There are many areas to be considered in the selection of the right coding equipment for retail applications, explains John Tierney, MD, Linx Printing Technologies…
Fierce competition throughout the retail sector means new product development remains buoyant, with manufacturers continually seeking the latest innovation to create brand differentiation. This inevitably has a knock-on effect on for packaging, with new formats and materials being introduced to help convey any point of difference and establish effective on-shelf impact. And this, in turn, increases the demands put upon coding equipment, with printers required to code onto more varied substrates, and at different angles, to reflect changing shapes and sizes.
Code content – which can range from simple durability dates and batch codes, to more detailed information including barcodes and graphics – will be critical, as will overall line speeds. Another important requirement may be the need for fast changeovers, particularly as many manufacturers now have to deal with a large variety of products, leading to shorter production runs. This can also generate unpredictability issues such as operator errors through the selection of the wrong code.
Intuitive touch-screen operation and on-screen help – including picture-led displays –will ensure quick and accurate message selection and printer set-up, while coders that can be controlled remotely via a computer or smartphone will also help to eliminate the potential for costly errors on the factory floor.
KEEP IT TIGHT
Code quality needs to be consistent whatever the substrate, which can also be a problem when switching quickly between products. And in crowded markets with many products jostling for impact on shelf, every millimetre of the
packaging is valuable as a carrier of branding. This means the area where the code has to be printed may be small, further driving a need for high-quality, accurate coding into tight spaces. Quick and frequent line changeovers, or product changes on the same line, mean downtime can be very expensive. Even cleaning printheads is time that can ill afford to be lost.
In terms of solutions, a robust printhead and flexible conduit help to ensure reliable operation in both static and moving printhead applications, where the printhead is traversing across a number of lanes. Features such as sealed printheads, self-cleaning capabilities and self-service maintenance will help to ensure continuous production with reliable start-ups every time.
Hygiene requirements can be met by the use of machines with an IP55 rating and stainless steel enclosure, with no dirt traps. Fast drying specialist inks can be invaluable where there is a risk of smudging through manual handling or where moisture may be present.
A light, portable printer which can be easily moved between lines and set-up quickly will provide added flexibility in a multi-line, multi-product environment. A printer with a small footprint will help where space is an issue.
MOVE ON UP
For specialist manufacturers seeking to increase production or secure their first order from a major retailer, code quality will be vital and may require a step-up from less flexible, non-digital coding methods such as print and apply
labelling, stamping or hand applied labels. An entry level coder that can deliver the necessary quality codes while ensuring ease of set-up and flexibility to be moved to where it is needed can provide the ideal starting point.
At the other end of the scale, for companies with numerous product lines and a healthy NPD programme, it may be wise to choose a coder that includes an element of future-proofing. In fast-developing markets, with frequent product and packaging innovations, the ability for add-ons or enhancements to be easily integrated to an existing coder will help to ensure that manufacturers can react quickly to changing trends, customer demands or legislation without having to trial, test and gain expenditure approval for a new machine.
When considering a coding equipment purchase, it is also advisable to assess the overall cost of ownership. This takes into account both the initial purchase price, and the consumables and servicing costs over the years, together with any hidden costs of downtime caused by an unreliable printer or delays in set-up and changeovers. Going for the cheapest option may cost more in the long run.
For the retail sector, the typical requirements for coding equipment will be to deliver accurate, durable codes at high speeds, on a variety of packaging designs and materials, often operating across multiple lines. And ultimately, as in any fast-moving production environment, manufacturers need to know that their coders can be trusted to perform these tasks without interruption. Assessing the market and the choice of coding equipment available is therefore essential in order for manufacturers to select a solution tailored to their precise needs.