The growth of the global contract packing industry is set to continue, driven in part, by the increasing tendency of manufacturers to use contract packers to optimise costs. The greater appearance of the term ‘Outsourced manufacturing, packing, fulfilment and logistics’ also reflects how customers using outsourcing services increasingly expect a one-stop shop that also includes storage, pick and pack, and logistics. This is leading to both increased competition and increased opportunities. The current growth in e-commerce and online fulfilment, for example, is boosting the sector. Similarly, the emergence of a variety of new opportunities such as a rise in start-up innovators who need contract packers, through to growth in luxury packaging, whose shorter runs are ideal for the sector; are driving demand for services.
All these applications have implications for the contract packer’s coding and marking requirements and underline the importance of finding the right solution to keep lines running efficiently so businesses remain competitive.
RELIABILITY IS KEY
Reliability is perhaps the most important requirement for contract packers’ coding operations. When printing onto a range of packs for a variety of customers, it is essential that packers can always meet their production targets and stay competitive.
Reliable, quality coding is best ensured by observing regular maintenance schedules. Printers with long maintenance intervals – such as 18-months to two-years – minimise disruption to the line. Similarly, those with self-cleaning printheads require manual cleaning only every three months or so, while some printers allow for quick and simple self-maintenance, enabling managers to plan servicing around their production. For contract packers that code in challenging environments, IP55 and IP65 ratings indicate machines that can handle these.
In addition, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)-capability today allows operators to monitor their equipment and anticipate potential malfunctions before they occur, as well as receive proactive remote support and maintenance from the printer provider.
ELEMENT OF FLEXIBILITY
For contract packers servicing a wide range of companies, flexibility is essential. Naturally, this applies to their coding and marking. Multi-functional printers that can perform various jobs – for example, both primary and secondary coding – surmount the problem of needing different printers for different requirements. Aside from the obvious benefit of saving money, this also reduces the likelihood of mistakes caused by confusion, as line operators only have to learn one interface.
Even for packers whose requirements are relatively straightforward at present, an element of versatility in their coding solution stands them in good stead should their circumstances alter. The industry is constantly changing, and an adaptable coder can be the difference between making the most of the new opportunity – and having to turn it down.
Another valuable coding capability for many contract packers is easy movement between lines. Some solutions can service multiple lines due to being quick and easy to move and set up, providing the ability to react quickly in an unpredictable environment.
EASE-OF-USE & CONTROL
With many demands on the industry, coding solutions that entail quick and easy setup, changeovers, and code selection and creation are of great value. Many of the latest solutions feature smartphone-inspired screens with intuitive touch-screen operation. This helps ensure quick message set-up and retrieval, and also swifter changeovers and fewer errors in code selection and rework or scrappage, even when there are many SKUs. Nor is there any need to read a manual – all it takes is three button-presses to select a message. Another benefit of an easy-to-use coder is that it is simple and quick to train new members of the team.
Finally, IIoT-capability provides greater control over coding and marking. For example, users can set KPIs – i.e. ‘Number of products coded’ – and then monitor their progress in real-time, with access to information such as predicted completion times. This increases the chances that contract packers will be on time for the next batch run by ensuring their printer remains on track.
In summary, shorter production runs and variable coding requirements mean that, in the contract packing industry, selecting the right coding and marking equipment is critical. By investing in a quality solution, companies can maximise the speed and efficiency of their production lines, ensuring they stay competitive and able to take advantage of the many opportunities in a rapidly developing market.