In-Line Printing Paybacks

With the help of its suppliers, a company's challenging in-line printing project proves to be successful.

Some tough projects have modest paybacks, while others have paybacks that make it tough to be modest. For Baxter Healthcare Corp. (Deerfield, IL), a challenging in-line printing project proved to be rewarding. It took more than a year and the efforts of five suppliers to make in-line printing on its packaging lines a reality.

Baxter's IV tubing devices are packaged on horizontal form-fill-seal (FFS) lines in Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. Traditionally, medical devices at these operations were packaged with preprinted material, which inhibited quick and cost-effective responses to changes in package design.

Kevin Zacharias, manager of packaging development for Baxter's IV Systems Division, led the packaging team in its quest to reduce manufacturing costs by expanding the capabilities of Baxter's international operations. With the high number of unique package configurations in mind, the team determined that adding in-line printing would solve those problems.

Baxter relied on Tiromat Medical Packaging (Avon, MA) to integrate printing with the Tiromat 3000 horizontal FFS machines at the Costa Rica plant. In turn, Tiromat partnered with Greydon Inc. (York, PA) to develop a flexographic printing solution.

The primary challenge of the project was determining how to prepare the low-density polyethylene (LDPE) material for in-line printing. Baxter relied on Rexam Coated Films and Paper (Charlotte, NC) to supply unprinted LDPE material. In order to print on the LDPE, Rexam utilized a corona treater to energize the substrate's surface, promoting the adhesion of water-based inks. However, the LDPE surface energy diminished by the time it was received and used by Baxter, resulting in unsuccessful attempts to print on the material.

Enercon's surface treater is integrated with a Greydon printer.

Baxter and Greydon then focused on integrating a corona treater for the printing press. The TL Max narrow-web treater from Enercon Industries (Menomonee Falls, WI) was an ideal fit for the application. It delivers reliable treatment levels from a very small footprint, allowing for seamless integration with virtually any printing press. Greydon installed the treater onto a rotary printer at its factory and delivered the system as a turnkey package.

Greydon, Baxter, and Enercon worked closely with Ranger Industries Inc. (Tinton Falls, NJ) to develop an ink that would dry fast enough for an in-line printing application.

"In-line printing was new to us so we wanted to simplify the process as much as possible," says Zacharias. The first step was a package redesign. The existing package featured a multicolor design that helped medical professionals quickly identify products. However, multicolor in-line printing would add too much complexity to the setup and operation of the line. Baxter's design team stepped in to revamp the existing package.

Rexam was able to preprint color coding on the film in a format such that one design could be used for all of Baxter's products. This was done at little additional cost and provided the color identification desired by Baxter's customers.

Greydon did its part to simplify the printing system as well. The printer would be running two or three shifts on a regular basis in an operation that was unfamiliar with printing equipment. "We made our printer easy to use to maximize uptime, while maintaining the print quality required," says Greydon's vice president, John Rochon. Greydon integrated the printer and the Enercon treater into the production line with the Tiromat system.

"The plant in Costa Rica was instrumental to the success of the project," says Zacharias. Project leader Mary Ann Roqhuette worked extensively with Greydon and Enercon to bring her staff up to speed. Engineers from Enercon and its local representative Cosalco made several courtesy visits to the plant to conduct preventive maintenance and training programs.

Today, Baxter is enjoying a 70% material-cost reduction and significantly reduced leadtimes for making packaging changes. A new press plate can now be made in one day as opposed to 8–12 weeks. The plant's self-sufficiency has also translated into reduced scrap and smaller inventories.

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