Tag Technology: You’re It!
BY ELIZABETH FUHRMAN
New coding equipment provides faster, cleaner and more precise markings
Product safety, quality and authenticity rank as three top concerns that coding technology addresses. For example, in the instance of a recall, or even when a consumer is concerned about freshness, the coding information printed on a beverage package becomes critical in identifying the product and determining the production date. In the case of authenticity, the high-end wine industry is beginning to use complicated codes to make the labels harder to counterfeit.
Laser and inkjet coding both offer suitable solutions to coding. Technology has elevated both coding methods to match high bottling speeds, while not sacrificing quality or precision. Laser marking can be used for marking numerical codes, two-dimensional matrix and bar codes, logos and symbols all onto a wide range of substrates, including coated paper stocks, glass and plastic. Lasers do not require inks, stamps or ribbons to generate a code.
The two most common methods of laser coding products in beverage applications are ablation and surface modification.
“In the ablation method, heat from the invisible laser light is focused on the product or package, resulting in removal of a small amount of material from the surface,” explains Paul Schildhouse, laser product manager for North America at VideoJet Technologies Inc., Wood Dale, Ill. “The most common way laser coders create a mark on food and beverage products is by removing a thin layer of ink from the package. Other examples of ablation include removing the top layer of a foil pouch or etching glass beer or wine bottles.”
The second method of laser coding, surface modification, melts or alters the surface of a product or package in order to create the code. “This method is extremely popular for marking PET containers in beverage bottling applications, but is also used for marking bottle caps as well as many other plastic containers,” Schildhouse says.
Laser coding PET beverage bottles is a fast growing part of the market, says Jon Hall, U.S. laser business manager at Domino Amjet, Gurnee, Ill. “In PET, we are really seeing a trend toward high speeds,” he says. “Blowmolders want to make more bottles faster or beverage companies want to fill more bottles faster.”
Another trend in PET bottling is to reduce the weight of the bottles, which in turn yields thinner walls on the containers. “As they lighten up these containers, there is increased interest in the functionality of the laser codes that they are putting on the containers so they are not compromising the integrity of the containers,” Hall says.
Domino Amjet has created a code that’s more of a surface disruption than ablation, such as changing a color on the surface, for thinner-walled PET containers. “We have a high-contrast code, a highfrosted code, rather than depending on engraving deeply into the bottle to get a code,” Hall says. “That’s really the key for PET. You want to get a nice high-contrast, superficial mark.”
Mechanical positioning and expertise are essential when working with PET, Hall says. “To do the coding right, you have to not only have the right form factor of the product, you have to have the right wavelength or the right wavelength blend,” he explains. “You have to do motion sensing of the product. You have to do good product detection. You have to understand software and fonts.”
Laser coding solutions
Marking and coding system providers continue to improve, and are raising the level of equipment available for beverage companies.
For applications demanding fast and flexible data transfer and marking processes, such as beverage bottling and brewing, Videojet Technologies developed the 50-watt Videojet 3430. “It is able to mark 2,000 characters per second, and is capable of line speeds up to 50 feet per second,” Schildhouse says. “An IP65-rated housing increases reliability even in wet environments. Because of its integrated user interface, small marking head and flexible, articulated arm, the laser integrates quickly and easily into any beverage production line, and allows the system to be moved to different lines as coding needs change.”
Videojet Technologies also offers the 10-watt Videojet 3120 laser coder for marking on PET containers, paper, cardboard and carton packages. “The Videojet 3120 marks complex, multi-line alphanumeric messages, foreign language fonts, graphics, symbols and machinereadable codes,” Schildhouse says. The laser can apply a variety of code types: expiration and manufacture dates, ID matrix and bar codes, logos and symbols, and individual data such as serial numbers, batch and lot codes and weight specifications.
The company also provides the 30-watt Videojet 3320 that can permanently mark on glass, plastic, cardboard and labels. The laser coder prints standard and twodimensional bar codes, expiration dates, batch and lot codes, serial number, symbols, and manufacturer names and logos at a rate of 1,300 characters per second.
Domino Amjet’s products offer a cylindrical laser design with a scan head on it. “What we’ve found working with people who do PET blowmolding is that integrating into their machine is a very tight integration,” Hall says. “At Domino, we make our own laser tubes so we can determine the form factor of our product … Because we are basically vertically integrated, in the laser tubes, we can dictate what the form factor is going to look like. And because it’s a cylindrical body, we can really rotate that around and hit some challenging angles that are required in blowmolding operations.”
Possessing a small, light laser head that can be mounted into tight production spaces and easily adjusted, Domino S200+ has a compact control unit that can be shelf-mounted for positioning on production lines. Domino S200+ is designed to IP55, and uses blue laser tube technology. The consistent, permanent clear codes, from single-line batch to multiple lines with real-time data, are achieved using high-resolution optics and a laser beam steered by scanning technology. The flexible code design, including the ability to mark serial numbers, batch codes, bar codes, two-dimensional codes, fonts and graphics in any orientation marks precise, letter-quality codes without compromising production speeds. The Domino S200+ also is capable of producing crisp codes on PET without piercing the product.
Offering another laser marking system for harsh environments, ID Technology, a division of Pro Mach, which is headquartered in Cincinnati, developed its Series KIP- 1000 CO2 Laser Coding System with IP65 rating. The laser components and touch-screen controller are enclosed in an airtight casing that protects the laser from both dust and water. The Series KIP-1000, available in 10-, 30- and 60-watt models, features the same compact design and adjustable marking head available in all ID Technology laser coders.
Inkjet tagging options
For inkjet marking, ID Technology released the ci2000 IP65 Continuous Inkjet Printing System. The ci2000 is designed specifically for marking and coding applications that require the system to be used in extreme applications, just like the company’s laser coding system. The ci2000 is housed in a stainless steel enclosure and features positive air pressurization, eliminating entry points for dust and water. A heating mechanism allows operation in extremly cold environments, and channeled air flow technology ensures reliable operation in extremely hot environments. The ci2000 prints images up to 31 pixels and provides five lines of text, graphics and bar codes. It can print at speeds in excess of 1,500 feet per minute. Printable heights range from 1.5 mm. to 12 mm.
Additionally in inkjet printing, Imaje USA, Kennesaw, Ga., has replace its S8 printers by adding a new printer to its Imaje 9000 Series small character product line — the Imaje 9040. The continuous inkjet printer features a combination of two of Imaje’s other products — Imaje 9020 and Imaje 9030 — but now provides shortcuts to menus, intuitive icons, direct access to consumables and automatic nozzle rinsing system with a new inside cleaning cycle. The Imaje 9040 provides easy integration onto any production line, and can be used for several applications, including single-jet and bijet printheads, three printhead resolutions, numerous umbilical lengths, enhanced connectivity, wide selection of inks, and quick connection and disconnection of accessories. The Imaje 9040 can print up to four lines of text, can generate several character heights ranging from 0.7 mm. to 18.2 mm., and can print all types of codes, including Datamatrix.
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