Laser coding in particular, once perceived as being for niche markets only, are increasingly being deployed on the production lines of major food and beverage manufacturers.
Growth in the laser coding market across Europe currently stands at 10% year on year and is as high as 30% in some emerging countries.
As coding standardization continues to bring new sectors in line with legislative requirements such as the EU Directive 2000/13/EC, the requirement to include growing amounts of data on packaging without creating a costly bottleneck on the production line, is only going to increase.
Yet while the popularity of laser coding from all of the major coding and marking specialists continues to increase, Markem-Imaje has found there are still a large number of manufacturers whose perception of laser technology remains outdated.
Some still believe it is not best suited for modern production lines, either because it is too difficult to integrate or not flexible enough to meet either brand or in some cases, legislative requirements.
And while it is true there is not one size that fits all for laser coding applications, for many food and beverage manufacturers such as those coding on PET bottles or foil yogurt lids for instance, laser technology can offer significant financial savings at the same time as improving coding quality and packaging layout.
Production line speeds arguably remain the first consideration for manufacturers reviewing existing coding technology – the beverage sector in particular requires the capability to code more than 84,000 bottles per hour.
Yet today’s laser coders provide high speed coding (the Markem-Imaje C350S can code up to 100,000 bottles per hour) and modular designs facilitate efficient integration on any production line. The technological advances engineered in recent years, combined with service contracts mean laser coders now offer unmatched reliability.
Eliminating the risk of contamination
Perhaps most importantly for the food industry, the latest generation of laser coders offers a clean, hygienic solution almost entirely eliminating the risk of contamination, along with a significant increase in character printing capacity.
Product identification codes have already doubled in length to an average of 30 characters in recent years and it is likely many will soon be twice this length.
The ability to mark products at high speed, with increasingly lengthy and complex messages and consistently sharp, legible and permanent codes is a fundamental requirement for improved traceability.
And following a significant number of high profile food scandals in the last few years, the increased focus on traceability that has been seen in every sector is here to stay.
Modern technology such as the patented SmartLase Code Technology (SCT) from Markem-Imaje which use Unicode fonts, now meet these requirements as standard. And, as laser coding is effectively the equivalent of pre-printing – laser codes are indelible on packaging, permanent and tamper-proof – it is the ideal format to protect brands from counterfeiting.
As the food and beverage industry becomes increasingly competitive, so the challenges faced by its suppliers become equally complex. Issues such as line stoppages are no longer acceptable but in addition to increasing line speeds, reducing running costs and providing greater reliability, the coding technology in use must be able to produce marks that blend seamlessly with and even enhance a brand’s packaging.
The increased character printing capacity of new laser coders also makes it easier to customise products, use fonts that match a particular brand more closely or implement more effective marketing tactics.
New laser coders are ideal for implementing promotional coding campaigns for instance, when information added below the expiry date or the product batch number enables consumers to enter competitions online.
In fact increased flexibility, high quality codes with high contrast and a reduction in downtime are among the primary reasons laser coding are finding favor with modern food and beverage manufacturers.
And for manufacturers coding on delicate or thin substrates such as PET and foil, concerns about the risk of piercing are out-dated. In much the same way a specific ink would be selected for use with Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) coders on a particular substrate, laser coding can be selected based upon the optimum combination of wavelength and power output, eliminating the risk of piercing, even on light weighted bottles.
Reduced running costs
The absence of inks or other consumables which reduces the risk of product contamination and makes laser coders more hygienic and so well suited for use on food and beverage production lines, also means lower operating costs.
In addition, the simplicity and reliability of modern laser technology means they are capable of operating far longer than other technologies with minimal maintenance. While the average lifespan of coding varies from one region to another, in a typical European factory environment, the Markem-Imaje SmartLase C350S will operate on average for 60,000 hours without developing any faults.
The reduction in maintenance required and low running cost reduce the total cost of ownership significantly for food and beverage manufacturers.
Increase operational efficiency
For those with little experience of laser coding, adopting a new technology can appear daunting but specialist coding and marking suppliers have a wealth of industry experience to help manufacturers, brands and other packaging professionals, implement a bespoke product that will deliver high quality codes, cut costs and drive greater overall operational efficiency.’
Arnaud Laugier is marketing director, Markem-Imaje EMEA.