Coding onto alcoholic beverages – whether they are beers, wines, spirits or pre-mixed cocktails – brings a variety of challenges which can be placed into 3 broad areas. Carefully consider these before investing in new coding equipment, and ensure you are well placed for continued growth in the industry.
1. Production conditions
Factory environment – if your coding environment is wet or dusty/sugary then your coding equipment will need the right IP rating to perform reliably. IP55 means that coding equipment is protected from ingress of water during washdown and splashes. Bottling plants may include sugary products as well as alcohol,so ensuring that the printer and printhead are protected against accidental contact with these is essential to ensure continual reliable coding.
2. Type of material coding onto:
• Glass – glass can be tough to code onto with some inks not staying put, especially during end-use. Check your white wine bottle in the fridge – can the inked code be wiped off, thereby removing its traceability? However CIJ printers do offer a wide range of ink types, so test one that is designed specifically for glass marking, is fast drying (if your line is fast or bottles are handled soon after coding) or try one of the many pigmented inks which have higher levels of pigment than normal and are available in colours such as white, yellow, blue or grey which will stand out on coloured glass. Perhaps a light blue ink could be used on all your bottle colours, meaning investing in fewer solutions for many applications? Alternatively laser coding offers a permanent solution which etches the code into the glass and in a discreet manner.
• Plastic – such as pre-mixed cocktails in pouches, recyclable PET which is lighter than plastic, halves your shipping costs, is cheaper than glass, and is becoming more popular. Again, specific plastic adherent CIJ inks are available so ensure you have your product sample coded with the ink, or better still ask for a trial of the CIJ printer running the selected ink on your line. Alternatively, lasers change the chemical nature of the plastic packaging to leave a discernible mark but without compromising the integrity of the packaging.
• Labels – why ruin your carefully designed, premium craft beer bottle with an untidy code? Laser coders can quickly and easily code onto paper labels, even matching the font of your label design. Laser leaves a code by removing the top microns of the paper to reveal the original white paper beneath; CIJ on the other hand applies ink to the label, so a clear area needs to be left in the design for the code, of a contrasting colour to the ink you will use.
• Metal – there is a move from glass bottles to metal cans in the craft brewing industry as they are cheaper than glass bottles. In terms of coding, CO2 laser coders cannot code directly onto bare metal. However, the newer fibre lasers are able to and at incredibly high speeds, and are increasingly being used for high speed, high volume lines. On the other hand, many craft brewers are choosing CIJ for coding onto the bottom rim of the can. These coders come with a wide choice of ink types and colours, so if you need a fast-drying ink for a high speed line, or an ink that adheres well to damp cans then the chances are there is a CIJ ink for you.
• Will it stay in place during end use? Is there a risk the codes may be removed by the contents of the bottle?
- Laser produces indelible codes which stay in place and minimise the risk of unauthorised removal or counterfeiting
- CIJ glass-adherent inks are designed specifically for high speed lines; these inks are quick drying and stay in place
- Does the code need to stay in place permanently? For example, alkai-removable CIJ inks are used for returnable bottles
• Where on the product? – this will help you select the right coder: do you need to code on the side of the bottle, or the pilfer ring for example? Or underneath the can? Is there space to fit a coder into or next to your line to achieve coding in the desired area?
• For pilfer rings or the necks of bottles, then cutaway printheads on CIJ printers allow the product to be positioned at the optimum distance from the printhead, which is around 12mm. And long flexible conduits also facilitate easier integration of the coding into your packaging equipment.
• Laser coders can offer more flexibility, as the focal point of the laser (where it hits the product) can be adjusted, and a choice of lenses also offers a range of distances between laser and product. Laser coders are becoming more compact, so you can find a powerful laser coder which is small enough to fit directly into your packaging machinery. And remote interfaces also mean you can safely operate the laser outside the guarding area.
3. Speed of line
All too often the coding equipment at the end of the line dictates the speed of the rest of the production equipment. So for a high speed line ensure that you use a similar coding system. For example:
• Dedicated CIJ bottle coding solutions include special high speed software, quick drying inks designed for adherence to damp or dry glass or plastic, and an air knife to remove excess moisture from bottles before coding. Whether an airknife is needed will depend on the amount of moisture on the bottle; specialist inks which penetrate light condensation may be sufficient without an air knife
• The speed available with a laser coder will depend to a certain extent on the code complexity and the material being coded onto – glass is tougher than plastic so will need a longer ‘dwell time’ to make a mark
• High powered lasers can code accurately at high speeds, as they require a shorter dwell time on the product to make a mark. The high power enables different materials to be marked quickly and permanently, including glass, and can code in excess of 70,000 bottles per hour
• Paper labels on bottles will be quicker to mark with laser and can reach incredible speeds, easily matched by today’s high speed laser coders.
With the UK wine industry predicted to be booming, in part thanks to a balmy Autumn 2015, and a continued increase in craft beer sales expected, alcoholic beverage manufacturers and bottlers need to consider carefully their coding needs before investing in new equipment.