June 10, 2021 

Food Coding and Marking Equipment Analysis by Application

Canning line

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:

  • Backward traceability by allowing users to source all ingredients back to their origin.
  • Forward traceability by providing an overview of where products are moving along the supply chain.
  • Complete inventory control by pinpointing where products are currently being stored.

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.

Application 1: Aluminum Can Marking 

A carton of eggs packaged in paperboard.

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. 

Application 2: Flexible Plastic Printing

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.

  • CIJ printers are a great choice for high-speed production lines. CIJ printers are versatile enough to easily fit alongside machines like flow-wrappers and vertical form filling machines. They also have access to a diverse ink portfolio.
  • Thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers are intuitive, compact, and affordable machines. TIJ printers can place small logos, barcodes, and text onto packaging while requiring little or no regular maintenance. Although they don’t have the same speed capabilities as CIJ or laser marking systems, TIJ printers are great for applications that require speeds around 300 feet per minute.
  • Laser marking systems are another great choice for high-speed production lines. Compared to printers, laser systems can mark products with sharp images and codes while using fewer consumable supplies. However, they are not compatible with all plastic varieties.
  • Thermal transfer overprinters are ideal for marking flexible packaging materials such as polypropylene and polyethylene films, gloss cards, flexible aluminum, and more. These printers come into direct contact with the substrate, allowing for high-resolution graphic and text printing. It’s a very clean printing process and can be used to print expiration dates, batch codes, logos, barcodes, and ingredients lists.

Application 3: Paperboard Carton Coding 

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.

Get More Analysis of Food Coding and Marking Equipment

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.

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C&M Digest Team

The C&M Digest Team is composed of experts from across the coding and marking world. Comprised of ink developers, hardware veterans, and engineers, our News Team delivers informed coverage that is always free from brand bias.

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