Laser coding onto confectionery – how can it help increase production?
As we see signs of tentative growth in the confectionery industry, it may be time to re-evaluate your production machinery and check that it is still up to the job.
There are a range of confectionery coding technologies that can be used to apply your best before date and batch code onto your bars, bags and boxes of candy, but which is right for you?
Laser coding is becoming the preferred technology for high speed flow wrap applications. However, with a higher initial purchase price than say, ink stamping or roller coding, it is worth carefully considering your options.
What is laser coding?
Put simply, a laser beam interacts with the surface of your packaging to leave a mark. It is fine- tuned to keep the integrity of the packaging intact. The technology can leave a mark on coated card or metal, glass and a range of plastics.
It is non- contact and can work at extremely high speeds – Making it the coder of choice for some high volume, 24/7 manufacturers.
To find out more about the details of how a laser works, read our What is LASER blog.
How does it beat hot stamping for confectionery packaging?
For some manufacturers ink stamping remains in place for niche, lower volume products. However, this has drawbacks. It is a slow, contact method of coding, making it difficult to speed up your line in response to demand.
Laser coding on the other hand operates at high speeds, up to around 600 bars a minute, depending on the application. Although, working any faster than this and you could be limited by the ability of the rest of your line to keep up!
Scribing lasers are designed to keep pace with fast-moving lines and ensure that product codes are not stretched as the line speed increases. Additionally, they can signal to the line equipment if the line speed is excessive, so corrective action can be taken. This eliminates waste which would otherwise be generated by a poor quality of code.
Quality laser codes
The ink used in hot stamping can be slow to dry, so there is a risk of smudging after coding when the product is handled or packed. It also produces a poor quality of print – not what consumers expect from a niche or premium product.
Laser coding uses no ink. So, there is never a risk of smudging. Plus, it can print a wide variety of fonts, and can even match your product packaging for a truly premium look. A recent study of consumers by Linx found that three quarters of respondents would not buy a product if it had a smudged or illegible code.
A quality code is essential to meet consumer brand expectations and to meet the relevant regulations for product information and traceability, as well as the high standards required by the retail sector.
Quick code changes for minimum downtime
Code changes on a hot stamp coder are fiddly and time consuming. First the coder must cool, then the typeface changed manually for every batch change.
In contrast, modern laser coders often use a large, colour touch screen, so messages can be selected from the internal memory at the press of a button and new codes can be created quickly and simply.
Automatic code changes can be made, either triggered by a PLC or by the laser coder itself, for dynamic production dates.
Further benefits of laser coding include the ability to apply much more complex information such as logos, barcodes and QR codes for competitions.
Laser coding onto coated film and foil
30W CO2 lasers are particularly good for high speed, flow wrap lines for printing onto coated materials such as foil and film. Laser code is permanent and there are no fluids involved, so there is no risk of smudging, even on fast lines.
Different tube wavelengths are available Linx testing has revealed that a 10.2µm tube gives the best results on laminated flow wrap, by removing tiny microns of the surface coating to reveal the contrasting layer beneath. So, even as manufacturers develop ever thinner packaging materials, the laser code will not compromise the integrity of the packaging.
Integrating laser printing into your current setup is now easier than ever, as improvements to recent models mean new possibilities for positioning.
With detachable marking heads and ever smaller laser units, laser coders are becoming much more flexible. They can be positioned inside tight production spaces, even inside flow wrap machines.
As the confectionery industry looks set to grow and diversify, manufacturers can harness the power of laser coders to ensure their batch codes match expectations of new markets. They also bring opportunities for organisations to improve their positioning to increase production and make efficiencies.