Cheese Company Reaps Benefits of Label Automation

MERCER, PA — May 8, 2013      dairy_small

When Kevin Watts of Laubscher Cheese Company in Mercer, Pennsylvania took a hard look at his cheese labeling, he knew that there had to be a better, faster way of labeling their different products.   The weighing and labeling for each block of cheese was done manually…a very slow, labor intensive process.  Mr. Watts decided to investigate automating the weighing and labeling to improve production speeds.  After investigating three different print and apply companies, FOX IV Technologies, Inc., located in Export, PA was chosen.

“After speaking with (representatives) from FOX IV, I had confidence that they could do the job. Their reputation, confidence and pricing were all factors in choosing them.”

-Kevin Watts – Laubscher Cheese Company

“The  job” turned out to be an integrated turnkey system for weighing, labeling and positioning the variety of cheese blocks packaged by Laubscher.  Included in the system were a wash-down enclosure, software integration and a custom Graphical User Interface.

FOX IV designed a complete in-line automated labeling system for Laubscher utilizing their compact 5410 Mini Zebra-based Label Printer Applicator with a washdown environmental enclosure.  The system included a stainless steel weigh scale conveyor, placed after a drying conveyor that was already in place, as well as an exit conveyor with a handling arm to reposition the cheese blocks for transportation.  The FOX IV 5410 Mini applies a 2” W x 1” L thermal transfer label from a 10” label roll to the leading top edge of Laubscher’s cheese blocks at a rate of up to 24 blocks of cheese per minute.  The label information includes the weight from the scale along with the product identification and selectable packaging date or sell by date code that are input at the start of production.  Should a label not be applied, a visible warning light activates and an audible alarm sounds to alert the line operator.  The system will not continue to label unless the fault is cleared.  Following labeling, the FOX IV system utilizes a positioning arm on the exit conveyor to move blocks of cheese into position for transport.

For a streamlined system, FOX IV integrated a touch screen control panel directly into the environmental enclosure of the label printer applicator.  This touch-screen system includes a custom Graphical User Interface to make implementation and continued use of the automated labeling system easy for operators.  “The GUI makes it simple for the operator to select the label variables,” explains Patty Remo, VP of Technology for FOX IV. “The operator is able to select the product being run, its’ TARE weight and date code as well as set the system to run in exact weight or random weight modes.”  Using the exact weight mode, the actual product weight is seamlessly compared to the predetermined weight of 5 or 10 pounds.  If there is too great a variance in weight, a fault is created.  “The touch screen system also enables the operator to test the scale, preview the label, clear faults and send an apply signal to the printer-applicator, eliminating the need to open the enclosure.”

The benefits of automating the labeling at Laubscher can be seen throughout production.  According to Mr. Watts, the FOX IV system has enabled Laubscher to significantly increase production speeds while reducing labor costs.

“We can now produce more cases in 40 hours per week than we used to in 45 hours.  We have also reduced overtime from more than 10 hours/week to none.”

An additional benefit of automating for Laubscher has been the ability to free up their quality control person, who used to work the line as well as try to perform the quality control function.  “We have freed up one whole person,” says Watts.dairy_small2

The accuracy of the label placement is an added benefit over the manually applied labels.  “I am impressed with the accurate placement of the labels onto the different sizes and widths of the cheese blocks.  When the labels were manually applied, there was a lot of variance onto where they were placed.  Now, the labels appear uniform, regardless of the cheese block dimensions.”

Laubscher Cheese Company has been in the cheese packaging industry for over 50 years and is also a USDA approved cheese grading house.  They are a thriving operation with over 40 employees.  Laubscher packages 22 different types of cheese in a variety of packaging options.  They wholesale over 20 million pounds of cheese per year and distribute product in 17 states from the North East to the Midwest.  Laubscher Cheese Company is located in Mercer, Pennsylvania.