Without laser or ink jet codes on beverage packages, the manufacturing and warehouse process would be in disarray. Expiration dates would not match the contents within the bottle or can, and some cases might even contain the wrong products. Whether lasers or ink jet coders are used, beverage companies continue to demand higher speeds, more flexibility and easy readability.
“The number of SKUs — diet, caffeine-free, caffeine-free diet and various flavors — that these beverage plants are being asked to produce has literally exploded,” says Carl Traynor, vice president of marketing and distribution, North America, at Domino Amjet, Gurnee, Ill. “They have to make sure they are putting the correct code on the primary product, and then making sure that code on the secondary packaging matches the primary product. Being able to accommodate product changeover really fits with that.”
In terms of trends, the quicker the machines can run, the happier the customers will be, says Scott Benigni, director of continuous ink jet marketing at VideoJet Technologies Inc., Wood Dale, Ill.
“With nearly every beverage customer I have worked with, their most important criteria for buying coding equipment is uptime because uptime for them is incredibly expensive,” he says.
Interest in sustainability continues to grow in the coding technology industry. Ink jet printers can be messy at times and laser printers emit exhaust fumes in the manufacturing facility.
“We are seeing pressure on the major beverage companies to reduce their materials usage, consumption of power and factory air in laser printers, not only in their filling and cartoning equipment, but also in their coding equipment,” says Scott Scheib, national account manager at Domino Amjet.
Some companies like ID Technology, Ft. Worth, Texas, provide exhaust system solutions. “In reference to lasers, when you mark something there is usually some exhaust or residue that comes off that product. We provide an exhaust system,” says Bill Andre, laser product manager at ID Technology.
The exhaust may be one issue with laser coders, but the thin walls on PET bottles also present a challenge.
“The thin wall on the PET is a challenging application because producers still want good date codes on their product,” says Paul Schildhouse, senior product manager for laser products at VideoJet. “As the walls get thinner and thinner, if you’re using laser to engrave the code there, they run the risk of punching through the wall.”
Non-contact printing
VideoJet provides the 1510 and 2230 line of continuous ink jet printers, which apply a stream of ink drops on cans, bottles and secondary packages. Both printers use a non-contact printing method, which allows the codes to be applied in a variety of fonts, number of lines and different directions, the company says.
“Continuous ink jet is the most commonly used coding technology the VideoJet sells, and the reason why is because it’s flexible in terms of getting integrated into a variety of applications, and it has a wide range of inks,” Benigni says.
A part of the company’s 1000 line of continuous ink jet (CIJ) printers, VideoJet 1510 is a smaller-character printer that operates through a user interface and fluid replacement system with a Smart Cartridge, a microchip-enabled fluid bottle. The printhead automatically sets up and adjusts to environment changes. The printer is designed for medium-duty applications that involve printing codes 16 to 20 hours per day, six days per week, the company says.
“One of the others areas where we have been able to help customers in the beverage industry with the 1510 is by providing longer runs between preventative maintenance,” Benigni says. “The 1510 has an advanced core design, which allows the printer to run for 9,000 hours before preventative maintenance. If customers in the beverage segment are running two shifts a day, that’s about 18 months between preventative maintenance.”
The company also supplies large-character ink jet printers such as the 2330 and 2310 models. The 2330 and 2310 printers provide characters as large as 2.75 inches and 0.66 inch, respectively. A patented automatic self-cleaning and self-maintenance system continuously keeps printheads free of dust and debris throughout production, the company says.
“These printers are high-resolution that use drop-on-demand technology to print high-resolution barcodes and logos and variable information on secondary packaging,” Benigni says. “Beverage customers are continuing to try to find ways to save costs, and the 2300 series can be used to take a generic case and code it with product specific information. They ultimately save companies money through reduction of inventory because they don’t have to stock multiple types of pre-printed secondary packaging.”
Both the 2330 and 2310 use the CLARiTY touchscreen interface, which displays ink use and low-ink warnings. Users also can prepare and preview the next job while running the current image, monitor performance or carry out diagnostics without stopping the line.
“The unique self-maintenance system on the VideoJet 2330 and 2310 eliminates wasted ink and downtime because operators don’t have to stop a line to prime, purge and clean the printhead,” said David Allen, business unit manager for secondary packaging at VideoJet, in a statement.
VideoJet also manufactures the VideoJet 3320, a high-speed laser coder. The 3320 prints standard and 2D barcodes, expiration dates, batch and lot codes, serial numbers, symbols, and manufacturer names and logos at a rate of 1,300 characters per second. The laser coder also can be controlled using a hand-held controller or online via an external device such as a programmable logic controller, PC or host computer.
“It’s a 30 watt laser with a special tube and wavelength of light that can meet the production line speed — between 40,000 and 60,000 bottles per hour — delivering good quality codes,” Schildhouse says.
Domino Amjet also provides primary and secondary package coding identification solutions in both laser coding and continuous ink jet systems. Although the company does provide continuous ink jet solutions, Domino AmJet’s Traynor says lasers are increasingly being used in the industry.
The laser coder that is used on many packages is Domino’s DDC3, a programmable dot-matrix solution that provides seven dots of laser used in combinations to create letters or numbers.
The D-Series provides a range of wattages to meet requirements for thin wall PET bottles and chip board material used in some secondary packaging. The laser fits inside the blowmolder, Scheib says.
DDC3 incorporates Domino’s sealed CO2 laser tubes, designed to eliminate the need for consumables and water cooling systems, the company says. Domino’s Rainbow laser tubes also are included with the DDC3. The laser power can be custom tuned using the integrated control panel.
“You can run this laser on phenomenal speeds with the seven dedicated laser tubes,” Traynor says. “In the unlikely event in which you do have one or more tubes that fail, you still have five tubes that are able to produce.”
Domino also supplies continuous ink jet printers, which continue to have their place in the beverage industry. Materials such as HDPE and caps on beverage bottles, for example, do not lend themselves well to laser coding as they absorb the laser energy rather than cause marking.
The Domino A300+ is an ink jet solution for dusty or wash-down environments, the company says. Features of the A300+ include a large-volume reservoir-based ink system and a patented sealed nozzle printhead with autoflush capabilities.
In addition, a built-in Web server allows remote message selection and status monitoring. The machine can print up to four lines with a variety of print formats, and an optional color touchscreen control is available.
Another ink jet coder used frequently in the beverage industry is the Domino D300+, a 30 watt scribing laser designed for medium to high-speed production lines. The D300+ can mark serial numbers, batch codes, barcodes, 2D codes, logos, graphics, and European and Asian characters. It also has a built-in Web server.
“There is a reality that CIJ will not leave the beverage industry as long as there is a need to have it on a material like HDPE,” Traynor says. “We all recognize the need to use CIJ, and we can minimize the impact to the environment by using what we have.”
ID Technology also provides laser and continuous ink jet solutions such as the iCON laser and ci2000, respectively. The ci2000 system is designed to operate in applications such as high dust or wash-down production environments. The product includes a positive air-pressurized enclosure and printhead. The ci2000 can print up to a 31 pixel image, and also provides five lines of text, graphics and barcodes.
“The ci2000 can print on everything from porous to non-porous surfaces, metal, plastic, glass, bottles, chipboard and corrugate,” says Guy Bradford, inkjet product manager at ID Technology.
Some beverage companies will use continuous ink jet on chipboard, but more companies are using laser on chipboard now, he adds.
ID Technology’s iCON laser is designed for small-character coding applications in packaged goods and industrial products. iCON is capable of printing up to four lines of text either statically or dynamically, and comes with an integrated touchscreen interface, photocell, nose cone protection and mounting bracket. An optional remote controller also is available.
A big issue concerning laser technology is the breakthrough potential on some packages, most often PET bottles. ID Technology uses mirrors on its iCON laser to prevent breakthrough on the package.
“The way this laser works is there are two mirrors that direct the laser to the product,” ID Technology’s Andre says. “We are able to control those two mirrors in such a way that their dwell time on a substrate does not penetrate. We only laser code the amount we want.” BI