Analogue Vs. Digital Meat Coding – The Facts
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. However, it can have its drawbacks, and that’s where digital coders come in.
The drawbacks of analogue coding technology
A simpler technology might be a draw in an industry that has seen a downturn in recent years due to the horsemeat scandal and other factors. In fact, a recent market report by Plimsoll has identified 46 companies in the industry as having a ‘danger’ rating.
However, there are drawbacks to using analogue technology. For example, 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 the 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. 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, however, even 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 revenue falling by 3.6% in 2012/13, meat processors need to deliver codes in an effective way that allows margins to be maintained.