By Chris Pangallo, Product Manager -- Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) & Laser
Meat packers face challenges in maintaining compliance with coding regulations not found in other production environments. As in many industries, traceability and expiration dates are required for their products, but successfully executing this coding is a challenge because many meat packing plants run 24/7 in an extremely cold, damp and humid environment. This combination of environmental factors is hard on all marking and coding equipment. One solution for meat packing plants is Continuous Ink Jet (CIJ) printing. CIJ is a non-contact, indelible, high speed coding solution, perfect for applying variable data onto packaged meats. What is not so perfect for CIJ is the environment found in refrigerated meat plants.
But we have good news. There are options available with Linx CIJ printers that address the specific challenges found in the harsh meat plant production environment. The following options are recommended to keep your printers and your production running with maximum uptime.
Want a full review of which coding technologies make the cut in meat processing environments? Download our latest whitepaper for details.
The Linx model 5900 and 7900 printers have clamshell design cold-drawn stainless steel enclosures. The printers are available with IP55 or IP65 ratings, and are suitable for wash-down environments that are part of overall hygiene standards required in meat packaging.
While the utmost care is taken to ensure that meat for human consumption is processed in hygienic environments, the law requires that meat packs are coded for traceability purposes; partly with the aim of enabling the consumer to have greater confidence in the food on their plate.
Packers need to ensure that the codes they deliver onto meat products can give customers and those further along the supply chain all the information they need to trace where it has come from effectively. With the meat and poultry industry ranking as the largest segment in U.S. agriculture, total industry production accounted for more than 92.9 billion pounds of meat and poultry product in 2012. The need to track meat products all the way through the supply chain is crucial to the health of the industry as a whole.
Coding and marking for meat packaging
Coding machines have the ability to deliver traceability information such as the source of the meat, or where it was processed, on products and their packaging, helping to ensure that consumers have peace of mind when they purchase meat (or other food).
Meat processors have various ways in which they can deliver traceability and peace of mind through coding. Whether these are print and apply barcode labels, accomplished using high-resolution continuous inkjet technology or other measures, packers need to have confidence that their coding and marking printers can deliver the right information on products that will stay put – whatever the substrate.
Human error – for example selecting the wrong message to be printed, or entering a code incorrectly - can also potentially cause production delays and product scrappage. However coding technology can help to alleviate this through advances such as remote control or monitoring of printers, or easy-to-use image-based operating software. This means packers have less to worry about, such as costly downtime in an industry that can little afford it.
Why do we need traceability codes?
Traceability requirements are partly designed to help consumers have greater confidence in where their food has come from and improve the accountability of manufacturers; as such legislation has set out a number of laws to deliver just this.
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 is the most robust regulatory act passed in the United States in nearly a century. The food and beverage industry anticipates the release of well-defined FSMA rules by the end of 2015 and the oncoming enforcement of those rules by the FDA by the end of 2016. The timeline outlined above is mandated by a court order. The industry can reliably expect legally mandated inspections of food facilities to begin in 2016.
This modern emphasis on traceability is not just helpful information for consumers, who can tell quickly the origin of their food, but also ensures that any product recalls are limited to the specific items affected – minimizing disruption to a meat processing business. Knowing which affected products were included in a particular lot over a period of time will help prevent manufacturers from having to recall everything – leading to a more accurate and controlled recall process when issues arise and significant cost savings.
Traceability can also help to support the integrity of different types of meat manufactured and processed, for example halal, kosher or organic meat; all of which should be processed under strict guidelines.
If you want to learn more about the best coding and marking solutions for the meat processing industry, download our white paper CHOOSING THE BEST MEAT PROCESSING CODING SOLUTION.
Analogue coding technology is still found throughout the meat processing industry, such as hot stamp or roller coders. As a relatively cheap printing solution, these could be used by meat processors to keep costs down on their fast production lines.
Of all the analogue coding technologies available, hot foil stamping is perhaps the most common in meat processing. Our best-of-industry Norwood hot stamp printers are still widely used today. With that being said, relying on analogue based technology can have its drawbacks, and that’s where digital coders come in.
The drawbacks of analogue coding technology
When it comes to analogue coding, the messages that are available for coding are restricted by the amount of information that can actually fit on the die wheel. Therefore, the coders are not as flexible as they could be when it comes to having to incorporate larger messages on the pack. Also, with hot stamp technology, there is a wait for the coder to ‘warm up’ – meaning that valuable coding time is lost through setup.
In an industry dealing with fresh produce where packers need to respond to changing legislation quickly and efficiently, having a technology that needs this amount of time to set up is not ideal in many meat processing lines. Also, errors in coding cannot easily be amended, as codes are manually changed on the die wheel which means stopping the printer, removing the die wheel and replacing individual characters which is a fiddly and time-consuming process. Worn code wheels can also potentially lead to perforation of the packaging, something that could potentially lead to scrappage.
Hot foil stamping is also a contact technology, something that could further constrain the speed of the production line, and even present packers with problems when it comes to maintaining the hygiene of their line.
Digital coding and marking technology in meat processing
SmithersPira has recently examined the benefits of digital coding for many industries including food manufacturing. Their analysis of other industries helps to highlight the advantages of digital coders within the meat processing sector.
For example, when looking at drug production lines, the requirement for frequent and error-free changeovers would appear to be a driver towards the implementation of digital technologies. This is no different in the meat processing industry, where errors in coding could lead to potentially costly downtime or scrappage.
The research also identifies how digital coders can help packers deliver consistent traceability. With late-stage customization for example, when codes need to be added or changed at the last moment, flexibility becomes a primary concern for packers – something that is not delivered as effectively with analogue coding technology. And with a reduction in errors as mentioned above comes more effective traceability.
Not only can all of this be delivered by digital coders, but the non-contact nature of the machinery can help to maintain hygiene and even deliver codes at faster speeds.
Therefore with fewer errors, flexibility, and faster, more consistent coding, digital technology represents a more cost effective solution for meat processors in the long term. And with uncontrollable variables such as adverse weather events, disease outbreaks and increased competition from seafood, meat processors need to deliver codes in an effective way that allows margins to be maintained.
To discover more about what digital coding technologies are suited for the meat industry, have a look at our meat processing industry white paper.
Want help analyzing the best use of analogue and digital coding technologies in your meat packing facility? We manufacture, sell and service both analogue and digital coding solutions. We work closely with customers like you to determine which coding solution is right for your manufacturing environment and application needs. Contact us today to get the conversation started.
Read a version of this article specific to European meat and poultry manufacturers.
According to a recent PMMI Business Intelligence Report, the meat, seafood, and poultry packing industries are experiencing “a global boom” due to several factors including import and export opportunities expanding into new markets, growth in foodservice, and growth in ready meals. Food producers are rapidly moving to automate processing and packaging to be prepared to meet increased demand and be flexible enough to adapt to changing product coding requirements.
For food producers and processors with small character coding requirements, Diagraph offers the Linx 8900 Series Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) printer family. The 8900 Series is designed for maximum uptime and provides the flexibility to meet the demands of complex food manufacturing plants.
Moving towards an automated continuous inkjet coding solution can solve the following problems commonly found in the meat, poultry, and seafood manufacturing industry:
High manual labor costs: Consumer demand dictates changes in the packaging materials used for meat and seafood products. Flexible and clear packaging for shoppers to verify freshness and quality in-store, smaller portion sizes and clean labeling to indicate product varieties – i.e. GMO-free, grass-fed, etc. – leads to more changeovers and a need to produce high-quality, durable codes on a range of substrates. The costs associated with managing a large manual workforce are cited by many manufacturers in this industry as one of the highest expenses. Manufacturers are looking for automated processes that can be run with little to no training required and an easy-to-understand HMI to make product changeovers as effortless and error-free as possible.
How the Linx 8900 meets this challenge:
Food safety and sanitation issues: Threats of contamination are a constant worry in the meat, poultry and seafood industries. To integrate new automated machinery requires that the process reduces human handling and has clean-in-place and washdown capabilities.
How the Linx 8900 meets this challenge:
Maintenance downtime: Manufacturers want to continue to increase their throughput to fulfill growing demand. To keep production going, predictive maintenance features are essential in preventing unexpected shut downs for repairs, printhead cleanings or fluid refills.
Are you facing these challenges in your business? If you’re in need of a date, lot or batch coding printer, the Linx 8900 Series might be the right option to help you efficiently automate your meat, poultry or seafood packing operation. For more information, visit our Linx 8900 Series product specification page or arrange to see it in action by contacting us for a demonstration.
Source: PMMI Business Intelligence Report, 2017 Trends Shaping Meat, Poultry and Seafood Packaging and Processing
Coding is a CRAFT
Top 3 Tips for Choosing a Coding Provider
It can be difficult to choose a marking, coding and labeling equipment provider with so many available. These tips will help you find the best provider for your business:
At Diagraph, we are dedicated in solving your coding and labeling challenges. Diagraph has been assisting customers for over 120 years improving production line efficiencies with simple, reliable, cost-effective coding and labeling solutions. Visit us at www.diagraph.com or contact us at 800.722.1125.
6 Factors to Consider when Choosing a Coding Solution for the Meat Processing Industry
The meat packaging industry has coding and traceability requirements similar to other food industries, yet the cold and humid environments indicative of the industry can pose additional challenges for packaging equipment not experienced in more temperate facilities.
In the past, a typical minimal requirement for meat packaging would be batch and/or lot numbers and “best-by” date codes. Moving forward, code requirements are becoming increasingly complex and often may include allergen information, animal reference codes, genetic modification information, and country of origin.
Many meat and poultry packing plants make use of Continuous Ink Jet (CIJ) printing technology to meet the coding requirements on primary packaging. CIJ is cost-effective with a wide range of fluids to ensure coding adhesion and legibility of the mark in refrigerated environments on both porous and non-porous packaging.
With the meat industry known for particularly harsh processing and packing environments, small character CIJ printers must maintain optimal print quality throughout use. The Linx 8900 Series CIJ printers are uniquely designed to withstand these tough conditions.
Superior Print Performance Monitoring – Print performance measures like time of flight and viscosity readings are performed directly in the printhead, automatically adjusting the ink and solvent mix in real-time to guarantee optimal print quality throughout use. Monitoring these critical readings in the printhead as opposed to in the printer body provides a more accurate analysis of the environment at the exact location of where the code is being applied – this guards against the frequent clogging issues experienced in cold temperature and high humidity environments by competitor technologies.
With ever changing coding requirements, the flexibility to easily modify codes is critical. The Linx 8900 Series CIJ printers have features designed for ease of use in cold environments to keep your coding on track.
Large 10” touch screen – The Linx 8900 Series features a highly visible color capacitive touchscreen that can be accessed while wearing gloves; a real time saver in a refrigerated environment.
Icon Based User Interface – Similar to smart phones, the Linx 89xx Series has an intuitive user interface for easy to use message selection and prompted content editing.
Customizable carousel – You can place your most used editing and printer functions on the home screen. Reduce costly coding errors by minimizing steps to change messages by making use of prompted fields.
If you’re in the meat or poultry packing industry and want to know more about continuous inkjet solutions for your production, call 1.800.722.1125 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.