center where the film is readied for shipment.

Software for push-button ease

Because Kodak had experience with on-site label printers, programming the mainframe to interface with the printer in the wraparound printer-applicator was not difficult. Kodak programmers were able to write a code to translate each of Kodak's thirty-two catalog numbers into viable label information.

On the manufacturing floor, the line operator uses a PC to type in an order number, a sequence number to build the pallet, and a personal identification number. The order number matches and sends to the printer the correct variable information from the mainframe, including film description, expiration date, catalog number and a matching bar code.

Kodak worked with Weber's software support specialists to incorporate into its own code the mathematical formula for determining the proper expiration date. "Weber helped our programmers create a reliable formula that not only calculates the life of the film, but also translates that information for the printer-applicator," states Mr. Vogel.

Weber took its best shot and won

Kodak has been more than pleased with the capabilities of Weber's wraparound printer-applicator. "It's everything Weber said it would be," says Mr. Vogel. "We've experienced an amazing reduction in our carton inventory, better bar code scannability and no loss in our production speed, all while maintaining Kodak's high standards."

Additionally, by interchanging only two generic cartons, operators of the 110 film line benefit from a reduction in changeovers, which saves time and maximizes production efficiency.

And the improved print quality on Kodak's bar codes is an advantage Mr. Vogel is happy to have, as he sees bar coding quickly becoming an industry norm. "I'm speculating that within three to five years, everything, everywhere will have have to be bar-coded."

As for Kodak's future bar coding plans, Mr. Vogel says nothing is concrete yet, but adds that "when you find a system that works as well as Weber's, there are always plans for the future."

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