Cost of ownership for coding and marking equipment can be significant and is affected by factors including servicing and hygiene requirements. Greater flexibility is one of the biggest benefits of new equipment, says Paul Doody, marketing director for Linx Printing Technology.
FE: Food packagers are always looking for ways to control costs. What is the primary cost concern when it comes to coding and marking products?
Doody: Equipment for applying codes onto primary food packaging must meet relevant hygiene requirements, such as a suitable IP rating (IP55 or IP65) in washdown environments, for example, or a stainless steel construction for easy cleaning in certain applications. And for printing directly onto food or where coded packaging may come into contact with food, food-grade inks are necessary.
Direct printing can save money and downtime when compared to using printed labels. This is a vital benefit for food manufacturers that are seeking ways to maximize production while minimizing costs.
One of the biggest causes of the high cost of ownership is servicing. Linx reduces this by basing service intervals on the customer’s specific environment and usage, with intervals of up to 9,000 hours possible with its CIJ printers.
FE: What would you consider to be the main improvement in coding technology for the food industry over the last five years?
Doody: Linx remains focused on providing real cost of ownership benefits to customers through market research called Voice of Customer. This has been key to providing products that really deliver and differentiate themselves from competitors. We know, for example, that many customers value simple, mistake-proof code creation and selection, which ensure they can meet food manufacturers’ coding standards.
With so many different models available, it is always wise to run a trial with any coder to make sure it is delivering the savings you want. And do not just look at the printer in isolation; how it can contribute to minimizing waste throughout the whole operation is what counts. Also, judge the coder on its total cost of ownership and all the benefits it brings. In that way, the price of the equipment will soon appear to be very “lean” with a fast payback on your investment.
Another requirement for many food printing operations is flexibility. This was a major factor behind the introduction of the Linx CJ400, the first truly portable CIJ printer, which can easily be moved from line to line as coding requirements change.
FE: What is the most cost-effective technology for smaller food packagers to use when coding on their products?
Doody: Selecting the right model is critical. Continuous inkjet printers, thermal inkjet printers, large character coders and scribing lasers all have their particular attributes, and exploring the options and talking to a specialist manufacturer with experience with all four will ensure you choose the most appropriate model for your particular application.
Running costs are a key factor. For instance, the Linx 7900 continuous inkjet printer has service intervals of up to 9,000 hours, and the Linx laser range has a tube life of 45,000 hours. The Linx IJ355 and IJ375 coders’ ReFRESH ink system maintains print quality and ensures efficient ink usage. Due to the robust design and print head protection technology, downtime is significantly reduced, and savings are made on consumables.
These sorts of developments are already generating results. For example, when one of our customers moved from labelling to digital coding at a fruit and vegetable packaging operation, throughput increased from 300 to 1,000 units per day.
FE: Inks are an important part of coding and marking technology. How do Linx and other coding printer makers address food packagers’ concerns in these areas?
Doody: Food coding and marking, especially directly onto the surface of the food, require special inks. Linx and other coding manufacturers offer a range of ink types, including ketone-free inks that can also reduce cost of ownership. Specialty food-grade inks, made of natural and ingestible products, are suitable for a range of uses with food and meet US FDA and EU standards. Other inks are considered suitable for food applications where the packaging is designed to form an effective barrier between the printed code and the food. In this case, the ink must be applied to the outside of the food packaging.
FE: Are there benefits to sticking with approved and tested inks as opposed to cheaper copies?
Doody: Using inks that you know have been designed specifically for use with a certain make of machine and for a particular industry gives peace of mind regarding factors such as the durability, drying time and the quality of the code. For instance, Linx machines are covered by warranties of up to 18 months, but this is dependent on using only approved inks.
All Linx inks have been rigorously tested and will not be released for sale unless they are robust and reliable. The use of non-approved inks and solvents can result in a dramatic increase in lost production time due to increased requirements for intervention such as cleaning the print head, changing filters and replacing damaged parts.
FE: How do you see coding requirements in the food industry changing in the future?
Doody: Among the greatest challenges will be the implementation of EU Country of Origin labelling regulations, due to come into force in mid-December 2014. The legislation aims to modernize, simplify and clarify food labelling within the EU. It harmonizes information rules for all food labels, including the list of ingredients, “best before” or “use by” dates and specific conditions of use.
The new rules also add a requirement to list key nutrition information on food packaging in a mandatory “nutrition declaration.” In addition, labels must be made more legible. Plus, the new rules streamline requirements for listing allergens, the country of origin, sources of vegetable oils and other information designed to ensure consumers are not misled.
It’s clear there will be increased demands for information on coding and labelling. Consequently, forward-thinking manufacturers and retailers are already researching the coding and marking equipment they’ll need to ensure their packaging is compliant with the regulations in time.