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.
By Chris Pangallo, Product Manager – Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) and Laser
Production uptime and low cost of ownership are hot topics among Chemical production and Chemical packaging companies. Many Chemical companies rely on Continuous Ink Jet Coders (CIJ) to provide high speed non-contact coding of variable text such as date and batch codes on their primary product. Linx model CIJ printers are ideal for Chemical producers and packagers with a proven track record of reliability and increased uptime due to very clever design. The printers have mistake-proof and mess free refills, avoiding costly downtime.
Linx also features the most advanced printhead on the market. The printhead is sealed with no manual parts or adjustment points. Upon shut down, the printer automatically flushes the printhead conduit, nozzle and gutter with solvent. The solvent evacuates to the controller. This cleaning, known as Full Flush™, results in quicker start up, reduces ink build up and its’ accompanying printer downtime. Self-cleaning and quicker start up allows maintenance staff more time to work on production instead of their printer.
Chemicals can be packaged in all kinds of substrates and under a variety of conditions. A common challenge when coding in the presence of chemicals is the reaction of coding ink to the product, process or environment. Marks can smear, bleed or disappear entirely. Linx has developed special purpose inks that provide maximum print quality and increased printer performance by eliminating coding issues before they start. Here are some examples:
Detergents, shampoos and cleaners are among the wide variety of products that contain alcohol. With these products there will always be the risk of splashing alcohol onto the finished product during packaging. The alcohol splash can smear, obscure or even remove coding ink. Some products, like electronic components, require cleaning with alcohol as part of their production process. If you need an ink to withstand an alcohol splash, we suggest:
1075 Black Alcohol Resistant
This ink is formulated to have a high level of resistance to chemicals such as alcohol. It is fast drying (1-2 seconds) with excellent adhesion, particularly to plastics. It resists alcohol washes (ethanol, isopropanol, etc.)
If a packaged product comes into direct contact with a wash, splash or rub of a solvent (such as Engine parts, brake pads, cables), you will need an ink with high adherence properties. If you need an ink to resist solvents, we suggest:
1370 Black UV Cure
This is a black pigmented ink that cures instead of dries. When in the presence of UV lamp system, the ink cures in 1 second. The cured mark is supremely resistant to chemicals, abrasion and is tolerant of heat.
Many products have alkali baths as part of their packaging process. If you need an ink to withstand cleaning with alkali solution, we suggest:
1014 Black Plastic Adherent
This ink was formulated to give excellent adhesion to plastic substrates, including those commonly regarded as difficult for CIJ inks such as polyethylene, nylon, and polypropylene. This versatile ink has aggressive adhesion and is resistant to alkalis.
1070 Black Alkali Removable
This ink is highly water resistant when dry but is easily removed if washed with detergent or dilute alkali. It performs well on many substrates and is ideal for coding reusable containers in the brewing and beverage industries.
Products packaged in metals may have oil present on the surface. Oils tend to separate inks from substrates, removing marks completely. If you need an ink with aggressive adhesion, we suggest:
1290 Black to Blue Thermochromic
Thermochromic inks are specially developed for the canning industry and to show a color change effect when processed through a retort or autoclave process. It is a robust ink and often specified for applications that do not require a color change as it penetrates thin coatings of oil and grease and resists removal by oils, waxes, fats and varnishes.
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.
Coding for Safety & Traceability in the Food Supply Chain: A Comparison of Continuous Inkjet & Laser Coding
Step one of a manufacturer’s game plan for packaging compliance is to understand your manufacturing code and print application requirements, in order to pick the product identification solution that is best for your needs.
What kind of information needs to be included in your print message? In many cases, especially in food and beverage, consumer-readable information must be included for buyers to determine freshness. In other instances, government and global regulatory agencies have set the requirements for manufacturers to adhere to. In order to meet packaging compliance, manufacturers may need specific product information, manufacturing codes, and barcode information, including:
Once specific print requirements and message placement are determined, manufacturers should also consider their application specifications. What type of packaging substrate does a manufacturer’s product or products use? What other processes in your material handling are occurring to take into consideration? And what kind of line speeds are they trying to achieve?
It will be important to understand which criteria your application falls under for a marking and coding partner to best match you with a solution that will deliver your desired results.
After determining the print requirements and application specifications, manufacturers can look at the available product identification solutions and select a technology that is right-sized for their material handling set-up.
A full portfolio range of product identification solutions are available to manufacturers including:
The tables below show how each type of product coding technology is suited to fill specific manufacturer print and application requirements.
In order to achieve packaging compliance, it’s necessary to pick the best marking and coding technology for the product in question. By taking the time to understand print message and application requirements, manufacturers can begin to compare compatible product identification methods and equipment.
Picking the best product identification solution is one step in a multi-step process to achieve packaging compliance. After the information has been applied to your product, message validation is the next step.
Ensuring manufacturing codes are printed on products is not enough by itself to achieve packaging compliance. The codes need to be validated to make sure they are present, accurate, and scannable.
There have been many advancements in product identification and machine visioning technology that have enabled manufacturers to automate the monitoring of real-time print quality. Scanners and vision systems are common components added to the production line postprint to inspect and report any illegible codes or incorrect stock.
Manufacturers know their requirements best, and working with a partner that offers a portfolio of all types of product coding technology will give you a fair assessment of the best solution for your needs. It’s also wise to choose someone who can provide support beyond installation for maintenance and servicing as age and wear and tear occur on your equipment. A reliable partner will also provide training for your maintenance staff should you choose to be as self-sufficient as possible.
However, there are still more steps to ensure manufacturers achieve packaging compliance.
Learn more about the other key considerations Diagraph recommends for guaranteeing packaging compliance:
“Easy to use” is a designation that many quality equipment manufacturers strive for. When comparing products side by side for their ease of use, nothing is simpler than distilling a process down to a single step. At Diagraph, we like to focus on delivering “one touch solutions”. When evaluating product coding solutions, look for the following:
With consumable replenishment being the most frequent type of product coding equipment intervention, finding a solution that offers a one touch process helps save time, money, and keeps work simple for the operators.
We like the simple one touch design on Linx 8900 Series inkjet coders that allows you to open the ink compartment with a simple press of the door. No tools, twisting or turning is required to access the compartment. Fluid cartridges easily slide in and slide out, with no need to spend time pouring fluids into the printer.
The Diagraph IJ4000 high resolution inkjet printer features a centralized ink delivery system that provides a single point for fluid monitoring and replenishing. Because the Diagraph IJ4000 can drive up to 4 individual printheads, this centralized ink delivery system approach eliminates the need to monitor ink levels on individual printheads, guaranteeing that ink won’t run out at different times. Refilling the ink delivery system is also a one step process that can be performed while the printer is still running.
Coding equipment that allows for the configuration of operator screens allows manufacturers to put the printer functions most important for day to day operations right at their workers’ fingertips. This simplifies print message selection and allows operators to easily access saved printer configurations when preparing for production changeovers.
Interested in learning more about how upgrading to product coding equipment that is easier to use can save you time and money? Speak with a Diagraph product identification expert today by calling 1.800.722.1125 or contacting us through the website.
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
Seasonal Coding Tips
Many manufacturers in food processing and consumer goods experience seasonal fluctuations in demand. As a result, their production must ramp up and down throughout the course of the year. Should their product require variable coding such as batch codes and date codes, these companies often make use of Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) coding technology.
Companies that need reliability in their product coding both in peak and off peak production often turn to Linx CIJ printers. All Linx CIJ coding solutions feature a hermetically sealed and potted simple design ink jet printhead that cleans itself. Linx customers experience greater uptime as they do not have to align the ink jet or constantly clean their printer for best print quality. Linx CIJ printers are offered in stainless steel IP55 or IP65 rated enclosures suitable for wash-down and dusty environments. Linx also offers a broad range of fluids to ensure quality marks on a variety of substrates.
The following coding tips will help you plan for the challenges of seasonal production:
If product output needs to increase, the production lines may be running at higher, variable speeds. To ensure quality marks it is recommended to provide a speed signal to your CIJ printer. The printer will adjust drop output to match the line speed, keeping the message from stretching out. Line speed measurement is commonly achieved with the addition of an encoder. The encoder mounts to your conveyor and the rotation of the encoder wheel signals the printer as to how fast the production line is moving so that printing output can be adjusted on the fly. In addition to preventing message stretch, the signal will also keep the message from contracting when the production line is moving at a slower rate.
If a customer has standard CIJ printers and finds that its production line speed exceeds the printer’s capability, do not panic. Linx offers software upgrades that customers can install themselves. The software upgrade for a higher performance message type is achieved with a Configuration Code. When entered into the printer higher speed printing is enabled.
When planning increased productivity, don’t forget to take inventory of your coding consumables. Place appropriate orders for ink & solvent and arrange for Preventative Maintenance filter changes based on expected usage.
Linx customers have a great benefit with the automatic print head cleaning feature known as FullFlush™. At the end of printing, simply hit the Stop button. The printer will engage a solenoid to shut off ink to the nozzle and then flush the printhead and its tubing out – through both nozzle and gutter- with solvent. This leaves the printhead clean and dry and ready to start when next needed.
Planning for a few weeks of downtime
If there is no need for CIJ printing for a few weeks, many customers keep the printer in the production area and will start the unit in the morning and turn it off at night once or twice a week. This keeps the fluids from settling within the ink delivery system and ensures a good start up when they need it.
Planning for downtime that extends beyond 6 weeks
If production completely shuts down for an extended period of 6 weeks or more, decommissioning of the CIJ printer should be considered. Decommissioning involves removal of fluids from the printer and a change of filters. This eliminates the concern of solvent evaporation or ink thickening within the ink delivery system while your printer is in storage.
It is clear that cyclical production provides many challenges, but all of these challenges can be addressed head on with the innovations in the Linx CIJ product line.
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.