Cool-Pak Case Study
Tell me about Cool-Pak.
Cool Pak was a family business that stemmed from a 100-year history of farming in the Ventura county area in California. The family had an injection molding business run by an uncle that made green baskets for tomatoes and strawberries and farmers markets. Around the year 2000 or 2001, the family decided to get directly involved with thermoforming, as that was the trend where berry packaging was going. And so we got into that business and enjoyed very strong growth…up to $50 million in sales over the next decade. We grew and really focused on produce growers and related growers and their packaging needs. We’ve built a worldwide global manufacturing base with facilities in Guadalajara, Bakersfield, Oxnard, San Maria and we serve those local communities with the packaging that they need.
Tell me about Cool Pak’s products and customers
We provide clamshell packaging solutions for the produce industry. We serve a number of key sectors including tomatoes, mushrooms, leafy greens, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, grapes and general produce
We have in-house capabilities such as CAD/CAM design, graphic design; our entire product is designed in house. We prototype our molds in-house, we brought label printing in about three years ago so we convert all of our own labels in-house, and we launched our trace technologies in 2006 when a customer came to us and said that they really wanted to get involved with traceability. We worked with one of their technology partners, who have technology in the field, and we developed a system to enable them to start using trace. Today, we provide just-in-time services and support a number of trace technologies. We have always prided ourselves on being on the cutting edge of food safety, food technology and agriculture technology.
Tell me about the need to bring label printing/converting and variable data printing in-house.
We were starting to buy hundreds of millions of these variable trace labels, utilizing three or four label partners. For control reasons, for cost reasons, and for service reasons, bringing it in-house became a strong consideration. With some of our label partners we had print quality issues, a data integrity issue (sometimes the data would gap), or we had faded print applications…so we had some problems with the labels. They also were very costly and long lead times that were longer, so we had to address a number of issues. We took a look at it and said our volumes warrant bringing this in-house.
In addition, the trace technology requires a variable component, so every label has to have a unique identifier on it. We work with technology partners like Yottamark with their HarvestMark product, ADS, and FoodLink with their carton track product. We realized that with variable print technology in-house, we could work with these partners on their requirements, generate a human readable along with a Datamatrix or QR code, get approval on proofing and the input data. We could then ink jet that code onto a web of labels while on press. Those labels then get applied to the clamshell containers that you see in the produce aisle.
And even though we believed we needed it, the decision to do it took a long time. The technology that was provided in the marketplace wasn’t that great. It appeared costly, the inks appeared costly, they looked kind of homemade with ink jet cartridges. It didn’t look all that sophisticated and it was a lot of money, so we took our time making the decision.
How did you find out about Domino?
Well, prior to Domino, we had invested in another ink jet technology for our 7” press. We knew that it wasn’t going to meet the quality requirements and speed requirements for our larger volume business (going up 400% in variable print technology) so we either had to make the next expansion with that technology or go out in the marketplace and find something else. So we talked and searched around and a couple of roads led us to Domino. In fact, one of our competitors told us that if we were going to do this right, there was really only once choice and that it was Domino. So when a competitor tells you that, you have to be careful, but it was absolutely the right choice for us.
When did you begin looking at the Domino digital printing solution?
I flew out to Domino in October 2012 and I made the decision in November. There was no way I was going to buy the technology without seeing it run, so our Domino Account Manager Dennis Kercher coordinated our visit so that we could see the K600i. Unfortunately, we did not visit the other company on our first technology decision and, quick frankly, that was a mistake. This was going to be a larger purchase because it was going onto our 17” Mark Andy 2200 label press, so I needed to make sure this was absolutely the right decision for us
Describe visiting Domino and the K600i demonstration.
I spent a day at the Domino facility in Gurnee, IL and I was immediately impressed with the technology and the team. We saw the K600i printer in action with OUR real data. Because we had been working with ink jet technology from another company for about nine months, of which we had had a number of issues, we knew what problems needed to be solved…things like print density issues, especially as it related to QR codes and high-density printing, speed, quality of print, ease of use, maintenance, ink cost…a number of things. It was clear that Domino had learned from previous technologies of their own on things like maintenance and head cleaning, the things that can go wrong, and it was obvious that they worked on what is really brilliant technology for their new printhead.
Well, there is the sales pitch and there is reality, right? The sales pitch from Domino was about the picoliter variance with the ability to select and print from 6 to 14 picoliters, it would reduce our ink costs, it would allow us to print only as much as we needed, and it would give us better print quality.
And what were your findings?
The print technology speaks for itself. It is really high quality. During the demonstration at Domino, we ran at various resolutions…300 x 300dpi, 300 x 600dpi, 600 x 600dpi and at various Pico liter settings. We wanted to get a good handle on what our costs were going to be as part of the justification. So we ran 20 feet or so at that density at that specification, then bumped up resolution, or dropped Pico liter setting, etc. It was extremely easy and quick to make those types of changes to evaluate the technology. Right then and there I knew at what settings we would run the press when we got it into production. I was like “I got it” and then the Domino team ran some numbers on ink consumption so that I could then cost justify it at that point. That was pretty exciting.
Describe the cost justification process.
Our business tends to be very high volume. We were looking at 600 million labels with variable print for the first year. And when I looked at what our costs were for buying 600 million labels versus printing and converting them in-house, it was about a 2X difference. So on msi costs, it is about 2X to buy out of house. You run that differential for 600 million labels and it justifies it pretty quickly.
But that’s only one aspect of it. It was not just controlling our own costs, it was also about lead times for us…our business is very unpredictable being driven by weather, so having the technology in-house really would allow us to produce more just-in-time, and for us JIT might just be hours ahead of when we are going to apply the labels to the clamshell packaging. So that was a big deal for us.
Also, I don’t need to keep a lot of inventory. I can now just keep paper inventory. I don’t have to pre-run a bunch of labels and then have spoilage if it doesn’t get used. We can respond quickly to customers. We can control our own quality…it’s a closed loop anytime you do something in-house.
What speed are you running the Domino K600i?
We run it at about 230 fpm
What benefits have you seen from the Domino K600i?
The Domino system is a better engineered product than the other UV ink jet system we have in-house. The other system has had a lot of downtime. With the Domino system, we haven’t recognized any downtime on it, which is great. We have not had any issues with ink, and I suspect that the Domino ink is better and different than the other guys. We run the label press 24 hours a day, but we don’t run the Domino ink jet 24 hours a day…which is critical. Why? Well, we might turn it off two or three times a day, so it’s very important for us that when we do turn it on, it works immediately. We can’t have start up issues or increased make-ready time and with the Domino unit we haven’t had any of that…it’s been great. The print quality and the ability to adjust the picoliter level, without sacrificing quality, is a big deal for us. We can dial in the quality requirements as the job dictates.
I think it’s fantastic. The ease of use from the operator stand point is really great. And we’re just scratching the surface on its capabilities…we’re really excited about the Domino K600i and what we can do with the press, so it’s pretty exciting from that perspective.
It sounds like you have been happy with the Domino K600i.
I have been extremely happy with it. It was a big decision for us financially and technology wise, because it sets the direction that we are going to go for a long time, but I would not look back and there have been zero regrets. We are very, very happy with the decision we made.