Meeting the challenges of coding in the chemicals sector
Detailed pre-printed product information is a vital part of chemicals packaging, often governed by regulations and legislation. Equally essential is the ability to print variable details, anything from a date of manufacture to a batch code. In competitive markets with margins continually being squeezed, having an efficient and reliable means of printing this information is vital, given that without a code, a product will usually be unable to leave the factory.
Make it Stick
The challenge is to find a solution that is going to last the course in what is usually a challenging environment, be that a dusty factory or outdoor storage, and on containers that are likely to be frequently handled and rub against each other during transport. Self-adhesive labels may well not be up to the job, particularly where regulations require a permanent code, so printing directly onto the container could be your best option.
Continuous Ink Jet (CIJ) is a non-contact printing technology that can print onto almost any substrate, including PET and HDPE containers, metal tins and card boxes. It prints easily onto different container shapes and in any orientation, including the base. Many specialist inks are available depending on the application such as fast-drying varieties and those that deliver excellent adhesion, light fastness and resistance to chemicals. You can also choose from a range of colours in order to achieve the right level of clarity and distinction on different coloured containers: something worth considering by contract packers, where perhaps one colour ink could produce legible print across all containers.
Another solution that leaves a permanent code is laser technology. With no ink involved in the coding process there is no drying time required or risk of smudging. Laser coders are suitable for a wide range of substrates on high speed lines and have no consumables. On PVC, the production of the permanent code produces a colour change for added code visibility.
Right First Time
Of course, you’ve got to get the code onto your packaging in the first place, so the choice of printer is equally critical.
It is important to select a printer with features that allow messages to be quickly and easily created and edited. A simple-to-use touch screen with picture-led prompts and on-screen help is a good way to ensure operators get it right first time and avoid unnecessary mistakes and the resulting reworks. You can also assign different levels of authority for users to be able to make changes.
Transferring messages between machines via USB or remotely via a PC, or using a barcode scanner to set up codes automatically are other ways to ensure accuracy of code selection every time.
When it comes to operation, every manufacturer will claim their printing machines are the most reliable, but there are a number of features you should look for that will help to give an indication of their capabilities.
In challenging environments, such as humid or dusty conditions, printers with IP55 or IP65-rated steel enclosures offer a higher level of protection. A sealed printhead can prevent liquid or particle contamination, and a robust and flexible conduit will cope with repetitive actions such as traversing applications. You can plan stoppages more easily if your printer gives you early notification of low fluid levels and has longer service intervals or self-servicing and self-maintenance functions.
Such features help to deliver continuous operation and avoid unplanned stoppages but there will be other factors on the line that mean the coding process will not always run to plan. A printer that can more-easily cope in a start-stop environment will therefore be a major benefit. A self-cleaning printhead reduces blocked nozzles to ensure a consistent quality code from first to last and after every start-up, so is a good choice where there is any possibility of intermittent operation.
Look to the Future
Developing markets and regulatory changes can often bring new challenges, while exporting may mean different code requirements for individual countries.
Choosing a printer with an element of future-proofing could be a wise investment, for example one that can produce multiple lines of text, or graphics and QR codes, or can print on both primary and secondary packaging. The more versatile a printer is in the type of codes it produces and what it can code onto, the greater its flexibility in responding to changing needs.
More than a code
A printed code may be a necessity to meet regulatory and customer requirements but an inaccurate or illegible one can still impact heavily on a company’s operations and reputation. Ensuring you can produce right-first-time, high-quality and durable codes is an investment well worth making.