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
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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.
Step one of a manufacturer’s game plan for packaging compliance is to understand your manufacturing code and print application requirements, in order to pick the product identification solution that is best for your needs.
What kind of information needs to be included in your print message? In many cases, especially in food and beverage, consumer-readable information must be included for buyers to determine freshness. In other instances, government and global regulatory agencies have set the requirements for manufacturers to adhere to. In order to meet packaging compliance, manufacturers may need specific product information, manufacturing codes, and barcode information, including:
Once specific print requirements and message placement are determined, manufacturers should also consider their application specifications. What type of packaging substrate does a manufacturer’s product or products use? What other processes in your material handling are occurring to take into consideration? And what kind of line speeds are they trying to achieve?
It will be important to understand which criteria your application falls under for a marking and coding partner to best match you with a solution that will deliver your desired results.
After determining the print requirements and application specifications, manufacturers can look at the available product identification solutions and select a technology that is right-sized for their material handling set-up.
A full portfolio range of product identification solutions are available to manufacturers including:
The tables below show how each type of product coding technology is suited to fill specific manufacturer print and application requirements.
In order to achieve packaging compliance, it’s necessary to pick the best marking and coding technology for the product in question. By taking the time to understand print message and application requirements, manufacturers can begin to compare compatible product identification methods and equipment.
Picking the best product identification solution is one step in a multi-step process to achieve packaging compliance. After the information has been applied to your product, message validation is the next step.
Ensuring manufacturing codes are printed on products is not enough by itself to achieve packaging compliance. The codes need to be validated to make sure they are present, accurate, and scannable.
There have been many advancements in product identification and machine visioning technology that have enabled manufacturers to automate the monitoring of real-time print quality. Scanners and vision systems are common components added to the production line postprint to inspect and report any illegible codes or incorrect stock.
Manufacturers know their requirements best, and working with a partner that offers a portfolio of all types of product coding technology will give you a fair assessment of the best solution for your needs. It’s also wise to choose someone who can provide support beyond installation for maintenance and servicing as age and wear and tear occur on your equipment. A reliable partner will also provide training for your maintenance staff should you choose to be as self-sufficient as possible.
However, there are still more steps to ensure manufacturers achieve packaging compliance.
Learn more about the other key considerations Diagraph recommends for guaranteeing packaging compliance:
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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