Yakima, WA-based Kwik Lok Corporation is providing the fresh produce industry with technology that stores large-scale information on a small-scale item.
Regional Sales Manager Gary Ellington said the revolutionary 901C Auto Printer will be introduced this summer. Aspen Produce LLC, a grower-packer-shipper of premium fresh potatoes in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, will be the first company to use the printer for its bag closures. “They will be the first ones to get this new printer,” Regional Sales Manager Gary Ellington told The Produce News on May 14.
Kwik Lok has a long history of innovation. Floyd Paxton, the company’s founder, developed the first plastic closure for bags in 1952. The closure is used by a number of industries and is commonly seen in fresh produce departments. Today, Kwik Lok manufactures closures in two plants in the United States, with other plants in Canada, Ireland, Australia and Japan.
Mr. Ellington said technological advances enable companies to imprint an array of information on the plastic closures. The 901C Auto Printer is manufactured under a partnership between Squid Ink and Kwik Lok. According to Mr. Ellington, the printer reduces consumables used by customers. “The ink can print more locks than with a foil printer,” he stated, adding that each ink cartridge is capable of producing approximately two million locks. Production time is greatly enhanced. “The information is resident in the printer,” Mr. Ellington commented. “This is completely computerized. I can store over a thousand formats.”
“The biggest advantage is for traceability,” he continued. “It can go back to the moment a bag was closed.” The surface of the plastic closure is 0.7 inches wide by 0.8 inches long. Data appearing on the lock are etched into polystyrene and subsequently heat-set. As a result, the locks are tamper-proof. A two-dimensional barcode can be imprinted on the closure, enabling companies to access information including an internal time clock, packing date and bin number. “You can also encode bitmap or logos,” Mr. Ellington went on to say.
The printer was tested at Aspen Produce’s facility and will give the company the ability to link to its computers, providing “one up, one back” capability with traceability. “Aspen can put whatever they want on the lock to trace the lot,” Mr. Ellington stated, adding that this can include “shipped-to” as well as “shipped-from” information.
Consumers can also take advantage of the printer’s capabilities by accessing company websites directly from the closure. According to Mr. Ellington, consumers can read a block — similar to a QR code — with their cell phones. “We have several we can put on [the locks] depending on what the customer wants,” he noted.
Printing technology is evolving rapidly. Mr. Ellington said the first printer was introduced about eight years ago for the bakery industry. “[The 901C Auto Printer] skipped a generation,” Mr. Ellington commented. “Now it’s third generation.”
The printer, which imprints closures at a rate of over 100 per minute, contains its own computer, Windows 7 operating system, internal software and a touch screen. The system is password protected. According to Mr. Ellington, operator access to stored builds is quick and reliable.
One of the key features of the printer is the ability to build a format on one machine and transfer it to another via a thumb drive. Software updates are sent to Kwik Lok customers via email, and Mr. Ellington said these files can also be downloaded to thumb drives and installed on other printers.
Kwik Lok provides its customers with two hours of training for administrators and operators. The units have remote access capability, allowing Kwik Lok to troubleshoot any problems that may arise in an efficient manner.
The fresh produce industry had its first exposure to the auto printer at the recent Canadian Produce Marketing Association Convention & Trade Show and United Fresh 2012 Convention.
Mr. Ellington said reaction was favorable at both venues. Attendees at this year’s PMA Fresh Summit will have another opportunity to learn more about the equipment.