According to PMMI’s 2017 Trends in Food Processing Operations, “Four out of five companies have more than 100 product SKUs and over half predict SKUs will continue to increase, driving the need for faster changeover.”
A number of factors contribute to the drastic rise in SKUs, like company acquisitions and portfolio merging, flavor variety, count variety and retailer-specific case sizes, to name a few. Managing an increasing number of SKUs is costly for snack food manufacturers, especially when a bulk of them only contribute a small portion to their bottom-line profit. Constant starting and stopping of production lines to changeover a new product run means more downtime in a manufacturer’s operations.
On-the-go lifestyles, practiced commonly amongst the Millennial generation, have increased the need for convenient packaging:
A greater emphasis on healthy options has also increased the number of recipe variations, causing more SKUs to be made for tracking purposes. Consumers want to be able to recognize the ingredients in their products, known as “clean labeling”, giving rise to popular snacks like popcorn, breakfast bars, pretzels and others to have variations such as:
In addition to having access to ranges of food products in virtually any shopping setting – retail chains, convenient stores, grocery stores and department stores – consumers are also demanding to have the ability to order their snacks and other groceries online. Different distribution channels are assigned different SKUs for manufacturers to have visibility into tracking purchasing. On the fulfillment end of the supply chain, it is of the utmost importance that cases sitting in the warehouse of online distribution centers are clearly labeled with the correct product information to ensure accurate customer order fulfillment.
For instances when skilled labor workers do not speak the primary language of your printer settings, these barriers can be dealt with through advanced line setting features in the user interface of marking and coding technologies. More and more, interfaces for coders and labelers are moving towards the look and feel of a smartphone – with recognizable icons instead of text. For operations with multiple production lines to accommodate different products, the name of the product can be replaced with an image of the actual product for quick recognition. This simplified naming method for line settings reduces the user error brought about by language gaps.
There are a couple of levels in which SKU proliferation can be managed in an automated way through your coding and labeling printers:
1) Storing messages at the machine level with meaningful names to alleviate mistakes during changeover. For example, naming your message “Gluten Free Crackers” versus “Crackers”.
2) Message retrieval from a database through barcode scanning goes a step further through verification, ensuring that the message on the secondary cases matches the primary product information.
You can make the greatest impact on your operations, including managing SKUs, when you partner with a solutions provider to design your entire marking and coding operation around this objective. With your main requirements and unique specifications in mind from the start, it is possible to integrate a coding and labeling solution that not only works seamlessly in your production line but can add additional value by automating the SKU management process and reducing downtime.
Interested in more forward-looking trends and topics affecting manufacturers in the snack food industry? Download our free whitepaper, 2018: Innovations in Snack Food Packaging, for a full analysis of how these changes will impact manufacturers, packagers and retailers.
2018: Innovations in Snack Food Packaging
Increasing in popularity among big box chains is retail-ready packaging (RRP). A retail-ready package refers to secondary packaging that is branded appropriately to be able to move to retail shelves in a quick, “one touch” movement. RRP should be intentionally designed to self-contain individually packaged products, this eliminates the need for stock workers to unpack and individually display each product. This comes as a huge advantage to the big box retailers like Walmart or Kroger, because it reduces labor by cutting out the need for workers to unpack or hang individually packaged items. Effort is reduced to five simple phases: pack, ship, stock, display, shop.
For the manufacturers or co-packers packaging the product, the challenge of retail ready packaging is having the corrugate case function as both a shipping case and display piece. Considerations here would be having product flavor and count information, SKUs, barcodes, lot codes and expiration dates visible while creating a package that is appealing to consumers on a marketing level. Making the switch to RRP may be an investment, but it has been proven to pay off in terms of keeping good relationships with big box retailers like Walmart. Simply put: If you make your product easy to stock, retailers will continue to stock it again and again.
The key characteristics of retail-ready packaging are:
Changes in the market are directly influencing the rise manufacturers are seeing in the demand for RRP. As larger chains begin to open smaller, neighborhood stores with fewer employees, the speed in which products can get to shelves grows in importance. The Millennial generation is also waiting until later in life to begin having a family, so smaller portioned packaging continues to be purchased far more often. Millennials are also drivers of online grocery shopping fulfillment. Well-implemented retail-ready packaging makes it easier for the warehouse staff fulfilling the online orders to quickly identify and select the correct items to ship out.
For these reasons and many others, retail-ready packaging is a strategy for retailers to boost sales. In order to move more product, this means your packaging production will have to appease retail distributors while still meeting coding and labeling requirements for consumers and traceability. Our experts can help you strategize your operations around this RRP trend. Reach out to us today to discuss what we’re seeing in the retail market and how we can partner with you to make a retail-ready packaging strategy a profitable endeavor for your company.
Packaging and processing professionals from across the country will be in Las Vegas in September for PACK EXPO 2017 – and we hope that you’ll be one of them! Diagraph’s team will be at the show in Booth C-4010 showcasing our line-up of coding and labeling systems from continuous inkjet to all-electric labeling to thermal transfer overprinters and more. Stop by and we’ll show you why you can rely on the superior uptime performance of our printers so you can focus on what matters most to you – your product.
As an added value, those who visit Diagraph's PACK EXPO Booth C-4010 and have their badges scanned will be eligible to take advantage of our exclusive show specials that will run through the duration of 2017.
BUY ONE, GET ONE HALF OFF: Buy any Linx 8900 Series printer and get the second for half off!
DOUBLE YOUR PRINT AREA: Get an IJ768E 4" printhead for the price of the IJ384E 2" printhead.
"ALL-IN" LABELING DEAL: Buy any standard full printer/applicator or standard tamp label/applicator system and get all recommended accessories and training for free.
TTO COMBO DEAL: Buy one thermal transfer system (excluding the MLi) and get a spare printhead and ribbon starter pack for FREE.
These offers are exclusive to visitors to the Diagraph booth C-4010 in PACK EXPO Las Vegas that have their badges scanned! You don’t want to miss out on these deals to upgrade your coding and labeling operations to more reliable, durable systems. Or, if you’re just starting out, this is a great opportunity to begin automating your coding operations.
We’ll see you in Vegas September 25-27!
Companies rely on engineers or technicians to keep production lines up and running. These job functions are essential to hitting production targets, so it is key that their skill level on equipment is proficient. When making the decision to replace this equipment, the amount of time and money that will have to be invested in training your labor is a major deciding factor.
Continuous inkjet (CIJ) technology is most often the technology of choice for manufacturers to apply variable information such as lot, batch and expiration dates on their products. CIJ printers have relatively low capital costs and print in any orientation on most materials at high speeds. It is very common to find one or two CIJ printers on each packaging production line. For these customers, Diagraph offers the Linx model 8900 Series CIJ printers that require minimal need for line operators to learn new procedures when the units are introduced to the production line.
Traditionally, CIJ printers require the attention of skilled labor to keep printers clean (which is critical to operation) or to tweak print quality at the printhead level. The industry-leading 8900 Series designs can be operated and maintained with minimal touches due to the following features:
If you are considering replacing existing CIJ equipment and need it to operate with minimal intervention, the simple operation and maintenance of the Linx 8900 Series printer makes it the right piece of equipment for you. Get our FREE comparison datasheet to understand how the Linx 8900 Series stacks up against competitor CIJ printers.
Downtime in your production simply isn’t an option. But at any moment, an unpredictable event can arise like low ink levels, maintenance and clogging, putting your operations on hold anywhere from an hour to an entire shift. So how do you prepare for the unexpected? One option that we see put into practice by many customers is the investment in a spare inkjet printer – a reliable, on-hand system that can quickly be fired up on a production line when your regular systems suddenly quit.
So what exactly should you be looking for in a reliable back-up inkjet printer?
Extended shutdown features – There is no planning when you might need to pull in a spare printer, meaning it could be sitting idle for an undefined amount of time. Many small character printers take time to boot up and flush printheads that have not been in use for some time. These printers often require full system flushes or draining when being prepared for extended shutdown periods. When purchasing a small character printer to use a spare, choose one that doesn’t have extensive shut down procedures and is designed to fire right up and start printing after sitting idle for as long as 3 months at a time.
Long shelf-life – Thermal inkjet printers that utilize snap-in and -out replacement ink cartridges make great spare candidates. Ink cartridges can be kept in-stock and on-shelf so your printer is guaranteed to have a supply of ink when it is pulled into operation at a moment’s notice.
Additionally, for high-resolution inkjet printers that take fluids from bottles, industry-leading inks are formulated to last as long as 18 months on the shelf and still consistently deliver high contrast print messages. Similarly for your case coding, look for printheads that remain start-up ready for up to 12 months. To ensure peak performance of ink fluids and printheads, always store according to recommended temperature and humidity conditions.
Protected internal electronics – Look for systems that have a protective covering to maintain and preserve the internal electronics. Not only is thermal jet printer technology a low investment option that produces high resolution text, graphics and barcodes up to 1” high, but the easy-to-change cartridges are simple to store on-shelf in case of emergencies.
Ask yourself whether it is more costly to invest in spare printers for your food production line or to risk unplanned downtime. The investment to protect your productivity is more than likely to pay off if you’re making an informed decision about the inkjet systems you’re keeping as back-ups. Our product specialists can help you determine what the best spare system type is for your application needs. Call today or send us an email for our recommendation.
Continuous inkjet (CIJ) is the technology of choice for food packaging coding as the solvent based inks adhere to a variety of materials like cartons, plastics, films, foils, metal and glass. CIJ is ideal for food packaging in that it offers high speed, non-contact small character printing and enables food processors to incorporate inkjet codes into their functional safety and traceability processes.
Companies that produce food products are very aware of the financial and public health risks of a recall and therefore understand the necessity of being able to track products through the supply chain. For added food safety security, continuous inkjet printers can utilize specialty functional inks:
Thermochromic inks are developed for the canning industry and show a color change effect when processed through a retort or autoclave process. In addition to visual confirmation of successful canning it is a robust ink that penetrates thin coatings of oil and grease and resists removal by oils, waxes, fats and varnishes.
For secure coding of high-end products subject to counterfeiting or for products and packaging that require discrete codes for internal track and trace, identifying origin or verifying authenticity, there are inks that are nearly invisible to the naked eye but fluoresce under UV light. These fast drying, solvent based inks are water resistant once dry.
Traceability of food product is key to a company’s ability to react to a recall. In addition to providing coding technology that allows companies to trace product, Diagraph and Linx offer the following specialty functional coding inks that enhance food safety:
Linx Thermochromic 1281 or 1291
Our choice for fully functional, easy to use inkjet coders are the Linx 8900 Series line of printers. The Linx 8900 Series inkjet printers provide high quality batch, date, lot and expiration codes which are critical components for supply chain traceability. The Linx models are also durable workhorses in wash down environments and are easy-to-use featuring a robust, sealed printhead, one-touch fluid refills, a highly visible touch screen user interface and point-of-print viscosity control. The Linx 8900 Series line of printers support both thermochromic and UV fluorescent ink applications.
Continuous inkjet is just one option for adding essential date codes, lot codes and batch codes to your food and beverage products. Want to learn more about how your choice of coding solution contributes to food safety and traceability? Download our full whitepaper.
Coding for Safety & Traceability in the Food Supply Chain: A Comparison of Continuous Inkjet & Laser Coding
It is estimated by the US Grocery Manufacturers Association that over half of recalls cost companies over $10M. In addition to the financial implications, recalls for defective products could be harmful to the health of your customers and ultimately damaging to your reputation. These two major factors support the necessity of product identification in the form of date codes, lot codes and batch codes to track and trace in the event of a recall.
Two common automated marking and coding solutions for food packaging are continuous inkjet and laser coding. Which solution best fits your application is dependent on a number of factors. To help you in this evaluation process, we have outlined a few consideration questions:
Continuous Inkjet Considerations
Continuous inkjet (CIJ) can mark onto virtually any substrate type, rounded or flat, ranging from plastic bags, glass jars, metal cans, paper cartons and more. Because of the variety of ink types and colors available, you can achieve a high-contrast mark on nearly any color packaging.
Laser Coding Considerations
Laser, by comparison, creates a permanent mark on most surfaces although not all packaging types will guarantee a high-contrast batch, lot or date code. The etched marks from laser will last, although on clear plastics and glass the coding may not be as easily visible as black ink from CIJ.
Continuous Inkjet & Laser Coding Considerations
Accurate batch, date and expiration codes are essential for customers and retailers alike. If your production lines perform multiple changeovers for different products each shift, this leaves room for errors. Leading CIJ and laser solutions have features for storing unique, variable messages and icon-based interfaces that can be operated without extensive training for message creation and retrieval. Reliable, accurate coding methods will keep your line running in uptime and ensure speedy recall of products in that event.
If your products have high retail value, they may be susceptible to counterfeiting. There are internal tracking and security codes that can be made on a product discreetly, that are only visible under certain circumstances by the manufacturer to verify authenticity and product origin. For CIJ, one option is security UV inks that are nearly invisible until exposed to UV light.
The low-contrast, permanent marks created from laser etching are a benefit in the case of anti-counterfeiting codes. Codes can be applied to packaging in an inconspicuous location without compromising the appeal of the packaging design.
These are only a few considerations to keep in mind when selecting between continuous inkjet and laser coding for your food or beverage packaging line. For more information on how coding ties into food safety and traceability, download our full whitepaper.
All food and beverage manufacturers have a commitment to efficient operations and strive to increase output with maximum uptime. Many of these manufacturers require variable information such as lot or batch codes, expiration dates, or barcodes on their product and make use of Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) to achieve these required codes. For high speed, non-contact coding in your food packaging or bottling environment, CIJ printers with known durability features will offer the following benefits:
Routine wear and tear on your CIJ machines is a reality when they are running in high-speed, industrial environments such as a food packaging or bottling lines. Invest in CIJ printers designed for maximum uptime with minimal effort and that have specific features that prove durable in industrial production environments.
See the Linx 8900 printer in action! Call 800.722.1125 or contact us for a free demonstration.
If you’re a manufacturer integrating traversing CIJ and thermal transfer overprinters in your form, fill and seal machines, consumables contribute to your total cost of ownership in a major way. You may identify with some of the following common pain points related to coding onto flow packs, plastic sleeves and sachets, and it is crucial to your profitability to find a solution for overcoming these issues:
There are alternatives available to you to avoid these common pitfalls in multi-lane coding operations. Look for these two features in your system to minimize parts, fluids and ribbon costs in the long run:
1) A single consumable – To avoid the mess and additional training, specifically evaluate options using a single roll of ribbon for all of the print heads.
2) Ribbon saving mechanisms – Once you have evaluated a multi-lane coder with ribbon instead of ink, ask about ribbon saving mechanisms. Industry-leading applications ensure minimum gaps between prints and can result in up to a 50% reduction in ribbon waste.
Are you in the process of evaluating multi-lane printing and coding technologies to meet your unique form fill and seal machine requirements? Download our free Hidden Costs of Multi-Lane Printing guide.
The Hidden Costs of Multi-Lane Printing Whitepaper
Many companies, especially in meat and dairy processing, struggle with the requirement to mark variable information onto slick packaging for a couple key reasons:
The packaging substrate High surface tension substrates like HDPE, polypropylene (PP) containers and caps, treated and untreated Orientated Polypropylene (OPP) for flow wraps and stand-up pouches, glass and metal all make ink adhesion difficult.
The manufacturing environmentFood packages of butter, margarine and salad dressing often leave a thin layer of condensation or grease on the packaging surface, inhibiting the preservation of code quality.
For manufacturers who experience difficulties using continuous ink jet (CIJ) coders on substrates and products with slick or greasy surfaces, specially formulated inks that cut through light films of oil or condensation are necessary to preserve print quality and contrast.
Linx’s new 1063 Grease Penetrating Black is a dye MEK based ink, developed for the market-leading Linx 8900 Series CIJ coders. 1063 Grease Penetrating Black ink has aggressive adhesion before and after refrigeration and resists removal by a wide range of oils and chemicals such as acids, alkalis, detergents, petrol and water. It dries in seconds and provides excellent contrast and legibility on transparent or light colored materials and, as the name implies, penetrates light layers of condensation and grease for a robust, durable mark.
Talk to a Diagraph specialist today at 1.800.722.1125 or firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss whether the new Linx 1063 Grease Penetrating Black ink may be a solution to your slick or oily manufacturing conditions.