(March 10, 1:15 p.m.) In some respects, Mike Enns has been something of a failure at retirement. Blame it on his neighbor.

Until three years ago, Enns had worked in nearly every capacity at his family’s stone fruit growing and packing operations. After 25 years as the data processing manager, he elected go into semi-retirement, trying his hand as a technology consultant.

It was the neighbor, B&C Packing, Kingsburg, Calif., that first came knocking, asking Enns to come up with a new coding system. The inkjet printers used at the time just weren’t working, Enns said.

“They were messy. There was ink all over the place and a lot of frustration,” he said. “The industry was spending too much time managing the box coder rather than managing the product and the labor.”

Compounding the problem are the many different types and sizes of cartons.

“We have big boxes and little boxes and everything in between, and we have to put a different message on every box,” Enns said.

The system Enns developed for B&C jerked him right out of retirement. He’s now president of Produce Jet LLC, Reedley, Calif.

“They told their neighbors, and their neighbors told their neighbors, and the thing has just grown,” he said.

Enns selected the commercial thermal inkjet printers from RSI Systems LLC, Gaithersburg, Md. The printers are based on Hewlett-Packard technology and are licensed to RSI, he said. Then Enns wrote software that can identify each carton as it comes down the packing line.

“All the logistics of making sure we were running the same carton, the same line and the same product are all gone,” said Charlie Brandt, plant manager for another Kingsburg packer, Mike Jensen Farms.

Brandt started with a single printer two years ago and added two more last season, he said.

“There are huge labor and equipment savings,” Brandt said. “And I don’t have to separate my boxes on every line.”

Infrared sensors measure the dimensions and color of each carton. They even recognize lidless cartons used for bulk packing. Data is transmitted to a custom designed processor that in milliseconds scans the database and directs the printer to apply the proper coding, Enns said.

The system is graphics-capable, including bar codes, logos and foreign characters. Changes can be made with a few computer keystrokes.

A by-product of the multi-messaging coding system is traceability. In addition to the commodity, variety and pack date, the coding identifies the packing shed, grower and field, Enns said.

The company’s Web site is www.producejet.com.

“The ability to print is not unique to us,” Enns said. “The ability to do multi-messaging — a different message for different cartons — is unique.”

Printing technology makes coding boxes easier
Charlie Brandt, plant manager for Mike Jensen Farms, Kingsburg, Calif., monitors the Produce Jet equipment that is able to identify and code a variety of commodities and carton sizes on a single packing line.

Courtesy Produce Jet LLC