BATCH PRINTING SOLUTIONS
4. The different coding technologies
4.1 Continue Ink Jet (CIJ)
As a non-contact printing technology, CIJ is ideal for meat packaging such as flexible plastic, card sleeves, and premium card boxes, as well as pre-printed labels where the coding area may be small. They are supported by a wide range of inks that can print onto almost any material. These include inks of different colors to ensure legibility; food-grade inks for applications where the code may come into contact with the product itself; fast-drying inks; and ones that ensure the codes do not rub off, even when there is moisture or grease on the packaging.
CIJ can print from one to multiple lines of text and simple graphics on line speeds of over 7m/s for a single line of code. The compact printhead can be situated above, beside or beneath a production line or traverse from side to side across the line. With lighter models increasingly being produced, the CIJ printer is more capable of being quickly moved from line to line and is fast to install and set up. The technology can provide the ideal solution to enable start-up and growing businesses to move from manual coding to digital printing methods in order to produce the type of quality codes demanded by the retail sector.
4.2 Large Character Marking (LCM)
Case coders are particularly well-suited for printing variable information onto secondary packaging such as cardboard boxes. These outer cases usually require text and graphics which are easy to see. Case coders can print to a high-resolution quality, and are versatile enough for use on a variety of surfaces and materials. Benefits include ease of set-up and adjustment, reliability and predictable cost of ownership. They are also a cost-effective alternative to pre-printed boxes or labels.
Laser marking has no ink involved in the coding process and therefore no drying time or risk of smudging. Laser coders are suitable for a wide range of substrates and at high line speeds. Benefits include increased uptime, higher speed capability and the fact there is no use of consumables. The permanence and legibility of the code is particularly valuable for the marking of animal carcasses where poor quality codes risk failing traceability requirements.
Steered beam laser systems are highly versatile as they provide clear, consistent and perfectly formed characters in a variety of fonts and message formats, and enable the use of high-quality graphics and logos over relatively large print areas. They are particularly suitable where high-quality codes are required, for example, to blend in with the style of pre-printed packaging or where a premium product demands a similar quality of printed code.
Laser coders can also cover a large print area and high line speeds. This makes them suitable for multi-lane printing onto multiple products in one pass, without the need for a mechanical moving printhead.
Advances in technology and efficiency have led to a significant reduction in the initial purchase price, and laser coders deliver low cost of ownership due to no consumables and relatively low maintenance.
A new generation of cost-effective compact laser marking solutions have also been introduced, which offers an affordable alternative to other technologies while still maximizing functionality.
4.4 Thermal Inkjet Printers (TIJ)
TIJ printers provide a flexible printed coding solution for both outer cases and primary packaging. Although having a smaller print area than case coders, they offer high-resolution print quality for premium packaging, making them a cost-effective solution for slower production lines or where production is not 24/7.
As with all purchasing decisions, in selecting a printing solution to suit their needs, meat companies must carefully assess all the available options, with line speed, code content, the production environment and total cost of ownership important factors to take into consideration.
With new packaging materials and formats emerging, the ability of the printer to deliver clear, robust codes of varying complexity, at different points on the production line and onto the widest range of substrates, may provide a vital element of future-proofing.
Printers with washdown capability and traversing printhead functionality can help deliver the reliability, versatility and production efficiencies needed. In this way, they will ensure that every code meets the necessary compliance with the right level of quality in order to help support that all-important brand reputation.