by Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Marking and coding systems are ideal for printing addresses, barcodes, quick response (QR) codes, numbering, logos, and graphics. Used for traceability purposes, they are commonly found inline on a production line to mark packaging of any type or even directly on an object for any industry.
Marking and coding technologies continue to advance. We asked some of the leaders in this space to share the newest developments. These include higher resolutions and faster print speeds to enhanced automated maintenance features.
Higher resolution is important because more users are looking for variable printing that compares to preprinting on a case, carton, or any product, says Chad Carney, VP of marketing and corporate communications, Engage Technologies Corporation. “The improvements in print resolution enable more users to ditch preprinted materials, print their products inline, and still achieve a high-quality print.”
As production speed increases, marking and coding systems must keep pace. “This is especially true in the primary product coding applications like bottles, cans, cartons, and pouches,” shares Carney.
Automation and connectivity go hand in hand and are important to address as production speeds increase. “With the latest coding and marking solutions, we help manufacturers monitor line performance, predict and avoid faults, and scale their enterprise IoT capabilities. Built-in vital sign monitoring systems, smart alerts, on demand remote technical support, WiFi connectivity, and automated troubleshooting enable solutions to provide users with current and historical equipment status data while detecting performance patterns and spotting areas for improvement,” says Mark Breunig, regional product manager, Videojet.
Software and networking are one the biggest trends noticed by Patricia Quinlan, president, InkJet Inc. “Many marking/coding companies have options for software suites that help with data collection, organization, traceability, and compliance.”
“The developments in marking and coding are really about integrating marking and coding equipment into automation and central control for tracking and efficiency optimization. Real time Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) data is sent back to an in-house ERP system or central control system. OEE is the standard for measuring manufacturing productivity. It defines truly productive manufacturing time, so a 100 percent OEE score means you are manufacturing good parts, as fast as possible without stoppage. If a printer is the problem, it can be quickly addressed to limit downtime,” agrees Jim Moore, national sales director, Automated Marking, Inc.
Lower or more automated maintenance is intriguing. For example, Squid Ink—part of Engage Technologies, offers oil-based ink in its CoPilot family of markers/coders. “Uptime is key, and reliability with coding and marking systems is a requirement. Oil-based ink offers low-maintenance performance, eliminating the need for automatic priming functions and offering better ink utilization than competitive systems,” notes Carney.
Other ink technologies also offer less maintenance. “Thermal inkjet systems run virtually maintenance-free as the user receives a new printhead with every ink cartridge replacement. Improvements have also been made to continuous inkjet systems (CIJ). Squid Ink’s Jetstream CIJ system, for example, features a self-cleaning printhead with a CleanJet maintenance routine that allows a quick and easy automatic start up and shutdown. A press of a button commands the printer to go through a start up cycle or flush the system for shutdown,” says Carney.
Eco-friendly printing practices are of interest. “Users are looking for materials that are environmentally friendly. Squid Ink’s 100 percent mineral oil free (MOF) inks are designed as a direct replacement for petroleum-based inks for use on porous substrates. Squid Ink’s MOF inks are formulated with zero hazardous air pollutants and no hazardous ingredients. MOF inks reduce the risks associated with mineral oil ink contamination in the food packaging industry,” explains Carney.
Bring It In, Bring It In
Marking and coding devices directly involved in a production line are ideal, this is opposed to working with preprinted cases completed out of the factory and brought in mid-production.
“Manufacturers can save money by replacing preprinted cases with coding and marking systems that print product information, company logos, bar codes, and other variable information on their cases in a single pass. Instead of inventorying a custom case, carton, or tray for every SKU, manufacturers can print on demand, making it easier and more cost effective to manage their ever-changing business,” explains Carney.
A lower cost of investment also saves money. “As coding technology continues to becomes more reliable the cost of owning the equipment has come down. More manufacturing companies find that the benefits of marking on primary packaging outweigh the costs. Adding codes to products increases traceability and reduces costs associated with rework or downtime by allowing manufacturers to catch and isolate quality issues more quickly,” shares Christian Krzykwa, product manager, Hitachi Industrial Equipment & Solutions America, LLC.
Moore believes there really aren’t that many out there currently outsourcing the service. “There are co-packers, who pack and print, but for the most part, manufacturers do not outsource marking and coding. The data printed is often sensitive to manufacturing for each stage like printing and boxing. Primary packaging at the front of the line and then secondary packaging at the end of line.”
Marking/coding devices are used for addresses, barcodes, QR codes, logos, and other graphics. While these continue to be common uses, they advance and change based on industry trends.
The codes and images are used for tracking and tracing as well as expiration and best-by dates, as well as branding and marketing, according Moore. He says “the main changes over the years have been the commonality or ease of use of QR codes with our phones and the Internet to help track and communicate as well as the efficiency of the process and reliability of the equipment.”
“As the industry continues to look towards faster lines and higher production volumes marking and coding devices replace slower, more traditional methods of marking a product such as stickers, labels, and stamps. The primary use of CIJ in particular is on primary packaging, to add expiration dates, lot codes, and other manufacturing information. Manufacturers are always looking for ways to track quality for consumer safety and this is a major reason the CIJ market continues to grow,” admits Krzykwa.
Carney for example sees more information being printed on products and cases. “What used to be a simple date code is now lot numbers and date codes, followed by multiple bar code requirements, product information and graphics, nutrition and ingredient panels, and maybe even a two-dimensional bar code that tracks a food product from farm to table.”
“The predominant use of marking/coding devices is in applying dates and traceability information in both text and bar code formats. QR codes, which are always increasing in popularity, are printable by most marking/coding technologies. Helping manufacturers’ efforts to reduce preprinted packaging, online coding solutions simplify line changeovers as codes, logos, and other product information can be modified on demand,” says Breunig.
The next part in this series looks at various marking and coding systems available by vendor.
Jun2022, Industrial Print Magazine