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Sherwin-williams carton labelingAre bar code labels a valuable customer service?

Ask Sherwin-Williams

When customers asked for bar codes to help inventory, Sherwin-Williams got the message. It implemented a custom print-apply bar code labeling system.

The Bedford Heights, Ohio, aerosol plant of the Specialty Division of Sherwin-Williams Company on any given day manufactures and packages numerous varieties of aerosol products, including paints, cleaners, adhesives and disinfectants.

These brand name and private label aerosols are distributed through the nation's major retailers, many of which now require bar code labels on the cartons the products are shipped in.

With a need to upgrade its on-line labeling system to add flexibility and cost-effectiveness, and to adhere to the compliance labeling demands of its customers, the Specialty Division turned to Weber Marking Systems, Inc. (Arlington Heights, IL) and a custom print/apply bar code labeling system about a year ago.


The Trend Toward Compliance Labeling

"Compliance labeling is critical for the number and variety of products and customers we do business with," Scott Priver, Senior Systems Analyst of the Specialty Division, reports. "We now have to provide cartons with Interleaved 2 of 5 or Code 39 bar code labels that are order-specific to include product information, description codes, part numbers and more for dozens of customers, many of whom have different label information requirements."

Mr. Priver adds that today retailers who distribute a manufacturer's product through their stores are demanding that bar code labeling be included as a condition for carrying that product.

"Bar codes have become part of the technology revolution," Mr. Priver says. "They make it possible for retailers to electronically identify and move products throughout their distribution and warehousing systems quickly and easily.

"Weber Marking Systems demonstrated an ability to customize labeling software and label application equipment specific to our bar code compliance needs," he says. "We interviewed several suppliers. Weber is the one that shined."

A Multi-Faceted Challenge

The Bedford Heights plant is a 250,000-square-foot facility that manufactures numerous types of aerosol products on any given day. Included in its five-line, three-shift operation are several Specialty Division branded paint products, as well as private label paints filled for major marketers.

Additionally, the facility produces other aerosol products including disinfectants, automotive aftermarket products and various cleaners; virtually any aerosol product that is not pharmaceutical, personal care or food related.

Mr. Priver says that the Specialty Division had been purchasing and inventorying preprinted labels that were applied using stand-alone label application equipment. But as bar code compliance labeling became more prominent, the facility's labeling requirements became more demanding as well.

Adding to the challenge was the Specialty Division's diversity of orders. Orders can range from as few as 2,000 cans of a particular product all the way to 300,000 cans or more, with production lines running at high rates of speed. A labeling system that could accommodate this kind of variety and volume " while maintaining bar code print quality on labels " became vital.

Weber Marking Systems designed a special system that specified the use of Label-Aire's Model 2138 print/apply systems and Weber's exclusive labeling software, all customized to fit the Bedford Heights facility's operation.

The plan called for installation of the new system on all five manufacturing lines at the facility, which also necessitated a PC network that could access all of the print/apply systems simultaneously.

Manufacturing at the Bedford Heights facility starts in the fill room, where cans are filled with product and agitator balls are dropped in.

From there, they move via conveyor to an area where stems are inserted and aerosol propellant is injected into the cans. Next, actuators are applied and cans are run through a hot water bath.

Individual can labeling occurs next, after which the products move through a capper station. They are then placed in cartons which are hot-glue sealed.

Cartons of product move next to the new Weber-designed print/apply labeling system where the proper bar code label is automatically printed then applied via a unique non-contact method. With the patented "tamp-blow" method, the pressure-sensitive label is automatically peeled from its liner and retained by vacuum on an applicator pad. The pad is extended and the label is literally blown onto the carton from approximately 0.25".

Immediately following, cartons pass by another custom feature of the Weber system - a fixed station bar code scanner - which verifies that a label with the correct information for that order has been applied.

It's In The Software

Weber was faced with several challenges when its application engineering staff customized the software to run the labeling system. Mr. Priver explains that the Bedford Heights plant downloads a file three times a week from a host mainframe computer located offsite. Those files include the appropriate information for orders, including bar code information.

"There is an alphanumeric keyboard on each of our five lines," Mr. Priver says. "The operator enters the order number, which tells our main PC (located in a control room at the Bedford Heights facility) what information goes in which manufacturing line."The main PC contains Weber's labeling software and customer product label formats.

The PC also includes a custom Weber software program that converts Specialty Division order information files from the mainframe into an ASCII file.'This file is then placed into a Weber labeling software information format using a batch data transfer. A network controller is used to coordinate the communications between the labeling PC and the individual terminals.

A final challenge faced by Weber was that the production room PC and print/apply systems were up to 700 feet apart. This necessitated communications protocol changes as well.

Mr. Priver explains that the labeling function is monitored by each manufacturing line's operator. Based on each particular order, the operator determines via a code on an order sheet that the particular order is on file in the PC, and that the order requires a bar code label.

The operator then inputs a 9-character identification number on the keyboard. Information must be keyed in twice to ensure accurate data.

Once the PC in the production office receives the input, it sends bar code label format and information instructions to a particular line's print/apply labeling system.

"We're in the process of implementing a scanning system that will replace manual keyboard input," Mr. Priver explains. "This will enable the operator to use a wedge reader to scan the bar code on each order schedule rather than keystroking. This will ease the verification process and add even more speed to the labeling system."

Mr. Priver points out that another key custom element that Weber designed into the system is a stop feature. "This allows a line operator to stop the system at any time and clear the buffer on the label printer," he says. "This has proven to be much more productive than turning the system off and on, which wastes time and labels."


Division-Wide Installations Planned

The Bedford Heights print/apply system has set the stage for a division-wide conversion to similar Weber systems.

According to Mr. Priver, systems are now up and running in Specialty Division plants in Michigan, California and Maryland, and planning is underway to adapt the system to a facility in Illinois.

"These sites also require the ability to accept downloads from our offsite mainframe," he says. "Like the original site, this will necessitate taking the download, converting it, and putting it into the custom software for print/apply operation with a single keystroke at any of our facilities."

Working with Weber were Bedford Heights maintenance technicians, who also played a key role in the system's installation.

Maintenance worked closely with Weber, and basically took a highly customized system and added personal touches to make it even more adaptive to our needs.

Beyond the software and equipment, Mr. Priver reports that Weber went so far as to customize label roll stock to aid in Specialty Division's system.

"They added leaders and trailers on each roll so that no labels are wasted during start-up or roll changeover," he says. "It's just another example of how far Weber went to customize our system."

While not part of the integrated print/apply bar code labeling system, stand-alone thermal-transfer printers from Weber produce bar code labels that are used to identify and track incoming pallet loads of inventory and supplies.

"We now have an automated way to download order information from a mainframe computer; the ability to create and maintain label formats on a central PC; a way to print and apply the bar code labels for specific orders right on line; and a way to verify that the bar codes contain the right information," Mr. Priver concludes. "We challenged Weber's ability to customize a system, and ended up with one that fits like a glove."

Reprinted from PACKAGING WORLD December 1994
Copyright 1994 Summit Publishing Company. All rights reserved. The article above from PACKAGING WORLD® magazine is reprinted by permission of Summit Publishing Company. Users of this site are granted the limited permission to view this article in their browser. Any reproduction, reprinting, retransmission or alteration, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited without the express prior written permission of Summit Publishing Company. PACKAGING WORLD® is a registered trademark of Summit Publishing Company.


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