Aled Ellis, Managing Director at Needham Coding, looks at why having the right equipment is vital to business success…
Choosing the right coding and marking equipment can help food and beverage manufacturers, processors and packers easily cope with seasonal fluctuations and ever-changing packaging and design formats utilising a range of substrates and legislative requirements.
The Food & Drink Federation and Government have a shared vision to grow food and drink manufacturing by 20% by 2020. This places added pressure on food and beverage companies to ensure their coding and marking equipment is fit for purpose. Products have to be accurately printed with vital information to ensure compliance with stringent food industry (FDA) regulations.
However, seasonal fluctuations in demand and the development of new and innovative packaging substrates, sizes and styles for product differentiation and maximum on-shelf impact present significant coding and marking challenges for the food and beverage industry.
Non-contact coding technology like continuous inkjet (CIJ) and laser are often more suited to food and drink applications because they can reliably and accurately print onto a wider range of substrates, such as cartons, tubs, bags, paperboard, metal, foil, paper and plastic, increasingly utilised by food companies.
When compared with other inkjet technologies (such as TIJ and Piezo DOD), CIJ printers boast much faster drying inks for superior printing at any speed and orientation, with multiple characteristics including shape, size and texture. Food grade inks facilitate printing directly onto food products if required.
A variety of dye and pigment-based CIJ inks are available offering excellent stability and good adhesion on a range of substrates. They are high-quality, robust inks with good viscosity range and excellent drop placement accuracy. Due to their physical dimensions, CIJ print
heads are extremely versatile and can be mounted in much tighter spaces than Thermal Inkjet (TIJ) print heads, for example. With production space at a premium, this is often a deal-breaker for companies who also want to be able to easily move printers between lines.
The ink volume and cost of TIJ ink cartridges can make the running costs too expensive for high volume applications. As they have a low throw ink distance, customers are limited on set-up and substrate. This also makes TIJ unsuitable for printing from the underneath or on to an uneven surface.
CIJ printers will reliably and accurately apply a range of vital information including date codes, logos and barcodes to most packaging materials and can even be used to print on curved surfaces.
High throughput food and beverage facilities require efficient printers and inks that can keep up with fast line speeds, quick dry time requirements and virtually non-stop production. Both laser and CIJ printers are capable of operating consistently at high and low line speeds. Plus, there is less wastage as product is only coded when it passes through the machine.
A major advantage of CIJ technology is the very high velocity of ink droplets. A high pressure pump directs liquid ink from a reservoir through a nozzle, creating a stream of ink droplets. This high frequency of drop ejection enables very high speed printing. They offer more
precise drop placements for better quality coding and the creation of smaller, more accurate codes.
Food and beverage manufacturers also need to cope with seasonal fluctuations and increased production at Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas. As a result, printers should be easy to use for both temporary and permanent staff, and backed by quick start up, with little or no operator interference. Codes and vital information are likely to be changed frequently during busy periods but best of breed software will deliver quick changeover and set-up between products. The latest CIJ printers require minimal user interaction and offer significantly improved reliability and uptime with virtually no maintenance requirements.
Sugar and powders like cocoa and flour which are widely used in the confectionery, snacks and bakery sectors, for example, can have a detrimental effect on the performance of production equipment. With robust IP 55 rated enclosures, CIJ printers are protected from the dirt and dust ingress that could damage internal components and stop operation.
Non-contact printers are more hygienic than other printer technologies. Meeting stringent wash down requirements, CIJ systems are environmentally friendly, inherently clean and easy to use. Compared to other solutions, CIJ printers can run for many hours before requiring servicing. Even in high pressure food production environments, modern CIJ printers are reliable, efficient and cost-effective.
Needham Coding has recently launched an own brand range of high-performance CIJ printers. The next generation, non-contact ‘N’ series represents a first for the company which has built a reputation as a leading distributor of coding and marking equipment. The user-friendly, low maintenance ‘N’ series offer small and large character printing from 0.6mm up to 19mm. Providing major cost, performance and environmental benefits, the ‘N’ series boasts a Mean Time Before Failure (MTBF) of 40,000 operating hours and is designed for harsh wet and dry applications across a wide range of industries, including food & beverage, chemical, pharmaceutical, DIY and personal care/cosmetics.
The company has recently also added several exciting models for specialist global food grade, ultra-violet, heavy pigment and small character applications.