A different laser technology has been getting some new press lately, thanks in part to growth in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) market. Fiber lasers aren’t new, but their application in the consumer packaged goods market has definitely hit a growth spurt. Product packaging is evolving and making use of different materials, like High Density Polyethylene or HDPE which is most desirable for its high-quality presentation, durability, and versatility in handling liquids from automotive oils to shampoo and specialty drinks. It’s no mistake then that the fastest growing laser marking technology is fiber laser which has the ability to mark directly onto HDPE as well as a range of materials not previously well served with CO2 lasers.
What then, are the other key differences between CO2 and fiber lasers?:
Fiber lasers don’t necessarily use more power, but do use power differently. The laser beam produced is in a different part of the light spectrum and is a much tighter beam. This is what allows the laser to mark materials that other lasers can’t, such as HDPE. Or, mark into other materials better such as rubber and metals.
By comparison, fiber laser can be quite small and compact. Instead of a bulky tube of gas, fiber lasers use optical fiber as their lasing medium. The exact science of it can be quite detailed but the bottom line is: these lasers are compact and have a small footprint. This allows for easy and convenient installation to the packaging line.
Like most industrial equipment, fiber lasers do come with their own set of safety requirements which can be managed safely through proper guarding and training.
CO2 Versus Fiber Laser Feature Comparison
Comparison of CO2 and Fiber Laser Marking Materials
The good news in the FMCG packaging and product identification market space is that there are lot of new materials and innovative packaging designs. Even better, Linx Printing Technologies has introduced a fiber laser with easy integration, reliable operation, and the flexibility to deliver high quality codes across the widest range of materials for both static and dynamic applications. This durable product, which includes the IP54 rated marking head, enables the coders to operate in more challenging environments with the fiber laser beam source lasting more than 100,000 hours.
If you have any questions about the benefits of lasers, or specifically about the Linx FSL20 (20W fiber) or FSL50 (50W fiber), 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!
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.
By Steve Liker, Product Manager – Large Character Ink Jet
Ink Jet printing enables variable information to be printed on multiple substrates including uncoated and coated corrugated cartons, gypsum, PVC piping, lumber and other materials. When choosing the ink to jet from your ink jet five criteria should be considered:
1) Substrate Type
The ink ultimately needs to contact the substrate, spread, dry and adhere with acceptable adhesion and durability. The substrate needs to be categorized as “porous” – absorbing the ink, or “non-porous” – ink spreading, but ink sits on the surface of the substrate. Inks printed onto porous substrates dry through absorption into the substrate fibers. Inks printed onto non-porous substrates dry through evaporation. Why not chose non-porous for all applications? Because the evaporative inks tend to require more maintenance than the less evaporative porous inks. Diagraph offers ink jet inks for both porous and non-porous substrates.
2) Dry Time and Adhesion
The choice of inks could be determined by the time period between printing and contacting conveyor rails and rollers or with contacting other cartons or products. Do some investigation taking into consideration conveyor speed and location of objects that may contact the print. For example, a carton is traveling at 100 feet per minute (20 inches per second). A roller is located 60 inches away and contacts the ink jet printed image. Therefore the dry time with acceptable adhesion must be less than 3 seconds to avoid chance of smudging. Diagraph has data on dry times and adhesion or could perform print samples on your substrate and measure the dry time and adhesion to help you chose the right ink.
Will the substrate ultimately be exposed to direct outdoor light or to indoor light? If it will be exposed to outdoor light for days or weeks at a time then “pigmented” inks are recommended. Pigments are particles of colorant in solution. Dyes are liquids in liquids. Particles tend to maintain lightfastness much better than dye colorants. Diagraph offers both dye based and pigment based inks with information available on the ink lightfastness.
Are you planning on printing text or barcodes? Since barcodes will be scanned and measured with a barcode scanner they require finer control over the dot spread than text. Dyes tend to spread more than pigment particles by wicking along the corrugated carton fibers. Therefore, pigmented inks may be your best choice for barcode printing.
You may wish to consider printing with spot colors to readily identify and differentiate your products. That way for example your employees and your customers can learn to identify the carton containing your lime flavored soda from afar by seeing the Green text. Diagraph offers multiple ink colors.
So when deciding on the ink jet inks consider the above criteria. Diagraph’s Customer Service Associates and Applications Engineers are also available to guide you through this ink decision process.
System uptime is the average length of time a piece of equipment runs between interventions are required to keep it operating smoothly. When comparing system uptime when assessing coding equipment, it is important to look at several factors including:
To understand system uptime better, let’s take a closer look at each of these key areas:
Consumable replenishment is the most common and necessary interaction with any given piece of coding equipment. The amount of time a system can go between consumable replenishment, like adding more ink to an inkjet coder, replacing ribbon stock in a thermal transfer printer, or replacing labeling stock on a labeler largely depends on the capacity of the individual piece of coding equipment. There are additional factors to consider when assessing consumable replenishment.
For inkjet coders, it is important to understand how long a printer can run after the bottle or cartridge of ink has run out of fluids. Does the system provide an advanced notice warning giving a countdown to when the coder will be truly empty? Does it provide enough of a warning that allows for fluids to be replenished at ideal production times like before and after shift changes? Can the fluids be replaced while the system is actively coding?
For thermal transfer printers, ribbon capacity as well as total ribbon usage are important to maximizing the length of time between replacing ribbon stock. For ribbon capacity, look at the maximum size of the ribbon roll for your chosen ribbon type. To maximize ribbon usage, look for thermal transfer printers that offer ribbon saving features that utilize as much surface area of the ribbon before advancing it for ribbon waste collection.
Although replenish consumables is unavoidable for the most common types of coding equipment, the very act of replacing or replenishing a bottle of ink or solvent, a roll of ribbon, or a roll of label stock can be made easier and less time consuming for system operators.
Inkjet coders tend to be the easiest type of coding equipment when it comes to consumable replenishment since most inkjet coders can keep running while being refilled. Look for inkjet coders that offer mess free, mistake free refill options like needle and septum systems that prevent leakage and dripping when swapping fluid bottles. This is ideal compared to inkjet coders that require fluid bottles to be manually poured into the system. Another factor to consider is how many touches or actions are required to complete the fluid refill process. Look for systems that provide one-touch fluid refill options as well as variations in shapes and sizes between ink and solvent bottles to simplify the process as much as possible while preventing the wrong fluids from going in the wrong compartments.
Due to the nature of thermal transfer printing, the printer will become temporarily unavailable for coding while ribbon stock needs to be replaced. Look for thermal transfer printers that have an easy-to-web design as well as easy to remove and replace ribbon cassettes. Investing in an additional ribbon cassette that can be loaded and ready to go when ribbon is low minimizes downtime on thermal transfer printers as much as possible.
Like thermal transfer printers, automated labelers also become temporarily available for use when label stock needs to be replaced. Look for an automated labeling system that has an easy label webbing design to make it easy to unload spent stock and load a fresh roll. Manufacturers with high production commands benefit from having alternate labeling machines available. When one machine signals that its label stock is low, the other starts applying labels so that the low system can be replaced. This virtually eliminates downtime with automated labelers.
Although consumable replenishment is required more frequently than maintenance, preventive maintenance procedures take more time to complete and often require the coding equipment to be completely unavailable for printing while being serviced. Not all coding systems are created equal. Service intervals are usually stated in the amount of system hours that can pass before preventive maintenance is required. Things like ink type, manufacturing environment, and overall wear and tear caused by the application can impact recommended system intervals.
For inkjet coders, look for systems that can run as long as a year or more before maintenance is required. Better yet, look for systems that provide advanced warnings about upcoming maintenance so that you can schedule interventions around your production schedule. Another factor to consider is how easy or complicated it is to perform maintenance. Look for systems that have self-contained service modules that can be easily swapped out without the need for a service engineer. Systems that have screen-guided instructions for service interventions tend to be the easiest to use.
For thermal transfer printers, take a look at preventive maintenance requirements that are recommended by the manufacturer. How many parts require replacement? How long does the manufacturer state it will take to perform maintenance? How easy is it to access parts that need to be replaced? These are all important questions to ask when evaluating thermal transfer printers.
When it comes to automated labeling systems, all-electric systems allow you to replace wear parts while relying on pre-programmed settings to get the labeler operating as quickly as possible. Pneumatically operated labeling systems require extensive adjustments after replacing wear parts, making maintenance interventions anything but fast. Also look for labeling systems that offer screen-guided instructions for quick and simple service interventions. Another advantage of all-electric labeling systems over pneumatic is that electric options allow for a gentler application of the label to the substrate. This cuts down on overall wear and tear, allowing the system to go for longer between maintenance intervals.
If you have any questions about how to calculate the uptime of your current coding equipment compared to new coding equipment technology, we are here to help. Contact a Diagraph product identification expert today by calling 1.800.722.1125 or contacting us through our website.
Shopping for a new case coder? Three factors to consider other than price…
Determining case coding costs is more involved than simply locating the sticker price. As it is, we are all prone to compare purchase prices and lean towards the least expensive model. However, when shopping for any case coding ink jet printer, there are three main factors you want to keep in mind.
We have all heard the saying “You get what you pay for,” and this rings especially true with ink jet printers. While they are all created to perform the same purpose, the differences can be seen in how they drive, reliability and longevity. Which makes you have to decide, do you want to pay more now for a higher quality machine, or pay later for costly repairs and downtime with a lesser machine?
Downtime & Maintenance Costs:
10 minutes to start up your printer each morning may seem like a brief time, but when you think about it, that is almost one hour per workweek. One hour per week that your production line is not running, and one hour per week of unnecessary labor costs. This adds up to be a significant amount of money very quickly.
Do not forget to account for routine maintenance. Do you have to shut down the production line in order to add solvents and inks? Or can these be added as needed without any disruption? Less downtime equals more production, which leads to a larger profit.
The last thing you need to take into consideration when purchasing your next printer is the cost of consumables such as inks, solvents and replacement parts. Think not only in terms of the price, but the frequency at which they need to be replaced.
Even though there may be a difference in sticker price initially, the total cost of ownership is what you should take into consideration. For a complete cost analysis on your next printer, contact us here.
6 Factors to Consider when Choosing a Coding Solution for the Meat Processing Industry
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.