Superlatives pepper the conversation of David Lowe, president of Champion Brands LLC, as he describes the Label-Aire (www.label-aire.com) Inline Series 9000 labeling system in operation at the company’s 450,000-sq-ft blending and filling facility in Clinton, MO.
“The Inline 9000 is very robust, easy to operate and extremely accurate,” says a satisfied Lowe. “That’s why we chose it.” Will Hamilton, Champion Brands plant manager, echoes Lowe’s praise of the Inline 9000. “It’s very user-friendly. The setups are quick, and there’s little maintenance required,” he says.
An industry leader for more than 50 years, Champion Brands produces and blends more than 300 products including fuel, oil and engine additives and lubricants for the automotive, heavy truck, agricultural and specialty markets. The firm also does contract packages automotive lubricants and chemicals.
The Inline 9000’s exceptional performance plays a key role in Champion Brands’ success as it continues to capitalize on its familiar red and black checkered bow-tie brand logo that adorns its line of performance additive products. “It’s one of the most recognized brands in the automotive aftermarket,” notes Lowe. Clearly excited about the brand’s recognition factor, he adds, “It’s like Coca Cola.”
Champion Brands’ history dates back more than 50 years. David Lowe’s father, Ralph, started the company in 1956 as Lowe Oil Co. In 1998, the company changed its name to Champion Brands. Always on the search for new markets to enter, Champion Brands gained the rights in 2004 from Federal-Mogul Corp. to use the Champion bowtie logo for a new line of performance additives. The logo had long been associated with Champion spark plugs.
In order to successfully enter this new business, Lowe knew he needed to expand his plant’s capacity. The company had been testing other labelers. After trialing the Inline 9000, Lowe knew he had the perfect fit for the company’s expanding product line.
Launched by Champion Brands, the new product line with the bowtie-shaped logo includes Complete Fuel System Cleaner, Octane Booster, Truck/SUV Fuel Injector Cleaner, Power Steering Fluid, Engine Protectant, Fuel Injector Cleaner and Chain Lube. The Inline 9000 applies labels to all of these products, with the exception of Chain Lube, which is an aerosol can labeled elsewhere.
The shaped polyvinyl chloride bottles hold 12 or 16 oz and feature gripper teeth on the side that allows an easy grip when pouring product into an engine or fuel tank. The narrow neck of each bottle is embossed with the Champion name. Lowe says Champion Brands initially focused its marketing efforts on national retailers, achieving success by capturing shelf space at Wal-Mart. Realizing the need for additional marketing muscle, Champion Brands engaged the national sales organization of Federal-Mogul. More success with national auto parts retailers soon followed. “We are in O’Reilly, and we will be in Advance in the first quarter of next year,” says Lowe.
Champion Brands has 10 production lines at its Clinton, MO facility, which is 75 miles southeast of Kansas City. The Inline 9000 plays a key role in the line dedicated to Champion’s performance additives products. In addition to the Inline 9000, other major line components include a Model 400 bottle uncsrambler/orienter from Pace, a Speck-Tech automatic rotary filler, and a Kaps-All Model C8 capper. The line also includes an AutoMate Technologies cap sealer Model AM-250, an Accu-Pak drop packer, and a Nordson hot-melt system on the case sealer. The case erector is an SWF McDowell Model 201. The labeler, running at a speed of 150 bottles/min, uses the wipe-on feature to apply pressure-sensitive labels in a front-back application. The die-cut labels consist of bright silver acrylic top-coated metallized paper for the front label and pressure-sensitive semi-gloss paper with permanent adhesive for the back label. The labels are applied simultaneously to the front and back of the bottle from two separate rolls that feed the labeler. The labels are supplied on 12-in.-dia rolls. The labels widths are 3.7187 in. on the 12-oz bottles and 4.187 in. on the 16-oz bottles.
“We never had a machine with a soft-start feature. It allows the labeler to ramp up very smoothly.”
No detail is more important than label-placement accuracy, and Lowe is zealous in his attention to this part of the process. “The label must lay in there almost perfectly,” he says. “It’s very important to us.” To meet Lowe’s expectations, the Inline 9000 provides a label-placement accuracy of ±1/32 in. As the labels come out of the peel plates, they are wiped onto the bottles. Equipped with quick-change feedscrews, the labeler is married with an infeed and outfeed accumulation system. The quick-change screws allow for rapid changeovers and a “soft-start” capability is designed to maintain product surge. “The sort-start feature works very well,” comments Lowe. “We never had a machine with a soft-start feature. It allows the laeler to ramp up very smoothly.”
Engineered with a range of top-performing attributes, the PLC-controlled Inline 9000 has two product sensors, one positioned upstream at the input side and one downstream at the exhaust side, tied into the PLC. The machine ramps up and down automatically. If there is a bottleneck at the filler, for example, the Inline 9000 delays labeling until the line starts moving again.
The unit’s 12-ft Delrin chain conveyor has extruded aluminum side plates and a segmented top-trap hold-down to keep products in place. The bottles are empty when labeled. “The top trap stabilizes the bottles and holds them in position so that the label goes on in the same position every time,” says Hamilton.
The swing-arm control panel with dual R3 digital displays is especially noteworthy. It contributes to safety by enabling an operator to check label status without the need to go over or under the conveyor. “The control panel makes it a lot easier when you’re setting up your label heads,” says Hamilton. “You can swing the control panel around and customize it. It’s easy to operate. We trained our operators to run it in a very short amount of time. It’s very user friendly.” Hamilton says that the Inline 9000 is also easy to maintain and operate. System installation and setup posed no major challenges, allowing each operator to become familiar with the machine. “All of our operators are cross trained. No one operator is dedicated to the line. Everyone floats and can operate the line,” says Hamilton.
A minimal amount of maintenance is required to keep the Inline 9000 running at peak efficiency. Champion Brands’ preventive maintenance program involves daily checks of belts and bearings and overall assessment of the unit’s components.
Hamilton gives credit to Label-Aire, and its distributor, U.S. Tape & Label, which sold the unit to Champion Brands. “Just as soon as you call them, they’re helping you,” he says. “If you call and ask a question, they’re real quick about getting you the answers.”
Other standard features of the Inline 9000 include Automatic Speed Following (APS) for product surface profiling, a durable 1 HP motor, and dual applicator mounts with in/out transverse. The Inline 9000 has had no trouble keeping up with the requirements of the line. System accuracy keeps scrap and re-work to a minimum. The system is capable of achieving additional throughput. Although Hamilton says the line seems to perform most comfortably at a speed of 150 bottles/min, at times the Inline 9000 has reached speeds as fast as 170 bottles/min.
Customer satisfaction continues to be a hallmark of Champion Brands and is evident by its ISO 9001: 2000 certification, which it achieved in 2004. Although he takes a low-key approach, Lowe is clearly proud of the company’s quality management system and the ISO designation. He points to the company’s website, which explains the certification with the following statement: “Our quality-management system is an ongoing change process, which is designed to meet the requirements of our customers and promote continued improvement. The employees have ownership and responsibility for the performance of our processes and the combined high level of customer satisfaction.” In addition to the Inline 9000, Champion Brands has three other Label-Aire units: two wipe-on systems and one blow-on system.
The Inline 9000 has made valuable contributions to success at Champion Brands. When asked to provide specific data on the unit’s efficiency, plant manager Hamilton casually mentions that the Inline 9000 experienced only 15 min of downtime for the third quarter. “This could have been related to the labels breaking,” says Hamilton. “There was zero downtime and zero repairs for the machine for the quarter.” Given this record of success, it’s easy to understand why Champion Brands President Lowe is sold on Label-Aire and its systems. “I’m a very loyal Label Aire customer,” he says.
For more information on our In-Line Series 9000 Labeling System or our other products, please call us at (714) 449-5155 or fill out our Info Request form.
Published in Packaging Digest Magazine, November, 2007. Written by Peter Wuerl, Contributing Editor.