Coders In Demand
New coding equipment offers effective solutions for beverage marking
Coders may not rank as the flashiest electronic gadgetry on a beverage production line, but the role they fill is most critical. In the event of a recall, or simply when a consumer is curious about product freshness, the information printed onto a beverage package can prove to be an indispensable measure from both a sales and safety standpoint.  
Such was the case for Downingtown, Pa.-based microbrewer, Victory Brewing Co. Throughout the course of the year, the company creates and markets about 26 different varieties of beer. While production is driven by draft, local market demand and an on-premise restaurant that serves its beer created a need for the company’s 12-ounce glass bottled beers, which are available for its four flagship brands, plus six seasonal beers, and make up the majority of the company’s sales.
According to Victory Brewing’s Brewmaster and President Bill Covaleski, the coding of individual bottles is crucial to his company’s freshness philosophy. “From a marketing and distribution standpoint, it’s important that a fresh, unpasteurized product be tracked through that chain to the consumer,” he says. “The dating on the bottle is critical information because when all other packaging is stripped away – case, carton, carrier – the bottle label is all you’re left with and the end-user and consumer should be able to know about the freshness and viability of the product.”
Victory Brewing employs a Videojet 3410 laser coder to imprint each bottle with a standard “Enjoy By” date and six-digit date. The coding unit helps the company achieve an average production speed of 265 bottles per minute, which Covaleski admits is a much lower speed and capacity rate than the coder is capable of running. “We went with this model because we are anticipating a longer usage life out of it,” he says. “The application we’re using it for really is not necessary — there are many craft brewers out there with products similar to ours that are unpasteurized that aren’t getting involved in coding and dating in any way. We feel it’s important because consumers will make purchasing decisions based on it. From a producer’s standpoint, we’re buying peace of mind as well as additional protection for our consumers who want the freshest possible product.”
Coder roundup
Beverage coding is not an easy proposition given the wet, warm environment in which beverages are produced. But many companies are fine-tuning their coder offerings to suit beverage manufacturing operations.
The PXR-H Series high-speed small-character inkjet printer from Hitachi America Ltd., Industrial Systems Division, based in Tarrytown, N.Y., boasts a printing speed of 1,300 feet per minute for one-line inkjet printing — the highest in its class. While dramatically increasing the speed, it maintains or even enhances the print quality by improving print-head and ink-drop charge/deflection control.
The unit’s innovative ink circulation system helps reduce fluid evaporation, helping achieve a low cost of operation. Its nozzle and gutter are automatically cleaned before shut down; hence no special procedures are required at start up. The PXR Series small-character inkjet printer viscosity and density control provides stable ink drop formation and keeps print quality high. An IP55 rated stainless steel enclosure provides full protection against dust and water.
The 7000 Series of scribing CO2 laser coders from New York-based Imaje features a next-generation galvohead technology with the latest CO2 laser source that yields up to 1,000 characters per second with no need for plant air or water to cool the laser head, allowing the unit to code consistently in temperatures up to 95°F (35°C).
Its modular design consists of three separate components — controller, cable and laser head — allowing for easy integration into existing product lines. The compact laser head offers a zero-degree and 90-degree laser beam orientation and ultra flexible interconnecting cable.
The 7000 Series’ intuitive “iTouch” user interface offers simple parameter selection, message creation and editing, and the unit features an IP rating suitable for industrial environments thanks to the inclusion of a stainless steel cabinet for the controller and aluminum body with FDA-approved coating for the head.