With food firms facing increasingly stringent regulations, complex packaging technology, broader product assortments, and other challenges, coding and marking equipment is evolving to keep up, delivering speed and accurate performance.
Matt Perkins, vertical marketing manager for Videojet Technologies, spoke with FoodProductionDaily about the pressure placed on food firms and packaging operations, and how high-tech coding and marking equipment can help such companies rise to the challenge.
How are the coding and marking needs of people in the food processing and packaging arena changing?
The coding and marking needs of people in the food processing and packaging industries are constantly evolving. The code content, regulations, environmental conditions of the plant, packaging types and substrates, and packaging machine types and their speeds are just some of the factors than can dictate the type of coding solution that is best suited for a particular customer.
In addition, for some applications, there are multiple coding technologies to choose from. When that happens, it comes down to the company’s preference, which we have also seen change over time. For instance, some customers prefer laser over ink jet and vice versa.
As each one of these changes (and they do all of the time), so do the coding and marking needs of the people in this industry.
What are some of the biggest challenges food operations are facing in coding and marking, and tracking and tracing their goods?
One of the biggest challenges is more stringent regulation. These regulations can require a number of different solutions from more content in the code to advanced track and trace solutions; companies may have to upgrade their current solution to meet the new regulations.
Food operations are also managing more complexity; there are more products to manage, more packaging types and substrates, and more codes to manage. Companies require solutions that allow them to changeover lines quickly including making code changes.
Additionally, more code changes can lead to more coding errors.
Packaging and production lines are getting faster every day. Some of the older coding and marking solutions are not able to code at high speeds and still keep up with the demands of new coding requirements.
What are some of the most common concerns food pros approach your firm with?
Companies are looking for solutions that help them maximize their efficiency and productivity. Since the cost of a printer is a fraction of the investment in the overall packaging line, companies need solutions that help keep their lines running.
Companies also need products that are simple to use. When you consider multiple shift operations, a large number of employees, and turnover, so many people have to interact with the printer each day; therefore, it is imperative for solutions to be easy to master so that the companies can spend more time focusing on the most critical aspects of their jobs.
Finally, I have commonly heard about our clients’ concerns for coding errors. With an increasing number of codes to manage, codes that are very similar to each other, and a risk of allergens, coding errors are a problem for these companies and have a real cost.
We have carried out our own research on Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) manufacturers, which includes food packaging and processing, and have seen that up to 70 percent of coding errors are caused by humans. The most common mistakes are incorrect data entry and job selection. Companies are looking for solutions that address this problem directly.
How can Videojet ensure operations meet their coding and marking needs?
We have engineered a number of innovations to help these companies keep their lines running and help enable them to maximize line efficiency and productivity. For example, the CleanFlow printhead on our 1000 line of continuous ink jet products reduces frequency of printhead cleanings, helping to maximize uptime; also, our patented clutchless ribbon drive in our Thermal Transfer Overprinting (TTO) products minimizes maintenance-related downtime and maximizes ribbon efficiency.
We have also designed our products to be intuitive and make operation quick, simple and virtually error-proof. This makes it extremely easy for anyone to learn and operate our printers.
In addition, these companies don’t want to spend a lot of time learning to use each of our technologies. Therefore, we’ve provided a common CLARiTY interface on our latest generation of printers to minimize the amount of time it takes to train customers on each technology.
We have also developed a comprehensive approach to preventing or eliminating errors in the coding and marking process called Code Assurance which is available on all of our flagship printers. A Human Machine Interface (HMI) – including both hardware and software components – can and should be designed to simplify data entry and help prevent operator errors, during code entry and job selection.
By redesigning the structural flow of coding processes, it is possible to minimize operator interaction therefore reducing the risk of errors to the point where getting the right code on the right product becomes the norm.
The Code Assurance methodology relies on four basic principles which are integral to avoiding packaging errors. First, we recommend that manufacturers simplify message selection, so the operator selects the right message for the right job.
Secondly, operator input should be restricted to the absolutely essential points of contact only. Thirdly, we advocate automating messages as much as possible, with pre-defined rules, to help prevent incorrect entries.
Finally, manufacturers should use authoritative data sources – such as Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or, other enterprise IT systems – so that the appropriate information is automatically sent to the correct printer for a new job.
What might be coming down the road for coding and marking technology?
Right now we are seeing a lot of the same trends that we have seen in the past—some specific food processing industries are facing new regulations. We are seeing a lot of environmentally friendly packaging materials and new packaging types as well as new designs that appeal more to consumers; all of these things coming down the road and more have an effect on the best coding solution.
In order to stay on top of these trends, we spend a lot of time in the field researching and talking to experts across the entire value chain from suppliers to consumers to regulatory agencies. This way we can help our clients with solutions to solve the challenges that lie ahead.
What are some common mistakes people make in implementing and operating coding and marking systems?
Coding errors are common mistakes; another mistake that people commonly make is that there is more the finding the right solution than picking the right printer. For instance, not all supplies are created equal including inks or ribbons for Thermal Transfer Overprinting (TTO). Specific application needs, such as smudge resistance or high-resolution bar codes or even packaging film type can affect ribbon selection.
Additionally, environmental conditions will dictate which ribbon is best for the application. Understanding these factors, experienced suppliers should offer an advanced portfolio of supplies for each technology and their expertise can help people get the most from their printer. Sample testing is also always recommended before purchasing a new solution.
It is also important to a select supplier with the right support network. Companies cannot afford to have their lines go down because of their printer. Manufacturers should look for a supplier with a wide service footprint as well as telephone support so they can help when people need it most.
Which technologies is Videojet showcasing at Interpack?
We'll be showing the industry-first MEK-based thermal ink jet solution for nonporous substrates; responding to the needs of food packaging operations for high resolution coding on non-porous packaging, we introduced our latest innovation in thermal ink jet printers, the Videojet 8610.
Delivering revolutionary printing technology for films, foils, plastics, and coated stocks, the 8610 combines the simplicity of thermal ink jet with the performance of Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK) based inks. The 8610 was designed specifically to print high resolution codes on hard-to-print surfaces and utilizes a purpose-built ink jet cartridge designed specifically to jet high performance MEK and other industrial inks.
The patented cartridge offers the simplicity of thermal ink jet with print resolutions up to four times greater than continuous ink jet solutions. At linear speeds up to 102 meters/minute (333 fpm), the 8610 can print either simple text or more complex marks for a range of applications in the packaged food industry.
Also, the new Videojet print and apply labeling (LPA) system; the innovative design of this system removes the mechanical adjustments, wear parts and failure points that cause everyday operational problems and downtime. The new LPA can apply labels directly onto outer case and bundle packaging without the need for an applicator, achieving higher throughput and eliminating label jams so customers never miss a pack.
Incorporating state-of-the-art technology, the entire system is electronically controlled to minimize unscheduled downtime on production lines.
The Videojet CO2 Laser Marking Systems boost productivity and improve line integration. An advanced range of CO2 laser marking systems that deliver superior code quality across a range of marking speeds and are suitable for a wide array of substrates will be showcased at Interpack 2014.
The laser solutions offer over 20,000 configuration options, providing easy integration for virtually any application. When speed is the ultimate priority, manufacturers can take advantage of new software that enables marking up to 30% faster.
Videojet is exhibiting its packaging technologies at Interpack, taking place May 8-14 in Dusseldorf, Germany. The conference and exhibition focuses on packaging equipment and technology for food firms, beverage companies, and other industries.