At the Kentucky Science Center, the Go H2O station lets kids see how powerful of a force water is. The interactive exhibit showcases how water moves and interacts as children control the direction of the “water” (blue wooden balls) and seeing its effect on processes such as erosion, sedimentation and flooding. In the beverage packaging world, many probably wish they had an exhibit where they could test out how consumer trends would impact packaging operations.
Anton Pivovarov, vertical marketing manager at Videojet Technologies, Wood Dale, Ill., notes that three trends in packaging seem to be driving the beverage market.
“Trend No. 1 Sustainability: the expanded use of rPET bottles is one way the beverage industry is driving a circular economy, saving energy and embracing recycling,” he says. “It will remain a top agenda item for beverage companies. Trend No. 2: some beverage manufacturers are using active packaging technologies to extend shelf life and improve product safety.
“Trend No. 3: we are seeing a return to on-the-go consumption,” he continues. “As inflation pressures on, family budgets are favoring large sizes and multipacks for at-home consumption ― the focus is on getting more value for the money.”
Pivovarov notes that varying pack size and styles, coupled with shelf-ready packaging impacts the throughputs of production lines, but coding and online printing solutions are flexible to support these variables, including line changeovers, line speeds, and code/text requirements.
“For instance, variable codes and messages on rPET beverage bottles can be printed with continuous inkjet printers or marked with lasers without slowing the beverage line,” he says. “Continuous inkjet (CIJ) inks are constantly being developed to print on new packaging materials while also addressing users’ requirements for safety and sustainability.”
To accommodate many of these packaging trends, operations increasingly have been employing forms of automation in their production and warehousing facilities. A variable that coding and printing suppliers are well-equipped to support.
“Today’s coding and printing equipment can be easily integrated into automated filling and packaging machines,” Pivovarov explains. “CIJ, lasers, thermal transfer overprinters, and thermal inkjet printers, employ fast data processing to produce accurate codes at high beverage line speeds.
“For cases and pallets, print and apply labelers and print-on-demand inkjet case coders deliver durable barcodes and alphanumeric text that can withstand the distribution chain, all without slowing the packaging line,” he continues. “Digitally enabled solutions like the VideojetConnect suite provides tools and alerts to optimize printing device uptime, monitor packaging performance through the printer as a proxy, and generate and store inline inspection reports in the cloud.”
Selecting the right solution
When deciding whether to utilize inkjet or laser coders for an operation, experts note the importance of understanding the challenges and benefits associated with both.
“Easy integration and simple operation are hallmarks of CIJ technology,” Pivovarov says. “While the characters formed are generally lower in resolution than other solutions, CIJ printers can produce codes, text, dates and bar codes on almost any packaging surface, even at ultra-high speeds and in continuous production environments.
“CIJ inks can be selected according to their unique properties such as removability, fast dry times, low odor solvent/chemical resistance, condensation penetration, thermochromic color changing and food packaging compliance,” he continues.
Meanwhile, Pivovarov pinpoints the excellent print quality that lasers offer in terms of marking text, bar codes, product information and logos. They also are able to accommodate most line speeds and product sizes, he says.
“In contrast to most other coding technologies, lasers produce permanent marks that can help protect brands and aid in traceability efforts,” Pivovarov says. “A laser’s initial investment is typically higher than other coding equipment, but operation does not necessitate the ongoing purchase and storage of consumable supplies like ink and solvent. Lasers require ventilation systems to remove any fumes generated by the marking process, along with shielding to protect the operator. Once in operation, a laser solution only needs an occasional filter change and infrequent maintenance.”
Yet, improvements to inkjet and laser technology is not the only way that coding technology suppliers are adapting to evolving warehouse demands. Like many other operations, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a growing part of the industry.
“AI helps beverage manufacturers to more efficiently use their marking equipment, avoid downtime, and better integrate in the line,” Pivovarov says. “Marking and coding equipment can be run from anywhere with an internet connection. The data the equipment collects and produces is stored in the cloud. The further evolution and implementation of advanced artificial intelligence will eventually allow smart packaging machinery to continually record, analyze, update, and improve upon key performance indicators resulting in an ever-advancing supply chain.”
All of this comes as the prospects for coding technology only look to improve.
“The industry continues to move beyond simple inkjet printing with cutting-edge innovations,” Pivovarov says. “The global industrial marking equipment market is valued at $18.4 billion as of 2022. It is expected to grow at a [compound annual growth rate] of 5.3% during the period 2022-2032, and by 2032, the market is expected to reach a valuation of $30.84 billion.”