To accommodate the demand of retailers, manufacturers are doing shorter runs of customized products resulting in as many as three product changeovers on each line in a single shift. This often means spending more time changing over the line than running the product, with costs incurring each time your line operators shut down a line and input a new message before starting up production again. Most CIJ systems do not have the ability to store line settings for future use, making it a manual messaging input each time products are changed over. Increasingly important features in a continuous inkjet system are therefore repeatability, ease of operation and minimal touches.
In your evaluation for a CIJ printer that lowers your changeover costs by cutting out the risk of user error and minimizes touches, make it a priority that your printer allows for:
1. Ample storage for production line and messaging settings to avoid manual input for each new message or product being run on a single shift.
2. Meaningful, pre-programed line settings to quickly understand and easily retrieve the right message for the right product every time, no matter who is running the line.
3. Prompted fields that can help guide even workers with minimal training through the message creation and editing process.
Having these features at the top of your list will get you closer to an effortless product changeover process. Wondering what other criteria in your CIJ system you should be looking for? To aide those in the process of investigating CIJ systems, we have rounded up a list of hidden costs associated with total cost of ownership.
The Hidden Costs of Continuous Inkjet Coders Whitepaper
# # #
Companies rely on engineers or technicians to keep production lines up and running. These job functions are essential to hitting production targets, so it is key that their skill level on equipment is proficient. When making the decision to replace this equipment, the amount of time and money that will have to be invested in training your labor is a major deciding factor.
Continuous inkjet (CIJ) technology is most often the technology of choice for manufacturers to apply variable information such as lot, batch and expiration dates on their products. CIJ printers have relatively low capital costs and print in any orientation on most materials at high speeds. It is very common to find one or two CIJ printers on each packaging production line. For these customers, Diagraph offers the Linx model 8900 Series CIJ printers that require minimal need for line operators to learn new procedures when the units are introduced to the production line.
Traditionally, CIJ printers require the attention of skilled labor to keep printers clean (which is critical to operation) or to tweak print quality at the printhead level. The industry-leading 8900 Series designs can be operated and maintained with minimal touches due to the following features:
If you are considering replacing existing CIJ equipment and need it to operate with minimal intervention, the simple operation and maintenance of the Linx 8900 Series printer makes it the right piece of equipment for you. Get our FREE comparison datasheet to understand how the Linx 8900 Series stacks up against competitor CIJ printers.
# # #
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
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
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.