issue: June 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine
Label Production - Outdoor Appliances
A Permanent Solution
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by Tina Grady, Managing Editor
Outdoor equipment maker The Toro Company has been revered for its advanced applications of small-engine technology for the home and garden. The company has always prided itself that its products—lawnmowers, riding mowers, and snowblowers—have earned a reputation for durability.
Toro’s reputation is one of the main
tenets around which the company has built and maintained its business.
However, with product longevity comes the need to service and repair—whether
it is simple maintenance or replacing parts. It is for this reason,
headquartered in Bloomington, MN, U.S., uses and stands by the process
of thermal transfer labels, which are laminated to their products.
Steele, a manufacturing engineer for Toro, says when his team initially
turned to thermal transfer labels, they were evaluated for durability,
reliability, flexibility, speed-of-format change, and cost. They were
also rigorously tested for gasoline, oil, fertilizer, sun/ultraviolet
(UV) light exposure, power washing, and abrasion. Although label tests
of the thermal labels were promising, Mr. Steele and his team found the
field trials that followed proved to be disappointing—petroleum
products were found to vary widely from one region to the other. Labels
that stood up to open gasoline formulations were often made illegible
by another. Mr. Steele knew he had to find a way to protect the thermal
labels but still allow his team to use the thermal transfer printing
process because they had found it was much easier than the previous
Mr. Steele’s search eventually led him to a German-engineered
precision laminator that was able to offer the protection for which
he was looking—the
DG-110 Laminator/Die Cutter from The
Danby Group, located in Norcross,
GA, U.S. Several segments of Toro began using the DG-110 more than
years ago for the labels it was producing. And now, a decade later, when
some of Toro’s equipment that they were placed on need service
performed, the labels are still intact and as clear as when they were
placed on the
product. “Ten years is a pretty good representation in the field,”
Mr. Steele tells APPLIANCE. “We implemented the new process in
1994, and since then, we have received positive feedback. With the machine
have today, we’ve pretty much solved all of the problems from before.
Danby Group's DG-110 Laminator/Die-Cutter
unit is a thermal transfer printer with 200-,
300-, or 600-dpi
print resolution. The process the machine uses has helped
outdoor appliance maker Toro protect its product
from erosion and is used on all of its gas-powered equipment.
“We saw improvements pretty much right away,” he continues.
“Since we’ve gone with the new system, we haven’t heard
yet that a serial tag has fallen off.”
Mr. Steele says that Toro
has been so pleased with the DG-110’s
performance that it uses the system in its Windom, MN, U.S. plant, and
a sister facility in Mexico also just recently began using the system.
Toro lauds its current label process because before
the company began using thermal transfer labels in combination with the
DG-100, it was facing
difficulties when servicing its outdoor appliances. Because of the rugged
conditions its products go through—such as inclement weather and
exposure to corrosive chemicals and oils—there is often damage
caused to the spec plates/labels affixed to them. These labels contain
numbers, special warnings, and other specifics that are needed when attempting
to repair or replace a part.
Toro set out to find a product that would
overcome this challenge, as its label plates were not only unreadable
after several years of a product’s
use, but some fell off. The process the company was using to affix the
labels was cumbersome and had several liabilities, Mr. Steele says. “A
decal can be obliterated,” he says. “We want to be able
to tell the model and vintage. If 20 years down the road the part
be replaced, we want to know what the vintage is.”
DG-110 machine used to laminate Toro’s metal
serial number/product information labels allows the
operator to quickly change over the batches. “It
is like printing a different [Microsoft®] Word
document out of a PC,” says Lane Steele, a
manufacturing engineer at Toro Co. “Before
we printed thousands of tags because it was hard
to change over. Now we have flexibility…and
can ensure we don’t duplicate serial numbers."
In the early 1990s, Toro used a hot-stamping
process to affix its decals and labels to products. The process used
a roll of pressure-sensitive material—essentially “glorified
tape,” as Mr. Steele refers to it. A die comes down and has a
reverse image of the printing that is wanted on the material. The die
to high temperatures and then comes down with an ink ribbon between it
and the material to be printed and melts the ink material into the
leaving an image.
This hot-stamped process, says Mr. Steele, was not
working well, and the acid-etched process that Toro’s acquisition
of Lawn Boy brought with it was not sufficient for the company’s
needs either. The acid-etched printing plates were expensive, had a
long lead-time, and held Toro’s
number of format options to only 30.
This presented one of several problems.
Mr. Steele says that Toro was also considering increasing the number
of serial digits, which he says
placed an additional burden on him to make the digits fit into the existing
space. As the Toro product line expanded, a greater variety of label
became necessary. It needed a labeling scheme that would be able to accommodate
additional information, which included all of the following: model number,
serial number, company name and address, Consumer Product Safety Commission
(CPSC) information, patent information, CE (European conformity requirement),
decibel rating, and rpm.
“That’s when we began looking for other solutions,”
says Mr. Steele. “Specifically, we wanted something that would use
a computer to figure out how to print the labels.” Mr. Steele explains
that it became necessary to quickly switch back and forth between model
numbers and blocks of serial numbers. That is when the company began using
the thermal transfer process and shortly after, began using The Danby
Group’s machine as part of the Toro labeling process.
The Laminator/Die-Cutter operates in line with the thermal printing
process, says Genie Ragin, managing partner of The Danby Group. A heavy
is applied to a metalized roll label stock after it passes from the thermal
printer, Ms. Ragin explains. The DG-110 then die cuts the label from
stock, strips away the matrix, and rolls up the finished synthetic labels,
which are still adhered to the backing. “Each laminate label is
made by printing on a thermal transfer printer using a resin ribbon
wax ribbon,” she says. “The technology involved here is the
heat transfer—it’s transferring onto the label material.”
labels have a rounded corner that gives the finished label the look
of a traditional metal plate and reduces the tendency the square corners
have of lifting or peeling off. The precise registration of the die cutter
allows the labels to be designed with a fine border, and they can be
in custom shapes. The system is capable of producing up to 100 labels
The flexibility of spec plate formats, and the speed with which
they can be changed, has allowed Toro to produce a unique serial plate
each piece of equipment.
After more than 6 million labels produced and
10 years in the field, Mr. Steele says the thermal labels protected with
laminate applied by
DG-110 have met and exceeded Toro’s expectations. “This machine
is bulletproof,” Mr. Steele says. “Our testing department
is stringent in the testing requirements our labels have to go through.
The system has met all the testing requirements for durability issues.”