Year after year, food packaging proves to be one of the largest coding and marking industry sectors. Food producers rely on industrial printing equipment to place markings such as barcodes, line numbers, lot codes, and expiration dates on their products, and in doing so, these companies create complete traceability across their supply chains.
Given the complexity of today’s global food networks, uninterrupted traceability is essential. By implementing and following traceability best practices, companies can achieve:
Not only are these elements important to keeping day-to-day operations efficient, but they are also often required by both distribution channels and government agencies. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration is proposing enhanced levels of traceability for consumer packaged goods. For specific high-risk covered foods such as soft cheeses, tomatoes, eggs, and leafy greens, it is up to producers to develop and maintain electronic records from farm to store. This kind of traceable coding helps companies avoid fines and prepare for the possibility of product recalls.
However, food packaging comes in a variety of forms and is made with a multitude of different materials, and companies need to choose the right coding equipment for long-lasting and legible marking.
Below we detail a food coding and marking equipment analysis by application so companies can choose the ideal machinery to fit their needs.
According to expert statistics, the global canned food market is currently valued at over $90 billion. In the United States alone, more than 216 million people consume canned fruits and vegetables as part of their diet. Canning is a popular packaging method because the packaging is durable, relatively lightweight, and provides an excellent protective seal.
Canning is most commonly performed on high-speed production lines. These operations require printers that can mark products moving at over 1,000 feet per minute. The printer must be compatible with retort-proof ink and canning materials such as tin-coated steel, tin-free steel, and aluminum. It also must be able to accommodate curved can surfaces.
To meet these needs, canning operations most frequently turn to continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers. CIJ printers use highly pressurized streams of ink to mark substrates moving at high speeds. The continuous ink stream enables CIJ printers to code cans in an uninterrupted manner, maximizing uptime. CIJ printheads are also designed to propel ink from a 1-2 inch distance, enabling them to effectively mark curved surfaces.
Laser marking machines are another option for canning applications. With relatively comparable speed abilities to CIJ printers, laser marking machines are usually intended for printing on paper labeling and can mark more than 100,000 cans within an hour.
Flexible plastics are used to package everything from nuts and chocolate to baking goods and loose tea. Taking the form of films, bags, and pouches, flexible plastic is a cost-effective material with relatively few substrate concerns. As such, companies that use flexible plastic to package their products can mark the material with a range of equipment, including thermal transfer overprinters and hot stamps. The right hardware choice largely depends on the needs of the operation. Some examples of marking systems and their ideal applications are listed below.
Paperboard is a porous material used for both primary and secondary packaging purposes. Foods as diverse as eggs, ice cream, pasta, and cereal are all commonly placed in paperboard cartons. Versatile, affordable, and completely recyclable, paperboard is not only prized for its mechanical properties, but also its simplicity as a printing surface.
Like flexible plastic, paperboard can be marked by a broad range of coding technologies. CIJ, TIJ, and laser marking systems are all applicable and carry the same qualities as profiled above. Stamp machines are also often used for printing on egg cartons. However, a unique option for paperboard applications is the high-resolution case coder.
Compatible with porous substrates, case coders can place high-DPI images and codes onto paperboard packaging. Compared to CIJ, TIJ, and laser systems, case coders can mark materials with characters that are both larger and sharper. The one drawback is that case coders aren’t as high-speed capable as CIJ printers and laser systems.
The coding and marking industry is filled with diverse hardware options that meet the needs of different materials and production line setups. With all of these choices on the market, picking the best option can be a difficult task. Fortunately, C&M Digest is here to help provide guidance. Stay tuned to our coverage to learn what food coding and marking equipment can take your operation to the next level.
For more articles like “Food Coding and Marking Equipment Analysis by Application,” stay connected with C&M Digest by subscribing to our newsletter. To get in touch with us about possible collaborations or ideas for coverage, contact us today.