Applying product codes to cans

Nick Plaister, continuous ink jet director at Domino Printing Sciences, offers his views on the latest trends and innovations for the canning sector

It is fair to say that the coding and marking of cans and other containers has undergone a major change over the last decade. Whereas product coding was once primarily about printing “sell by” dates on foodstuffs, it is now an essential element of supply chain management for the retailers. Furthermore, it is swiftly becoming, via the use of QR codes and smartphone scanners, a tool for consumers to find out more information on the products they buy.
On the one hand, more sophisticated product coding presents itself as an opportunity for manufacturers, who can add value to their products. On the other however, there are additional demands from the retailers, who are looking for more complex coding solutions. These more complicated demands from the retailers potentially raise a number of new challenges for the canning sector – one which already operates on low margins and yet relies on maintaining high-speed production output.

Continuous ink jet printing
The canning industry has used continuous ink jet (CIJ) equipment almost exclusively for its coding requirements since the late 1970s. While this technology has proved extremely popular for its ease of integration into existing production lines and its ability to deliver good quality output at high production speeds, the increasing demand for multi-line, complex coding has brought new challenges for CIJ technology to keep up with these demands for multiple coding delivery within high speed canning lines.
It can, for example, be difficult to print more than one line of code at a time using conventional CIJ technology on a high speed canning line, which might produce up to 2,000 cans per minute, or 30 cans per second. In these situations, manufacturers needing to print more than one line of code would usually have to split their production lines, effectively halving the speed – no minor consideration for companies who produce low margin but high volume goods.
Such an incident arose in the US, whereby can suppliers to one major retailer found their production lines put under severe pressure when the customer decided to increase its product coding requirements. The customer needed additional qualitative information to be printed onto each can for improved traceability, therefore changing its product coding requirements from two to three lines of code without impacting on production.
Fortunately, CIJ technology is also evolving in response to these increasing demands for more complex coding; the latest innovations aim to simplify the delivery of more sophisticated coding within production environments, whilst helping manufacturers improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and meet industry demand for improved print performance without affecting their bottom line.

The latest innovations in CIJ printing
One innovative variant to Domino’s A-series range of CIJ printers, the A-Series Duo, is a good example of how coding equipment manufacturers have responded to industry demands. The twin jet, single head composition of the A-Series Duo ink jet coding solution enables it to produce twice as many lines of code as a conventional single jet CIJ printer at the same speed; as a result, production output is maximised and the design and layout of the manufacturers’ high speed production lines are simplified.
Similarly, coding equipment has become more sophisticated in terms of optimising output while minimising downtime, such as Domino’s range of i-Tech intelligent Technology smart features. These have been specifically designed to enhance production efficiencies and include a series of product enhancements that eliminate preventative maintenance downtime and boost output. These coding solutions have been designed so that configuration and usage is monitored and the consumables replenishment cycle is automatically adjusted, ensuring the ink is always in the optimum condition and helping to maximise OEE. Conventional servicing has been eliminated and replaced by a simple consumables replacement that can be undertaken by production staff and carried out in less than 10 minutes.

Using product codes to boost productivity
While the demand for more complex coding could be viewed by canning manufacturers as a distraction from their core business, some are seizing the opportunity to use their coding equipment to boost productivity. Some manufacturers, for example, are using codes to track each can back to a particular filling head, helping to ensure that any filling head challenges can be quickly identified and addressed, ensuring downtime is kept to a minimum and that output is maximised.
Elsewhere, leading global soft drinks brands have demonstrated how coding equipment can be used to add value to products, such as by utilising coding as part of digital marketing campaigns via the application of unique lottery style lucky numbers to cans, with prizes on offer for consumers who visit the manufacturer’s website and enter the unique code along with their personal details. This activity has the double benefit of making the product more appealing and enabling the manufacturer to capture the consumers’ personal data for future marketing activity.

Future trends
While food packaging and labelling trends often vary, we expect the demand for more detailed product coding to continue to grow from a range of industry stakeholders. Consumers will continue to apply pressure for data that can help them make more informed choices about what they eat and drink, while the retailers will want greater control and traceability over their supply chains.
It is therefore more important than ever for canning manufacturers to be up to speed with the latest developments in coding to ensure that their equipment is helping them to maximise efficiency rather than slowing production down unnecessarily.
Choosing the right coding equipment partner is therefore key to helping manufacturers meet the demands of legislative bodies, retailers and consumers without compromising on production output and ultimately profitability.

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