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Diagraph highlights PTI case-labeling installation at Sun Valley Packing

by Rand Green | April 29, 2010
LAS VEGAS, NV -- Diagraph, an ITW-owned company based in St. Charles, MO, has recently installed in-line case-labeling systems on each of the 10 stone fruit packing lanes at Sun Valley Packing Co. in Reedley, CA. The systems print and apply labels with Produce Traceability Initiative-compliant GS1-128 barcodes.

Diagraph, which is a major manufacturer and distributer of marking, coding and labeling systems for food, beverage and consumer goods manufacturers, is relatively new to providing labeling solutions for the produce industry, according to Bill Myers, marketing manager for Diagraph. But the need is essentially the same, that being product identification, he said.

Diagraph does have "some customers that are fruit and vegetable growers, but quite honestly this is a segment of the marketplace that we haven't, in my opinion, even scratched the surface of."

Seeing a "great opportunity" to apply its marking, coding and labeling systems to the needs of the produce industry, Diagraph recently joined the United Fresh Produce Association and exhibited at the United Fresh 2010 trade show, here, April 21-22, highlighting a case history of the Sun Valley Packing installation and also demonstrating a system for clamshell labeling.

Diagraph was founded in 1893. "We were a fourth-generation, family-owned company until May 2001, when we were acquired by ITW," Mr. Myers said. "ITW is a global organization made up of about 850 business units around the world" located in around 60 countries and employing almost 60,000 people worldwide. It is "a multi-billion dollar organization," he said.

Sun Valley grows on about 3,500 acres of fruit in California's Central Valley. In the company's packing operation, more than 50 conveyor lines carrying peaches, plums, apples, nectarines and pomegranates funnel the fruit to "10 production lines where the fruit is packaged and the cases are coded," according to Diagraph's printed case history of the Sun Valley installation.

The document quoted Alfred Pereschica, plant manager at Sun Valley, as saying, "Our packing volume can be anywhere from 30,00 to 50,000 [cases] in a single day."

Sun Valley's need was "to meet Produce Traceability Initiative milestones that call for a GS1-128 barcode on each case of fruit. Information must include the variety, product description, lot number, pack-harvest date and the grower's unique GTIN number."

But unlike in a typical manufacturing operation where every item coming off a production line is identical, at Sun Valley, on each of the 10 production lines, "one box of nectarines may be followed by a box of plums, followed by a box of peaches." Furthermore, the fruit count in one box may differ from the next. "One box may be a size 56, the next box may be a size 42 or a different box. There can be a lot of variables," said Mr. Pereschica. "That's why the information is so important, and that was the challenge. Putting a label on a box is not a challenge, ... but data management is. You have to be able to identify what the box is and has in it within a millisecond and be able to process the information so you can put one label on this box and a label with different information on the next box."

Diagraph's solution was an E-Series all-electric labeling system that integrated with the Produce Jet software. The software sends the needed data to the diagraph labeling system, specifying what needs to be printed and applied for each specific case of fruit.

Mr. Myers said that Mr. Pereschica first encountered Diagraph at a West Pack packaging trade show early in 2009, and, after discussions with Diagraph about Sun Valley's needs, ordered a single system for evaluation, saying that if it did all he hoped it would, he would purchase another 10 systems, making 11 in all - one for each line and one for a backup. The first system was installed last summer, and in February 2010, Mr. Pereschica placed an order for the other 10 systems.

"I'm really excited about these machines and having the ability to do the multi-packs we need to do," said Mr. Pereschica. "We need to implement GTIN by the third quarter. We want to be on the forefront of this trend and be able to offer it ahead of time. It's something that is coming, and I don't like doing things at the last minute."

Casey Jones, cold storage and inventory manager at Sun Valley, concurred. "We don't want to be playing catchup, especially in the middle of the season," he told The Produce News, adding that he thinks having the ability to ship product to retailers with PTI-compliant barcode labels on the boxes "four months ahead of deadline" and being able to tell customers "we are ready" will be "a big advantage in the marketplace."