A look at how power efficiency impacts total cost of ownership in automated labeling systems
By Steve Dods, Automated Labeling Products (ALP) and Thermal Transfer Overprinter (TTO) Products Manager
We didn’t give much thought to the price of gasoline until it reached over $2 dollars a gallon, now we watch the price per gallon daily. The same theory holds true in regards to the power it takes to run equipment on our plant floor, until now. Take heed, power efficiency can save more than just a few pennies! Not all Label Applicators are created equal and the savings when operating a power efficient unit adds up.
True cost of ownership includes the replacement items, maintenance, downtime, and consumables that the project will use to perform the intended job. It also includes the power to run the system, which is usually thought of as “pennies to operate”. The real cost of power adds up quickly, and even though air is free, compressed air is not.
The cost of power as it relates to the national average cost of electricity is around $0.10 per Kilowatt Hour (2008, US Government, Energy Information Administration). The typical cost for generating compressed air is approximately $0.25 per cubic foot/minute and only represents the energy it takes to run a compressor, not the other factors such as maintenance and alike. Using this information, the annual cost to run the equipment can be calculated and compared.
Generally, label applicators are wipe-on units. Looking at various manufacturers, there is a difference in power consumption that is largely based on the technology used. A brushless DC motor is far more efficient than a comparable stepper motor-based unit. There is over $500 of savings to be had annually when comparing the annual cost of running a motor with a power requirement of 1.5A@115VAC versus 5A@115VAC or above.
Most printer applicator systems are “tamp” or “air-tamp” and require compressed air. The label dispenses from the printer off the label carrier and is positioned onto a vacuumed surface that holds the label in place until it is applied to the substrate. Making efficient use of the vacuum bore size of the cylinder, and using a higher quality of pneumatic components, some manufacturers are able to use less CFM than most others. An average cost savings of over $600 was confirmed when comparing printer applicators using 2.5 CFM verses 5 CFM.
Looking at the cost of ownership in terms of power reveals that pennies do add up, and the manufacturer using a brushless DC motor offers its customers continued savings throughout the life of the unit. For more information on power efficiency and Automated Labeling Products visit www.diagraph.com or call 1-800-722-1125.
View The complete line of Diagraph Label Applicators
By Eric Janes, Laser Product Manager
We all know that bigger is better and we all want more. It’s what we do, right? If 10 of something is good, then getting 20 of it is great, and 30 of it is fantastic! Well that is up until we have to pay for it anyway. When cost becomes the focus of our attention, it’s safe to say that less is more. Regardless of what we are buying, we need to look at what we need, and this tampers down all the enthusiasm for bigger is better. A Bugatti Veyron could get me to the office faster than almost any other car on the road, but with a growing family that spends its time in the Suburbs and semi-rural areas, a minivan with a bunch of cup holders ranks higher on the “needs” list.
With laser coding we should take needs into consideration in each application, and power may or may not factor into it. Yes, lasers can really power up if you want to go looking for power. While much of the technology has consolidated, choices in power ratings seem to keep increasing. In some respects it’s almost as if there is a nuclear arms race in laser power rating. Sure you have 10 watt lasers in your widget plant, but the guy on the other side of the business park just got 50 watt lasers on his bottling lines. You might be missing something, and need to upgrade, right?
Probably not, and here are some straight forward concepts to keep in mind with laser coding and power ratings. First, you are going to pay for power. No if and or buts about it, regardless of laser type, as the power rating goes up, so will your cost of equipment. Economically, it’s in your interest to get the lowest power laser possible.
Second, what power really gets you is speed on production lines. Often power is thought of as “burning harder” into materials and while there is truth to that, the reason we burn harder is most likely to keep up with production rates. Low power lasers can mark most product and packaging materials…if we give them enough time. We are talking seconds for some materials, whereas for many coding operations a typical message might code in the range of 100 milliseconds, or even less for high speed lines.
So the bottom line becomes, what material are we marking and how fast is it moving through production? When we dial in on these factors with testing and sample codes, we can narrow it down to the lowest power option. This will help make the project justification and keep your line operators from slicing open the new plastic bottles on your brand new conveyors.
If you are near the top of the chosen lasers output, there is a question left to ask and it might make the case for tweaking up the power. So, what does your crystal ball say? If your line speeds and production might increase, or your materials might change, a power upgrade might be sensible. Typically, lasers last a long time without much intervention. So while some coding technology can get cycled on a regular basis, you want to plan ahead with lasers.
At Diagraph Marking & Coding, we’ve got the people and experience to work with you, in your plant and with your crystal ball, to work out the best, but not necessarily the biggest, solution. We’ll focus on coding for cost, letting you manage your business.
Simple enough…I just want to mark the outside of my box. Looking for marking and coding equipment for a production line and haven’t a clue where to start? Now, ask yourself, where do I start, and the search begins.
A big mistake most Original Equipment Manufactures (OEM) make is that they assume the customer/buyer looking to purchase equipment: know the industry, know the technical jargon and acronyms, and know what their options are. We can’t clarify every equipment dilemma; however we can simplify the process when it comes to large character marking and coding solutions.
Let’s start with the basics, what’s being printed, marked or coded and what’s it being printed on? Large Character Printing is defined by character heights typically falling between ¼” to 4”. There are basically two large character ink jet technologies; Integrated Valve (I.V.), also known as Drop on Demand (DOD) and Impulse Jet (I.J.), also known as Piezoelectric High Resolution or Trident technology. The industrial marking and coding industry uses the term “inkjet technology” as a description when one deposits ink directly on substrates.
Companies with production lines and a high volume of product moving through it will find their marking and coding solution in Integrated Valve (I.V.) series of print heads. Integrated Valve (I.V.) is a low resolution technology that precisely controls ink flow via powerful solenoids to a print head that perfectly forms ink drops, resulting in sharp, clean characters ranging from ½” to 2” in height. Marking at a print speed of over 650 feet per minute most manufacturing environments find that the I.V. system exceeds their minimum speed requirements.
Integrated Valve is ideal for printing text, auto codes (such as product counts, time and date stamps) product identification and simple graphics onto porous (absorbent) and non-porous products as they travel by conveyor past stationary print heads. Some companies place multiple print systems throughout their production facility, marking on the product itself and/or the package it is shipped in.
There are several major advantages with the Integrated Valve print head. Where print mobility is an issue the Integrated Valve print head offers 360 degree orientation, allowing for coding on the top, side and bottom of most substrates. Another advantage with the I.V. print head is the throw distance. Depending on the substrate (what its printing on) the distance away from what is being coded may be limited by size. With the Integrated Valve print head the throw distance is up to ½” accommodating even the bulkiest of product.
Integrated Valve print heads are designed for high-speed printing applications in harsh environments using porous and non-porous inks. Created for the hashes environment, look for an I.V. print head that has an anodized enclosure which is environmentally sealed and a strong stainless steel front plate.
Whereas Integrated Valve is perfect for printing, boxes, containers, and tray packs, it lacks the defined print quality necessary for bar codes and high resolution graphics. When looking for print speed and marking for identification purposes Integrated Valve (I.V.) is the ticket. For high resolution printing, Impulse Jet technology is the way to go.
So how does Integrated Valve work in laymen’s terms? Dots. Yes, a bunch of dots formed together perfectly to create a code that is marked onto your product.
Not all marking and coding applications are alike. High resolution bar codes and company graphics often demand a more precise print quality. Companies looking for an all encompassed print solution that delivers their marking and coding requirements will find Impulse Jet technology their best bet. The Impulse Jet print head delivers the capability of printing high resolution bar codes, product identification, nutritional statements, descriptions, lot codes, and company logos. Impulse Jet technology supplies a voltage pulse to ink via piezoelectric crystals. Combining the voltage pulse with pressure the ink then flows to the print engine and into minuet holes which in turn produces small ink drops that form a code and is marked onto the product. The ink drops appear continuous and smooth with almost no imperfections which make it perfect for graphics. The result is a high resolution image that prints onto a porous surface.
Impulse Jet print head options offer print height ranging from ¾” to 4” from a single print head and is often used in applications where more than one print head is utilized to create multiple messages on the same substrate. Don’t let the definition “large character” classification of the Impulse Jet print solution mislead you. Impulse Jet technology is capable of printing fine print nutritional fact statements and we know how small that print can be. As long as the graphic image does not exceed 4” the details of the image can be very defined.
Whereas the Impulse head provides high resolution print quality, it will not deliver the same print speed as its large character counter part, Integrated Valve. Impulse Jet print heads however will run at over 200 feet per minute and taking into consideration the quality of the print, that’s not too bad. The throw distance is another variance between the two technologies. Due to the definition in print quality the Impulse jet delivers, the head can be no further away then ¼” from the substrate being printed.
A direct cost savings is associated with the Impulse Jet print system. Cost savings can be found in the reduction of pre-printed inventory and shipping cartons. Imagine printing custom shipping cartons just in time, rather then taking up premium warehouse space.
Another key feature to look for when choosing an Impulse Jet print head is an Automatic Cleaning System (ACS). Because of the smaller size of the ink nozzles, keeping them free of dust and debris is important. ACS removes dirt and debris from the face plate offering the added benefit of low maintenance and again saving the company time and money. Look for an ACS feature that allows manual initiation by pushing the purge button or better yet one that can be programmed to run at specified times.
It is more the rule than not that a company will need to mark their products with various style, size and definition and therefore dual technology (using more than one type of print head) is necessary. Look for a manufacturer of marking and coding equipment that has designed an operating system that seamlessly integrates most print head technologies for your solution. This should be a common practice throughout the print industry however it proves to the contrary.
The easiest way to remember what print technology you need for printing onto a box is: when looking for print speed and marking for identification purposes Integrated Valve (I.V.) will be the right choice for you. For high resolution printing, Impulse Jet technology will give you superior graphic perfection. For more information on the print head technology visit www.diagraph.com or call 1-800-526-2531.
Learn More About Large Character Ink Jet
Seasonal Coding Tips
By Chris Pangallo, Product Manager – Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) and Laser
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.
When looking at purchasing small character continuous ink jet coding equipment, it’s important to take a step back and look at the total cost of ownership. As consumers, we have fallen into the habit of looking at the sticker price, no matter if it’s a car, dishwasher, or ink jet printer and immediately formulating an opinion based on the price tag. “It’s too expensive” or “it costs more than other ones just like it” might be typical reactions when finding something that looks like it’s priced higher than similar looking, competitive models. And it’s easy to understand why we do that…and we ALL do that. Typically, it’s a large purchase. Or in the case of buying something for business, it’s a capital expenditure, and the purchase needs to be justified. However, if you want to find the true cost of what you’ll spend, you have to look at more than just the initial purchase price, or “perceived price” of any item…you’ll need to look at the total cost of ownership. Doing a proper cost analysis may take a little time and effort, but it’s time well spent. It can save you in both dollars and “sense” later on.
With the purchase of a small character continuous ink jet (CIJ) printer, there are three main areas when considering the total cost:
1. Purchase Price 2. Maintenance & Production Downtime Costs 3. Consumables & Parts Costs
Again, the first and most obvious indicator of pricing comes from the purchase price of the item. And there’s a pretty healthy range of pricing and options when it comes to CIJ printers. Make sure you are comparing equivalent features and options when looking at printers head to head. And if CIJ printers are designed to print, whether it be alphanumerics; date codes; batch codes; lot codes; bar codes; graphics or logos, what makes one different from the other? They all still print the code, right?
The old adage, “you usually get what you pay for” greatly comes into play with CIJ printers, just like it does with automobiles. The similarities are uncanny. Every automobile, when it came off the showroom floor, was designed with at least one commonality in mind: to get you from point A to point B. But think about the vehicles you’ve owned. Hasn’t there been one that drove better, last longer, provided more reliability than others that you’ve had? It’s the same with CIJ printers. They’re all designed to come off the showroom floor, or in this case out of the box, and “drive” or print. However, just like your favorite vehicle, there is a difference from one CIJ to the next, on how it drives, how long it lasts, how reliable it is over time. And in the end, just like an automobile, you usually get what you pay for. In a sense, you can “pay now or pay later”. (“Pay now” meaning the initial cost may seem more expensive, but over time will be minimized by less maintenance, less downtime, less headaches. Or “pay later” meaning a lower cost initially, but over time more expense through frequent maintenance, more downtime, more headaches.
After purchase price, we need to look at an area that may be thought about the least, but arguably should be considered the most. It’s the categories that we don’t automatically think about when we think about “price”, but these are a very important part of the equation when adding up to the total cost of ownership.
Some important questions to ask while comparing CIJ printers:
Do you see the reoccurring theme? Let’s face it, time is money. And the time that your production line is not running is costing your company money. Ask any Maintenance Manager who oversees a CIJ printer on the production line about their joys or pains. Depending on the CIJ printer, you’ll either hear “I press the go button in the morning for start-up, I press the red button in the afternoon for go home, and the time in-between I have no problems.” Or you’ll hear responses like, “my CIJ printer takes forever to start-up, I have to clean the printhead daily, I have to manually make adjustments to the printhead, it’s a mess.” So one of the factors that needs to be added in to the total cost of ownership is time. How long does the printer take to get up and running? What’s involved? How much time is spent daily on maintaining the printer, or more specifically, the printhead? Are manual adjustments to the printhead needed in order to maintain print quality throughout the day?
Is the printhead your friend or foe? For example, if daily printer startups takes 10 minutes every day x 7 days week x 52 weeks/year, that’s an average of over 60 hours spent just on getting the CIJ printer to print! How much is your time worth per hour? Do the math. How important is it to have a CIJ printer that does not require daily printhead cleaning nor any manual adjustments made to the printhead? How much time could that save? How much money could that save! That too is part of the cost of ownership that needs to be factored in.
While not all CIJ printers require factory air, many today do. So another cost as part of your analysis is factory air. How often does the air filter need to be replaced? What is the cost of the air itself? $400/year? And what about portability or rather mobility. Some manufacturers like to have one printer to move to multiple production lines at different times of the day. If so, how easy is it to move the CIJ printer if there is an airline connected to it? Will I need an airline added in another location? If you’re comparing a CIJ printer that does use factory air vs. one that does not, make sure to take those items into consideration as well. They too are part of your cost.
Also, and without getting into the details, it is important to know how frequently your CIJ printer will require scheduled maintenance. You’ll want to understand from your CIJ vendor what is recommended by the manufacturer and factor that into your cost.
Make sure that you are comparing apples to apples when it comes to consumables. Ink consumption will be based on the volume used to mark your product. Solvent consumption has many variables based on ambient temperature and fluids management (i.e. are you wasting solvent on printhead cleaning, are you needing to refresh systems with new solvent when you haven’t finished your old solvent yet). Figuring how much ink and solvent your CIJ printer requires to put your mark on your product is part of the cost analysis. Also, in terms of purchasing fluids, make sure that you are comparing the volume of fluids per case. Some vendors will package and sell 6 bottles to a case; others will be 10 bottles to a case, so make certain you are looking at the total volume when looking at cost per case on consumables.
Replacement parts should be purchased from a manufacturer-approved source. Discount replacement parts (i.e. from a third party) may prove to be more costly due to increased maintenance & service costs.
So that’s basically it. The key to determining the total cost of ownership is to look at the total picture. And if you’re working with a reputable vendor of CIJ printers, they’ll alert you to this and even aid in figuring your total cost. The main thing to remember is that a CIJ printer with a higher purchase price does not make it a more expensive printer. In fact, it will probably save you money because of its quality, reliability, and longevity.
At the end of the day, what you’re really buying is value and peace of mind. If you have to continually stop your production line to babysit the CIJ printer because it’s time to add fluids, tweak the printhead, etc. on a printer that you saved a few thousand dollars on, you’re not saving money. With CIJ printers, you really do get what you pay for. Remember, it’s about dollars and “sense”.
And just like automobiles, you should be able to do a “test drive” of the CIJ printers before you purchase. A quality vendor will access your application needs, make a recommendation based on best-fit technology and provide you with a free, no-obligation demonstration of the CIJ printer on your production line. If they can’t or won’t do that, look elsewhere.
There is a great debate in the packaging technology industry around the core driver of automated labeling equipment. Which is a superior labeling power source — pneumatic air or electric? Pneumatic labeling systems are built around timing-based commands that drive label movements based on the reliability of the pneumatic air supply, while all-electric labeling systems are built around real time data-based commands that allow for total control of the labeling process.
The difference between the two approaches is night and day — like the difference between VHS and high-resolution digital streaming technology. The more that manufacturers understand the advantages of all-electric labeling, the more pneumatic systems will go the way of VHS tapes and rotary phones.
Every labeling system, regardless of core technology, can incorporate sensors for feedback. Recall the times you have seen a product strike a pneumatic labeler’s actuator arm while moving down the packaging line. This happens all too often with pneumatic labelers because the control of the label feed and actuator arm is not reacting to real-time feedback from sensors, it is following pre-programmed timing commands and relying on the programmed settings for the pneumatic air supply (regardless of the actual pressure in real-time).
Free from the timing control constraints found in pneumatic air powered machines, Diagraph’s all-electric labeling systems can interpret feedback from smart sensors in real-time to allow for total control of the label throughout transit. Combining strategically placed sensors with brushless DC servomotors allows Diagraph’s labeling systems to operate with extreme precision, guaranteeing one-to-one label-to-product matching time after time. The all-electric, servo-driven actuator maintains speed consistency, while “smart” sensors confirm that a label is present for application and even provide the ability to control impact on the product being labeled. The system doesn’t have to rely on inconsistent air pressure to manage this process.
Another advantage of the all-electric method over the pneumatic air method centers around the tamp pad. Pneumatic driven label applicators utilize venturi vacuum technology to control the transit of the label from the tamp pad to the product. Nearly the entire surface of a pneumatic machine’s tamp pad needs to be covered by the label to maintain proper suction. Unlike pneumatic machines, Diagraph’s all-electric label applicators utilize an electric fan to create vacuum, allowing Diagraph labelers to accommodate multiple label sizes utilizing a single tamp pad. This saves time during label size changeovers as well as money.
With more than 120 years in the marking and coding industry, Diagraph has a rich history of providing highly durable and reliable labeling and inkjet solutions. Diagraph was the first to offer all-electric labeling solutions to handle all modes of label application including tamp, swing and tamp-blow. The result is a robust lineup of automated labeling solutions that offer benefits only found in all-electric systems that don’t compromise on labels sizes or performance.