As the diversity and variety of beverage types and brands jostling for space increases, so the design of drinks packaging is changing, with manufacturers seeking new ways to attain on-shelf impact; and as part of that quest brand-owners are increasingly seeing the benefits of adding value to their product labelling. Examples include the use of unique numbers or QR codes on pack, giving the consumer access to online audio or video, and enhancing their brand experience. In Singapore, QR codes as part of the design on beer bottles have even been used to help single people meet.
Printed codes can have other applications, including for consumer and product protection. Pernod Ricard announced plans to introduce QR codes onto all its packaging as an anti-counterfeiting measure. It’s even been claimed that QR codes on alcohol packaging are the only way to eradicate fakes.
So, as pack designers increasingly exploit these capabilities, coding and marking equipment is evolving to keep up. Future-proof coders that allow add-ons to be integrated at any time, meaning manufacturers can react to changing trends or needs quickly.
Linx’s own customer research during 2014 suggests that the key drivers behind coding purchases in the beverage industry are reliability, low-cost of ownership and ease of use. Reliability is a must – as other parts of the production line become faster, coding equipment has to be able to keep up. Maximising productivity means reducing unscheduled and scheduled maintenance time and costs. Printers have to be equipped with quicker trouble-shooting and servicing capabilities, and ‘self-service’ options to allow basic maintenance to be carried out without the need to bring in an engineer. And flexibility is key also, as a printer that can fulfil several coding functions by being moved between lines will pay for itself within months.
Today’s lean manufacturing principles, sometimes led by quickly-changing consumer demands, require production to be more flexible, to react to smaller batch sizes and faster delivery. Therefore printers must be more flexible; capable of dealing with faster product changeovers and easily moveable between production lines.
Cost of ownership takes into account the initial purchase price, plus the consumables and servicing costs over years; not forgetting the hidden cost of downtime caused by an unreliable printer or delays in code entry during changeovers. With the efficiency of bottling plants typically running as low as 40-70%, a tiny margin can be crucial and valuable.
HIT THE BOTTLE
Linx research in a range of FMCG and industrial markets suggested that users prefer a simple, cost effective solution rather than complex, feature-heavy machines. A printer with an intuitive interface will save time during product changeovers when new codes are entered, and prompted coding fields can simplify this process even further, while remote control features will also allow code control from a central location.
Laser coding has no ink involved in the coding process and therefore no drying time or risk of smudging. As such, laser coders are suitable for all the substrates used in the drinks industry, at any line speed. They are particularly attractive due to low down-time, high-speed capability and the fact there is no use of consumables.
Continuous ink jet (CIJ) maintains an important place in the market, as it can print on almost any substrate including metal cans. A wide range of inks is available to use with CIJ printers – different colours to ensure legibility on any colour substrate, removable inks for internal traceability or returnable bottles, wet bottle adherent inks, UV-readable inks for anti-counterfeiting, and many more, adding yet another dimension to the coding process.
Drinks brands, particularly high-end alcohol, are at the sharp-end of product counterfeiting. So brand owners are constantly looking for ways to combat this threat. In addition, many manufacturers are looking for effective and unobtrusive ways to track products throughout the production and packaging processes. Counterfeiting also represents a real problem to end users who want assurance that the product is what they purchased and will be effective and not harmful.
The coding and marking industry is able to offer some solutions. These include complex high-definition digital graphics, special security inks for CIJ printers and laser coders which mark an indelible code.
Serial numbering of packs can help an end-user identify that their purchase is genuine, through the use of codes that can be linked back to a central warehouse for authentication. Hiding the identification or serial number in an encoded format such as a data matrix barcode makes it more difficult for these codes to be reproduced.
These developments are creating a demand for coding equipment which is capable of marking everything from simple use-by dates to complex graphics on primary, secondary and on-shelf packaging. An effective code can therefore become an integrated part of the pack design… not just a necessary add-on to convey basic information.