Code considerations

22 May 2017

Coding and marking equipment can play a vital role in supporting the efficient running of a production line. However, there are many factors to take into account when selecting a coder, says John Tierney, marketing director of Linx Printing Technologies

Code requirements may often be simple and driven by legislation – such as the need for a batch code or other identifier – but the cost implications of an inaccurate code, in terms of production hold-ups, the possibility of a product recall or even damage to brand reputation, mean no manufacturer can afford to get coding wrong.

The selection of the most appropriate coding equipment is therefore critical. The first consideration is likely to be the choice of technology – which for primary coding requirements will generally be between Continuous Ink Jet (CIJ) and laser.  

CIJ can code onto almost any substrate, printing from one to multiple lines of text and simple graphics at speeds of over 2600 characters per second.  A wide range of inks is available including different colours to ensure legibility on any colour substrate, UV-readable inks for anti-counterfeiting and inks that can deliver quality codes on oily or greasy surfaces. 

Laser provides a permanent code on a wide range of materials at high line speeds – for example in excess of 70,000 bottles per hour - and is particularly strong at delivering more complex messages and graphics including the 2D codes commonly required for traceability purposes.  

As there is no ink involved in the coding process and therefore no drying time, the risk of smudging is removed, for example when the coded product is in contact with other products or handling systems soon after coding.

Selection factors 

There are many more factors that will influence the final choice of model. In fast-moving lines with frequent changeovers, intuitive touch-screen operation and on-screen help – including picture-led displays – will ensure quick and accurate message selection and printer set-up. Coders that can be controlled remotely will also help to eliminate the potential for costly errors on the factory floor.

Speed and reliability of the coder will be other important criteria. For CIJ printers, a robust printhead and flexible conduit provide reliable operation in both static and moving printhead applications, where the printhead is traversing across a number of lanes. For laser coders, a wide marking field will ensure that more products can be coded in one pass, thereby removing the need for additional coders to mark the same area. Both CIJ and laser are suitable options for wide web marking applications such as yoghurt lines or even building materials.

CIJ features such as sealed printheads, self-cleaning capabilities and self-service maintenance help to ensure continuous production with reliable start-ups every time.  

A light, portable coder which can be easily moved between lines and set up quickly provides added flexibility in a multi-line, multi-product environment. A printer with a small footprint is a boon where space is an issue.

Coders that can print at different angles and with the flexibility to code the top, bottom or side of a product will provide the necessary flexibility for coding applications where space may be limited.  

Hygiene requirements can be met by the use of machines with an IP55 or IP65 rating and stainless steel enclosure, with no dirt traps. Fast drying specialist inks can be invaluable where there is a risk of smudging through manual handling or where moisture may be present.

Any purchasing decision should seek to assess the overall cost of ownership. This takes into account both the initial purchase price of a coder, and any consumables and servicing costs over the years, together with hidden costs such as downtime caused by an unreliable printer or delays in set up and changeovers.  

Manufacturers need to know that their coders can be trusted to perform their required tasks with consistent quality and without interruption. Taking time to carefully assess the choice of equipment available and discussing your requirements with an experienced supplier will be crucial to selecting a solution tailored to your precise needs.