Although the term “flexibility” often is used to describe expectations for beverage industry equipment, in terms of labeling equipment, there still is a place for more rigid machines dedicated to specific operations, notes Raul Matos, vice president of sales and marketing at Miami-based Karlville Development LLC. “Companies in the beverage industry, like the big multi-national beverage companies, want a specific machine that runs a specific product 24 hours a day,” he explains.
These types of beverage customers tend to invest in multiple high-speed lines that can be fully dedicated to a limited number of SKUs, notes Neal Painter, Midwest regional sales manager at PDC International, Norwalk, Conn.
However, this is not to say that these types of labeling lines have to produce the exact same label over and over again.
When launching its “Share A Coke” campaign in Europe last summer, The Coca-Cola Co.’s Europe division in Brussels partnered with Dutch label converter Eshuis BV, Dalfsen, the Netherlands, to set up a high-speed digital and analog printing line to print labels with more than 4,800 different names in 15 different languages and in five different alphabets, according to the case study “Coca-Cola gets personal with HP Indigo digital technology,” by Hewlett-Packard Development Co. L.P. (HP), Palo Alto, Calif.
“The biggest challenge was finding a digital printing platform that would allow us to produce personalized labels with the volume, quality, variety and geographic spread that we required,” said Gregory Bentley, European packaging innovator at Coca-Cola Services SA, in the case study.
Although the labeling line had to create a series of unique labels, these labels also had to be completely consistent with other Coca-Cola labels in terms of print quality and color, and the line had to maximize productivity to keep up with demand, the case study reports.
To satisfy the needs of this production line, Eshuis helped The Coca-Cola Co. select eight HP Indigo WS6000 digital presses dedicated to the “Share A Coke” campaign. These presses ran labels 24 hours a day for five to seven days each week for three months to print the needed 800 million labels, according to the case study.
In addition, the line incorporated 10 conventional or analog HP label converters. This allowed the labeler to use the digital presses to print the variable data and the conventional presses for the standard portions, giving the line the speed to complete the project in time for bottle roll-out, it says.
“With this project, we showed that digital printing can be used in large-volume marketing campaigns,” Bentley said. “And, with HP Indigo, it can be done with superb high quality. Once you consider the many ways that digital and analog can be combined, well, the possibilities just go up and up.”
In addition to the beverage giants, other medium- to large-sized beverage manufacturers seek dedicated moderate- to high-speed lines that have the ability to handle multiple SKUs, while the small- to medium-sized companies look for low- to moderate-speed equipment with higher flexibility, PDC International’s Painter explains.
To meet the needs of these tiers of beverage-makers, Domino Printing Sciences plc’s M-Series of print-and-apply labelers can flex to meet large-quantity runs as well as smaller, custom runs, says Neal Oechsle, product manager for the M-Series range at Domino North America, Gurnee, Ill. “For example, we can reliably manage a wide range of label sizes from a single pad,” he explains. “So, if a customer wants to run a 1.75-inch by 1.75-inch label and then switch to a 4-inch by 6-inch label, they can do that without having to change the applicator pad.”
However, for beverage companies that offer limited-run products, bigger label runs do not offer much flexibility to change SKUs, said Lee Wallace, chief executive officer of Peace Coffee in a video case study titled “Peace Coffee Labels — LX900 Color Label Printer Case Study” by Primera Technology Inc., Plymouth, Minn.
The Minneapolis-based Fair Trade coffee company wanted the flexibility to create product runs as small as a few bags and to print unique labels for these limited-run coffees. To meet this goal, it opted for a smaller-scale label printer, namely Primera Technology’s LX900 color label printer, for its label production.
“Now, we can create a specific label for four bags of coffee that would come in,” said Head Roaster Derek De La Paz in the video. “We wouldn’t even be able to entertain that before. [For] one bag of coffee that comes in, we can create a special sticker; [for] 30 bags that come in, we can create a special sticker. If a small little café down the street wants their own little blend, we can make them a special little sticker.”
These limited-run capabilities have given Peace Coffee the opportunity to continue to introduce special blends, print unique labels in house to tell the story of each blend, and include unique quick-response codes on the labels to enable consumers to delve deeper into the coffee culture, the company says.
Karlville Development’s Matos says that this in-house printing of custom labels could be a trend of the future. Beyond flexibility and control, in-house printing would allow beverage-makers to complete their labels faster and apply them to their packages sooner, he says.
Applying to specifications
For both big and small runs, beverage-makers also are concerned about their labels being applied to containers accurately and efficiently.
PDC International’s labeling machines are designed to accurately deliver a shrink-sleeve label to a point in space, and as such, the machine must ensure that the container also is properly positioned in that space so that the sleeve is applied properly, Painter explains. This is especially challenging when working with oval and rectangular packages, because their label panels must line up with a high degree of accuracy while holding side-to-side registration on a 360-degree printed sleeve, he notes. Therefore, PDC International matches the orientation of the sleeve in the delivery process to an engineered placement of the bottle, he says. “[This means] that the seams that form the sleeve have to be almost unnoticeable, and the folds that occur during the film converting process are used to hold registration side to side,” he explains.
After this step, the shrink-sleeve label needs to be shrunk to fit the shape of the container without distorting the graphics, text or machine-readable codes; trapping air; creating wrinkles; enlarging perforations; moving out of place to cover the wrong part of the package; or creating “smiles” in the material, PDC International’s Painter says. To accomplish this, he recommends steam with directional heat control.
PDC International offers its KST and KSA steam tunnels to shrink film onto a container with a high degree of precision and predictability, Painter says. “Instead of flooding the tunnel chamber with steam and relying on ambient steam temperature to initiate and finish shrinking, PDC International uses a process that steps down the steam pressure from 80 to 100 psi into the tunnel to 3-5 psi at the application point,” he explains. “This accomplishes two important functions: One, the steam is performing where it needs to perform on the container, and two, it shrinks the label using the least amount of moisture in the industry [via] a directional dry steam process.”
In addition to this resource efficiency, beverage-makers also look for time efficiency in labeling equipment. To reduce downtime when a label reel runs out of material, Dortmund, Germany-based KHS GmbH offers its Innoket 360 series of roll-fed labeling machines, which includes a double reel stand. During production, film unravels from one reel while the other is idle, the company explains. Then, when the first reel is empty, the machine’s speed drops momentarily, and the autosplicer attaches the end of the active reel to the beginning of the waiting reel, it says. This allows operation to continue without interruption, it adds.
With machines that can apply labels accurately and efficiently, beverage-makers and their packaging teams should be on the right path to tackle labeling projects both big and small.
Making it fit
When adding labeling equipment to a beverage line, beverage-makers often are concerned about space limitations, notes Raul Matos, vice president of sales and marketing at Karlville Development LLC, Miami. “If you look at the average pressure-sensitive lines that are being replaced with shrink sleeves, those are about 9-meter lines, when the average shrink-sleeve line in the past has been 14 meters,” he says.
To help smaller facilities integrate shrink-sleeve technology into smaller spaces, Karlville Development released its new sustainable Shrink Sleeve Steam Tunnel. The system super-heats the steam to enable a higher-speed run in less space, Matos says. “So, we can go from 500 bottles per minute on a 2-meter tunnel versus in the past that may have required a 6-meter tunnel,” he explains. “This is a huge innovation because we, firstly, use less real estate; second, we use less energy; and third, you can fit more within the line.”
Although smaller equipment can better fit in limited facility space, new labeling equipment might not always fit into a company’s budget, says Neal Oechsle, product manager for the M-Series range at Domino North America, Gurnee, Ill. To help beverage companies afford system upgrades, Domino offers multiple purchasing and acquisition options, including various leasing and renting options, Oechsle says. Some of its financing programs even allow the acquisition of a Domino product based on an existing operating expenditures budget versus a traditional capital expense purchase, he says.
“We have seen a significant increase in customers moving to these non-traditional [financing] options, and we are glad we can help them in this regard,” he adds.