Pen Project Labeled a Success

Check around on your desk, the office supply cabinet or the reception area. Chances are you'll find a Pilot pen. Pilot Pen Corporation of America, Trumbull, Connecticut, operates three distribution facilities in Trumbull; Fremont, California; and Guadalajara, Mexico, along with a manufacturing and distribution center in Jacksonville, Florida.

It was on the packaging line at its Jacksonville facility that Eric Brown, engineer, saw an opportunity to do his part to contribute to the company's bottom line.

The company had been labeling flat shipping cartons manually with preprinted labels. The labels were either applied to both sides of the flat cartons, or with a vertical flat box labeler, one side at a time.

Pilot Pen stocked 353 stock keeping units of preprinted label rolls. So many different labels were required that it kept a production planner busy for half a day preprinting labels.

"Applying labels manually was not the most efficient approach," Brown admits. "But finding the most cost-effective solution was tough. We needed something to help us improve efficiency. Much of the automated packaging equipment available was more than we needed, or too expensive to justify the return on investment."

Brown counted more than 350 unused label rolls with untold numbers of labels on each preprinted roll. In fact, he estimates that 20 percent of the preprinted labels ultimately ended as waste.

Looking for help

When Brown approached 3M for help, the first thing Jeff Chevalier, 3M sales representative thought of was the 3M-Matic corner label applicator. The machine is an in-line print and apply system that applies labels to an erected box. However, the machine was more than Pilot Pen needed for this operation, says Chevalier.

Chevalier says, since Pilot Pen had been packing only two or three shipping cartons per minute manually, an in-line print and apply labeling system that applies labels at 20 cases a minute would not be necessary.

"I told Jeff, the print-and-apply idea would work, but ideally, I wanted to apply labels when the box was flat," says Brown.

The 3M-Matic Flat Box Labeler was introduced at about this time. The machine is an automatic custom labeler that prints and applies labels to flat boxes off-line. The flat box labeling system would be more cost-effective and meet Pilot Pen's needs.

The flat box labeler eliminates the need for preprinted labels and manual label application. The labeler can print variable information on-demand so there is no need to stockpile label rolls. Software can be downloaded from any Windows-based computer to the labeler unit. If needed, the box labeler can be adjusted to quickly change label size and information, so obsolete preprinted labels are no longer a problem.

The flat box labeler prints on Scotch printable tape instead of traditional label stock, so there are no liners to discard. With its old system, Pilot Pen was limited to only two label sizes. With Scotch printable tape, the labels can be any length.

The tape is printed with a thermal printer, creating sharp images for high-quality bar codes and scanning accuracy. "The combination of printable tape and resin-based printer ribbon, provides one of the more scuff- and smear-resistant labeling solutions in the industry," says Chevalier.

The labeler applies, labels at variable line speeds, running as many as 40 cases per minute. "The flat box labeler is a cost-effective way to incorporate automation into a packaging line, improve productivity and reduce material costs," says Chevalier.

Using the flat box labeler, Pilot Pen has nearly eliminated its inventory of preprinted label rolls. "I would guess that the time our production planner saves, equals about $15,000 annually," says Brown. "Label production overruns and under runs cost us about $5,000 a year, and we probably wasted $2,000 a year in unused labels."

The labeler also improves application accuracy by applying the tape to the box in precisely the same location every time. "This allows us to re-label boxes that were intended for another product" says Brown.

When necessary, Pilot Pen can print three separate labels on each side of the box using the flat box labeler. Brown adds, "Printing and applying labels with the flat box labeler allows us to print only what we need, when we need it, without storing unused labels and managing inventory."

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