Russell Wiseman, global sector manager, beverage, at Domino Printing Sciences, explains the importance of coding and how his company has produced a robust new continuous ink jet system able to withstand the rigours of the drinks packaging process.
Russell Wiseman: Domino provides beverage coding and marking for multinational brewing and soft drinks companies, as well as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). It helps its customers with their coding requirements throughout the production line, from product to pallet.
The importance of consistent, high-quality coding on beverage packaging cannot be overstated. Increased globalisation has changed the way many businesses operate, and organisations are functioning in complex supply chains in which misleading information, or poor quality codes can have detrimental effects for consumers and companies. The correct information must be coded on to the right product with 100% accuracy.
Sophisticated supply chain management systems are required to coordinate the movement of products between suppliers, retailers and customers. This advanced technology, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) or manufacturing execution systems (MES) relies heavily on the creation and longevity of codes on a wide variety of products.
While supplying the right product to the correct location is one function of the code, the other aspects of coding and marking can have a more fundamental and basic purpose. Domino's research has revealed that the most commonly required codes are 'manufactured-on' or 'use-by' dates, followed by batch traceability and legislative compliance information.
More stringent legislation is being introduced in the beverage sector around product identification and traceability. Customers are getting more proactive when it comes to responding to legislative changes and therefore Domino needs to meet their needs.
Continuous ink jet (CIJ) is effective and has long been popular with drink manufacturers, mainly because it is ideal for printing on to a wide array of substrates, such as plastic, metal, glass and cans.
Also referred to as 'small-character ink jet', CIJ offers a quick-drying, non-contact process. The print head is separated from the substrate's surface by a distance of 5-25mm, before propelling electrically charged ink drops at high speed on to the item, creating a sequence of rounded dots that form a matrix code.
The major advantage of CIJ printing is its ability to project ink drops at significant velocity, from a distance, on to a moving substrate, to achieve high-speed printing. As the supply-driven efficiencies of the beverage industry demand high productivity, it is imperative there is no downtime. In high-throughput, high-productivity manufacturing industries such as this, there is a heavy reliance on CIJ printing to create required codes without affecting production speed.
CIJ devices are also mechanically robust, able to print for long periods of time and in tough environments before requiring servicing. For its reliability, cost-effectiveness and versatility, CIJ is still the tried and tested coding technology of choice in the vast majority of cases. For over three decades, it has imparted health and safety information, helped to move and organise products, and provided brand protection for millions of organisations and consumers.
Every industry presents its own set of obstacles when it comes to coding and marking, and beverage is no different. There are a number of factors that beverage manufacturers should take into consideration.
For example, in order to satisfy customer demand, canning companies have to deliver a high volume of units every day, which means that production line speeds are high and prone to changes (high output during summer months, lower productivity off season). Continuous advances in technology mean line speeds are rapidly increasing, resulting in higher numbers of cans being processed. For example, a typical soft drink canning line is capable of running up to 2,000 cans a minute, all of which require codes. The system must be able to keep pace.
It's not just about speed, as this is an industry in which harsh production environments are commonplace. The production environments for beverage can be wet, moist and sugar-laden, often with high temperatures on the packaging line. These conditions can seriously affect code quality, which is why the best coding and marking systems are able to withstand such a demanding environment and deliver the highest-quality codes.
What's more, for a coding system to be truly effective, it must be easily integrated on the packaging line. This requires optimal print head design and a small machine footprint enabling installation in a location that will not cause bottlenecks or downtime.
Reflecting the current and future requirements of the market, and the technological capabilities needed to address them, Domino has recently launched the Ax-Series, a new range of CIJ printers optimised for the most demanding industrial environments.
In developing the new series, Domino has rewritten the rules of coding and marking by revisiting the underlying science behind CIJ and introducing innovations in three key areas. This has resulted in a comprehensive re-engineering of the technology that will reset customer expectations of productivity, quality and cost of ownership.
Domino's three 'pillars' of innovation across the Ax-Series are the new i-Pulse print head and inks, the i-Techx electronics and software platform, and Domino Design.
The i-Pulse print head controls individual ink drop formation, delivering significant advances in droplet accuracy, placement and ink usage for reliable, fast and consistent code quality. I-Techx is designed to optimise lifetime return on investment and eliminate coding errors by enabling smooth integration into the production line and service support environment. Domino Design represents a fresh approach to the total product design to maximise productivity and ease of operation, delivering printers that are robust and reliable in the most demanding environments.
The innovations in the Ax-Series are the result of extensive R&D and collaboration with Domino customers in a broad range of industries.
By redesigning CIJ technology from the ground up, Domino aims to enable customers to achieve the high level of code quality required for their business, with a coding process that is familiar and proven in practice.