Many marking and coding equipment sellers espouse the virtues of thermal transfer overprinters (TTO) over the capabilities of hot stamp coders. As a manufacturer of both thermal transfer and hot stamp technologies, we are here to tell you that there is room for both. The truth is that each technology excels for very different reasons.
Hot stamp printers consistently provide quality prints at very high speeds. These machines are nearly all mechanical, making service and maintenance easy and straightforward. It is very hard to break a hot stamp machine and even harder to run out of options when it comes to fixing it. Because hot stamp printers require manual adjustments in order to change print codes, they are more ideal for applications with only occasional changes to the print message. These machines tend to be low cost and more durable than TTO.
Don’t be fooled by sellers who try to tell you that hot stamps have drastically lower ribbon capacities. We have seen hot stamp ribbon capacities reported as low as 300’, yet our bestselling hot stamp – the Norwood K Series – accommodates rolls as large as 1500’. Unlike TTO technology, hot stamps perform well in both hard and flexible materials. Many of our hot stamp customers specifically choose hot stamp technology for the indelible, engraved mark it leaves behind on rigid and semi-rigid products and materials which serves as a second quality check. TTO isn’t compatible with rigid and semi-rigid substrates.
When it comes to printing graphics, linear and 2D barcodes and a variety of fonts onto flexible plastic, foil and paper labels, it is hard to beat the versatility of thermal transfer printers (TTO). These digitally driven print message machines can accommodate even the most complex of print messages. Our TTO technology features ribbon feed control capabilities and can accommodate both continuous and intermittent printing applications. TTO also provides more versatility in terms of the scalability of its print area. Our NGT TTO line up offers print areas as large as 8”x3.9” when used in intermittent mode or 8”x39” when operating in continuous mode.
Although TTO offers greater flexibility in terms of print areas and message creation, it does have its draw backs. Having fewer mechanical parts and more electronic components means that you will be replacing more parts over time rather than repairing them. Of course you have to weigh the bad aspects with the good. If you have a lot of short runs with frequent product and message changes, TTO is likely the best technology for you.
If you have any questions regarding hot stamp or TTO, feel free to reach out to one of our marking and coding experts here at Diagraph. We are happy to walk you through the best options to meet your specific application needs. Call 1-800-722-1125 to speak with an expert today!
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.
Thermal Transfer Printhead Technologies in Print and Apply Labeling
By Steve Dods, Automated Labeling Products (ALP) and Thermal Transfer Overprinter (TTO) Products Manager
There are two common types of thermal transfer (TT) printheads in industrial print and apply labeling systems. One version is the Flat Head TT type, which has a relatively parallel contact between the heating elements of the printhead and the ribbon/label. The other is a Near-Edge TT type, which angles the head up to 45 degrees. There are advantages and disadvantages to these two types of technologies, which is why both existing in industrial printing.
OEM industrial print engines, such as SATO and Zebra
Labeling system manufacturer's proprietary printer (VideoJet) and TTO (Thermal Transfer Overprinters)
Typically 5 million lineal inches, with proper cleaning and care
Typically 2.5 million lineal inches, with proper cleaning and care
Price (4" wide)
Around $450 to $700
Around $1000 to $1300
Up to 16 inches per second
Up to 19.7 inches per second
Consumable Cost (600m Ribbon)
$15 to $20 per roll,
Wax, Wax Resin, or Resin
$23 to $30 per roll,
Wax Resin or Resin only
Head mount adjustments required
Less or no adjustment required
Near edge TT print heads are optimal for high-speed printing on surfaces that may have some variances, like film webs. They are mainly seen in these applications, where the alternative technology is ink jet or laser. Flat head technology is ideal for longer life, lower consumable cost, and lower overall replacement cost. As with most competing technologies, it comes down to the application requirements. For print and apply applications, the reliable and less expensive selection has been the venerable Flat Head TT print head.
For more information on print and apply applications click here. Or contact us at 800.722.1125.
By Jen Arnold, Hot Stamp Account Manager
Hot stamp machines or imprinters, often referred to as hot foil coders, utilize simple and reliable mechanical technology. It is a process in which heated type is pressed firmly against the item you are printing with a ribbon/foil between. The ribbon/foil transfers pigment from a polyester carrier onto the product. It can produce a high quality, permanent smudge-resistant mark. Hot stamp machines are typically used to mark non-variable codes such as date codes, lot numbers, expiration dates and product codes on labels or packaging.
Hot stamp coders feature engraved or cast type characters, dies or wheel numbering units – typically made out of metal or silicone. To change the code, the machine operator must manually change the type characters or slugs. This is a relatively easy task and can be easily achieved with basic training.
To make the mark, the block of characters/logo is heated and then stamped down by means of pneumatic air pressure. The raised surface of the characters makes contact with the pigmented foil/ribbon, pressing it onto the surface of the substrate. The result is a clean code.
This technology is considered extremely durable and reliable. Blocks of characters can last for tens of thousands of impressions over the course of many years. Hot stamp machines offer a clean and simple coding solution; the technology is widely used throughout the food and pharmaceutical industry. Hot stamp coders are also ideal for dusty and sticky manufacturing environments which are considered challenging for delicate non-contact inkjet coders.
Hot stamping machines also integrate nicely with reel fed labeling or packaging machines.
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
Common GS1 Barcodes Pictured Above. The following can be printed by Print and Apply Labeling and most High-Resolution Inkjet Technologies:
Barcodes: UPC-A, EAN-13, UPC-E, EAN-8, GS1 DataMatrix, GS1 QR Code, GS1-128, ITF-14
GTIN Types: GTIN-8, GTIN-12, GTIN-13, GTIN-14
Many major retailers and distribution centers require manufacturers to display important information on all four sides of cartons and cases that are intended for backroom storage purposes. This offers retailers ultimate flexibility for their inventory management programs.
The following information is important to effectively manage inventory:
Having this information visible on your box is usually not enough. Manufacturers need to ensure that this important information is large enough and clear enough to read from a distance.
4-Side Print Solutions
Unfortunately, there are not any one-size-fits-all solutions to accomplish four-sided printing on cartons. Flexographic and lithographic pre-printed boxes are not practical for the important variable information needed with every shipment (i.e., best by date and lot/batch code). Manufacturers can turn to a combination of pre-printed information and print-on-demand information if flexographic elements are required. However, complete print-on-demand solutions offer manufacturers the greatest flexibility in terms of cost and supplies.
Print and Apply Labeling 4-Side Print Solutions
Because manufacturers have more options when choosing to use a labeling solution for their four-sided print requirements, the best solution for your particular operation depends largely on the speed of your line and your product throughput. The most efficient option in terms of the equipment required would be to opt for two opposing E-FASA (swing arm) print and apply labeling machines. One machine would apply the label to the front and the side of the box while the other would apply to the opposite side and the rear panel. This solution does not require a bump turn material handling mechanism.
The Diagraph PA/6000 with E-FASA tamp applicator module offers the greatest flexibility for manufacturers. The all-electric design frees the labeler from shop air, allowing it to be placed anywhere on the packaging line. Additionally, the servo motor and smart sensing technology unique to the PA/6000 system ensure that labels are precisely placed on time, every time.
If retailers and distribution centers require flexographic and lithographic printed barcodes, you can more easily manage pre-printed label stock than a large pre-printed box inventory. Utilize flexographic printed labels for all information that will remain the same and utilize the labeler’s printing capability to print the important variable information on demand. With that being stated, it is important to point out that printing barcodes using a wax-resin ribbon and a thermal print head onto consistent label stock is a highly reliable print method. The recommendation to get pre-printed label stock depends entirely on retailer requirements, but is not necessary if you want the print and apply labeler to handle your entire print message – including the barcodes.
Large Character Inkjet 4-Side Print Solutions
Many manufacturers can get away with only displaying information on one or two sides of a case. To accomplish print on two opposing sides, manufacturers need inkjet printers installed on opposite sides of the packaging line. At Diagraph, our high resolution large character inkjet system – Diagraph IJ4000 – can drive printheads on opposing sides of a single line from a single system. The unique centralized ink delivery system in the Diagraph IJ4000 allows floor operators to monitor and change fluids from a single location rather than having to monitor each individual print head.
Additional material handling is required when setting up your packaging line for four-sided printing. A “bump turn” material handling method is required to rotate the box 90° to present the remaining two panels for printing. Two additional opposing printheads need to be installed further down the line, positioned after the bump turn mechanism, to print on the remaining panels. Four-sided box printing can easily be accomplished using the Diagraph IJ4000 once the bump turn mechanism is in place on the packaging line. A single IJ4000 system can drive all four required printheads from a single system, allowing up to a 2” print height for the printed information.
Printing variable information using a Diagraph IJ384e printhead offering a maximum of 2” characters satisfies size requirements for most retailers. If larger characters or a larger print area is desired, manufacturers can opt for the Diagraph IJ768e printhead, which offers up to 4” of print height. A single Diagraph IJ4000 system can drive two IJ768e printheads, which means two systems would be required for a four-sided printing application. Many of our customers opt for the IJ768e 4” printhead to take advantage of the larger print area and future-proof for expanding retailer requirements.
The Diagraph IJ4000 system prints high resolution text, graphics and machine readable barcodes, including GTIN, ITF and GS1 varieties.
Additional Quality Assurance Measures
Both high resolution inkjet and print and apply labeling technologies can print machine readable barcodes with high quality resolution. Many of our customers install a fixed mount barcode imager to test the barcode quality. This information is sent to a PLC which reads the good or bad output from the barcode imager and stops the conveyor when a barcode gives a bad result. This extra quality measure ensures that only readable barcodes reach retailers.
Material Handling Solutions Provided by Diagraph
At Diagraph, we have customers large and small who have varying degrees of internal resources and packaging line expertise. We offer project management services for manufacturers who choose a Diagraph solution and need to outsource the material handling changes to their lines. Our dedicated engineers work closely with manufacturers to design a material handling solution that will meet their unique application need.
Still have questions about printing variable information on all four sides of a box? Contact us today to learn more about your options: Call 1-800-722-1125 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diagraph, a leading supplier of marking, ink jet coding and ink jet labeling systems, was proposing a labeling solution for one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies. The specifications requested a ink jet label printing solution with the following features:
The end user requested a robust and easy-to-use application that automatically calculates the ‘Ship To’ and expiration dates based on the actual date when the label was printed.
Diagraph recommended a NiceForm application that combines date addition functions with an easy database lookup and data selection function. “NiceForm provided the custom front end functionality without custom software,” said Charles Shepherd, Regional Market Director of Diagraph.
The NiceForm application is a front-end data entry interface that increases data entry while minimizing entry errors for operators. In this application, NiceForm prints a label that includes object fields, variables and date functions that address the specifications above required by the end user.
In addition, NiceForm provides a front-end data entry interface with easy database lookup and data selection tools such as Combo Boxes and List Boxes. All these tools help to minimize data entry errors and enhance fast and efficient ink jet label printing.
Niceware assisted the reseller with the label and form development. The technical support staff used the NiceLabel Webinar online training tool to walk the reseller through the steps of creating a function on a label. Within a day, the reseller learned how to create the application using both NiceLabel Pro and NiceForm. “NiceLabel offered all the tools needed to create such a demanding label printing application,” said Charles Shepherd, Regional Market Director of Diagraph. “NiceForm was easy to set up and required very little training for the customer to use. Niceware’s excellent Technical Support and quality Customer Services were additional strong reasons we made NiceLabel our first choice in labeling software.”
More information on industrial ink jet priting software