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New Labeling Helps Cabinet Maker Meet Customer Requirements

Kitchen Kompact bar coe labelsFor decades, Kitchen Kompact had been identifying its numerous styles of cabinets using manual methods that were fast becoming insufficient. When its customers, homebuilders and retail supply stores, began requiring more precise labeling, the company decided to take steps to update its own operation.

“We didn’t really have anything as far as labeling was concerned,” explains Chris Gahm, plant purchaser. “We used black markers and rubber stamps for identification of our boxes, which worked fine for us, but we knew our customers were eventually going to demand more identification.”

Kitchen Kompact has been building cabinets in since 1937. During that time, the business has grown from a small custom shop into a modern facility capable of producing up to 10,000 cabinets a day, making the family-owned business today’s number-one oak cabinet maker in America.

The company’s manufacturing plant was designed by owner Dwight Gahm to ensure efficiency and minimal handling. The cabinets move through the plant on belt and suspended conveyors. This unique layout worked well for Kitchen Kompact’s assembly needs, but presented potential problems for integrating a labeling system.

First, the company wanted a labeling system that could be integrated into the plant with minimal alterations to the assembly lines. Some lines run variable products—all with different heights and different labels—down the same conveyor, which could make automatic labeling difficult.

Ease-of-use was another potential problem. Since the plant was not yet computerized, Kitchen Kompact wanted a system that would be as simple as possible for its employees to operate.

In addition, there were environmental concerns beyond the normal dirt and dust of an industrial plant. The building can be very hot and humid in the summer and cool in the winter. After assembly, the boxes of cabinets are conveyed to an unheated finished goods warehouse, so all labeling would have to withstand this potential change in temperature.

Weber label printer applicatorCustomized Solution

To examine its operation, Kitchen Kompact turned to Weber Marking Systems, Inc., an Arlington Heights, Illinois manufacturer of labeling and coding equipment.

“What we really wanted was someone who would come into our plant, listen to what we wanted and didn’t want, and give us a few ideas,” Gahm says. “Weber sent in experts who surveyed our operation and made specific recommendations. The labeling project was a major addition for us, and Weber was there every step of the way.”

Four of the assembly lines host Weber’s Model 5100 label printer-applicators, which utilize a Zebra 172 printer and a tamp pad with a 14" stroke. Each unit prints bar codes and text onto a pressure-sensitive label, then peels the label from the liner and retains it by vacuum on the tamp pad. The pad extends to gently place the label on the carton as it moves along the assembly line.

Since the cabinet cartons are rather tall and wide, the Model 5100s are attached to a custom designed H-Base stand, placing the printer-applicator on the end of a 36" arm. Each unit is outfitted with a proximity sensor that automatically adjusts the length of the tamp stroke to accommodate the varying heights of products coming down the assembly line.

For the other six assembly lines, Kitchen Kompact chose to hand-apply the pressure-sensitive labels. Placed on each line, Weber’s 20 Series stand-alone thermal-transfer printers are capable of outputting bar codes, text, and graphics at speeds up to 12" per second. As labels are printed, they are automatically peeled from the liner and dispensed, ready for hand application by the operator.

Both the Model 5100 label printer-applicators and the 20 Series printers are driven by Legitronic® software, customized by Weber for Kitchen Kompact. The software holds a database of the company’s 400+ different products and a label format for each, which contains the proper UPC bar code, name of the product, a date code, and the number of the assembly line.

Easy Operation

Each of the ten assembly lines has its own PC and its own module on the software, which contains the label formats for only the products run down that specific line. This was done to minimize confusion since Kitchen Kompact manufactures such a large number of different products.

“We were very nervous about putting computers on the assembly lines,” Gahm admits. “We explained to Weber exactly what we wanted the software to look like and how it needed to function, and that’s what we got. All the operators need to know is what style and size of cabinets they are labeling. It’s that simple.”

With lines that continuously run the same product, the operator needs only to type in the product code and enter the quantity to be labeled. The Model 5100 will print and apply the labels, or in the case of the hand-apply lines, the 20 Series printer will print and dispense the correct number of labels.

On the lines running various products, the operator enters the product numbers and quantities in the order they are running down the line and the software buffers the information.

One line, for example, often runs two different products past the Model 5100 printer-applicator. The software lets the unit know that three large Bretwood style cabinets are coming down the line, followed by two Chadwood style cabinets, then four Bretwood, and so on. The software works the same way on one of the company’s hand-applied lines, which often runs up to six different products at once.

To make the systems even easier to use, Kitchen Kompact opted for touch-controlled monitors for the PCs on two of its lines. All the operator needs to do is touch the screen to select the product, and then tap the screen again the same number of times as the quantity of labels needed.

Weber also custom manufactures all of Kitchen Kompact’s labels. To keep costs down, the company selected one label for all products: a 4" wide by 1.875" tall blank white label. It was designed with a permanent acrylic adhesive, which is capable of maintaining its bond even in very hot and humid or extreme cold conditions. The thermal-transfer ribbons needed in the Model 5100 and 20 Series printers also are supplied by Weber.

The labeling system can be expanded, too. Currently, Kitchen Kompact does not need to run the units at full speed. All four Model 5100 label printer-applicators are fitted with height sensors, meaning any of them could run products of varying height down the same line. And there is ample room in the Legitronic software database for hundreds of new products.

For Chris Gahm, Weber provided more than just useful machinery. “Weber has given us excellent service and their full attention. They created a partnership with us,” he says. “I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing about our system.”

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