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Nasco labels thousands of different products in-house

By Steve Katz, Editor | April 21, 2014

The educational aids company turned to Colordyne Technologies to meet an 80,000-product challenge.

Nasco was founded in 1941 by Norman Eckley, a vocational agricultural teacher. He developed several teaching aids to use in his classes – items that were not readily available from any other source. This act of filling a classroom need with a specific product has become the heart of Nasco's business.

An aisle of Nasco's packaging warehouse with labeled cartons and inventory.
To date, Nasco has 24 different catalogs offering over 80,000 unique products to meet the needs of teachers in 14 different educational subject areas. In addition to serving customers in all 50 states, Nasco’s blend of products for education, health care, agriculture, and industry appeals to customers in over 180 countries. Headquartered in Fort Atkinson, WI, USA, Nasco has operated for more than 70 years providing mail-order catalogs to educators, farmers, and industry in all 50 states and 180 countries worldwide. To support its diverse business, Nasco has its own in-plant print shop, and the shop has been tasked with a wide range of printing challenges, including producing labels for their thousands of different items with the correct label, in the correct warehouse, exactly when needed. To help meet the challenge, the company invested in a Colordyne Technologies CDT 1600-C digital printer, and is able to print and apply nearly all its own labels in an efficient and cost effective manner.

Many growing companies that require volumes of labels for packaging have gravitated to large outsource companies or invested in expensive in-house equipment, says David Lass, Nasco Printing Supervisor. Lass decided to look at the problem differently, asking the question, "How can I get the same work done without a huge investment, but with the same impact?"  He says the answer to his question came when Nasco purchased uts CDT 1600-C printer in February 2012.

Nasco's in-house printing history
Nasco's experience with in-house printers started with traditional offset technology. "Operating these printers correctly was a long, strenuous and messy process," Lass says. So, Nasco transitioned to digital, becoming one of the first in its local area to make the digital transition for its label printing.

The initial solution to its labeling challenge was a 4-color thermal printer which used thermal transfer ribbons. This printer made producing labels faster than using an outside service, but its 300 dpi resolution could not print images at a high enough quality level. Eventually, Lass says, the unstable and ever-increasing costs of the thermal transfer PET film market steered Nasco to inkjet printers. The initial inkjet printing system purchased, which was designed more like a home printer, was slow but offered better quality labels. However, with Nasco's growth, this system soon became inadequate as well.

"I started having to make excuses as to why our labels were not getting done. The truth was, the machine was slow, business was growing, and I needed a new secret weapon," Lass says. This is when he discovered Colordyne in the form of the CDT 1600-C Continuous Format Color Printer. Nasco purchased its CDT 1600-C through Waukesha Graphics Systems, a CDT Authorized Reseller Partner.

David Lass, Nasco's printing supervisor, showing a label printed on the CDT 1600-C printer.
With print speeds up to 12 inches per second and a print resolution up to 1600 x 1600 dpi, the CDT 1600-C resolved Nasco's speed and print quality challenges. The CDT 1600-C is designed for printing carton labels with the ability to add color highlighting and pictograms. Additionally, Nasco purchased the optional unwinder and winder accessories to allow for printing labels and tags in roll form, rather than in fanfold mode. Using the winders gives Nasco tightly wound rolls of labels for its employees to easily hand-apply to product.

Nasco's in-plant print shop is now able to compete with larger label print shops, Lass says, due to the CDT 1600-C's ability to print rush orders, and varying amounts of labels fast and efficiently. The more than 500,000 labels Nasco printed last year came with no problems, the company reports, making it possible to provide a superior level of service. The shop is able to get labels printed in-house, same day, in the quantities needed, with no large inventories to buy or wasting away in a warehouse.

"The small footprint, inkjet printer, began to work for us right out of the box, fully capable of speeds of 12 inches per second, with exceptional print quality up to 1600 x 1600 dpi on a variety of stocks and substrates. Long or short runs – I don't worry about it when using the Colordyne printer, it's a workhorse that hasn't let us down," Lass says, adding that he is impressed with the speed and quality the CDT 1600-C offers for fast turnaround times.

"Sure, there are other digital label printers on the market, but all have lists and lists of consumable parts to purchase and stock, and need to set-up and train their skilled professionals to run the equipment," says Lass. "All the Colordyne printer needs is ink, a spare print head, and a computer to launch your graphics. By the time they start printing their labels, I have thousands done and in the hands of my people applying them to packaging, and our products are out the door on the trucks because of our CDT 1600-C."

Lass concludes that the CDT 1600-C has helped Nasco in keeping with it's motto: "Dedicated to Delivery."

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