Tips to Achieve Consistent, Reliable Product Coding

Coding your primary product package or shipping carton seems to be a small step in the overall production process.  But it is extremely critical in order to be ready to release your goods for sale.  Incorrect, illegible or failed code information can shut down your production line, and interrupt your cash flow, just as easily as a clogged filler machine or a broken capping device.  That’s the bad news……

But the good news is that by simply paying attention to the initial technology selection and application, the proper system set-up, and operational procedures can make reliable and efficient coding very achievable.  Here are a few ideas that may help.

  1. Pick the proper print technology for the task and material. Understand what you need to achieve in terms of information or codes to be printed. If you are tasked with printing high density 2D codes be sure to select a print technology that has sufficient dot resolution.  Also, understand the characteristics of the material you’ll print on.  Corrugate is much different than chipboard or high quality label stock and thus they require different approaches.
  2. Understand the changeover difficulties your operators will face. Do all of your products use the very same code layout? Or are you a contract packager that has to meet the code specifications of a large number of different customers and industries. If you only package a few products the coding task is very different than if you package 200 different products.  The more formats you need to control, and products you need to code, the greater the benefit of using a database to control the code information.  The use of a closely controlled database can insure code accuracy when changes are required and make the operator task of proper coding much more reliable.
  3. You don’t always need a label on a carton. Although the GS1-128 bar code required by the Produce Traceability Initiative was designed for label printer resolution, packagers can reliably print the GS1-128 code directly on corrugated cases in-house. White background is always a better code background than brown, but inkjet inks developed with higher black pigment values are available for the purpose of printing such codes while maintaining proper contrast levels. Direct carton printing inline can save the cost of investment in a carton labeling system, and the ongoing cost of purchasing case labels..
  4. Match the ink or thermal transfer ribbons to the material to be printed – ahead of time. Today’s inkjets and thermal transfer coders have wide ranges of consumable products available for use on different materials that have very different print characteristics and receptivity. A professional supplier of coding systems should be ready to make pre-purchase print tests on the material you have to code. When a decision is reached to purchase a coding system the buyer should already know what consumables they will need for their materials, their cost, and what is involved for operators when changing inks or ribbons at the packaging line.  Ink and ribbon print performance should be monitored regularly, especially if a packaging component or material is suspected to have been changed.  Even slight differences in carton surface or finish material (carton varnish) can affect print performance.
  5. How you move the package is as important as how the coder prints. An inkjet of any type simply sprays ink out into space. If the package to be coded is too far away or too close the chance to print quality codes is reduced greatly.  The package must be in the same spot, at the same distance from the printer, travelling at the same speed each time the coder is triggered.  Elimination of package vibration due to the transport device (roller conveyor versus belted conveyor) is also critical in printing bar codes or 2D codes. A small amount of time inspecting and tuning the transport system regularly can significantly improve code results and reliability. Some applications require the print head to move.  In such cases the print should be applied to a stationary package.  Printing on a moving product with a moving print head can very quickly become highly problematic due to timing complexity.
  6. Give your operators the best chance to succeed. Provide employees with the proper tools and skills to complete their appointed tasks. Proper training is a minimal investment when line down time can be measured in thousands of dollars per minute or tens of thousands of dollars per hour. Also, a small supply of essential spare parts can be very cost effective “insurance”. High production rates are often a driving force, and employees are trained to get product finished and ready for shipment. In house created non-procedural shortcuts can affect long term packaging line reliability. Give your operators the best chance to perform to their best with the proper training and tools. Keep manuals easily available for reference.  Allow sufficient training time for new employees.  Keep system model numbers, machine serial numbers, and software revision numbers available for immediate reference when seeking technical support.
  7. Take care in selecting your vendor. Many times system purchase cost is the primary consideration – “cheapest”. Coders can be purchased, sometimes at surprisingly low cost, over the internet from as far away as China.  But, in such cases, who do you call when you have a problem that has shut down your entire packaging line?  When your packaging line has come to a screeching halt due to coder problems, local support can very quickly outweigh any cost savings from the initial purchase.  Be sure to determine that your product vendor is fully knowledgeable about the product, can offer immediate phone support, and stocks a full supply of essential spare parts and consumables“ on this side of the ocean.” Once you’ve purchased a system, call the vendor with a few simple questions so that you know ahead of time who to call and speak with when you need help, and are confident they have the resources available to give help when needed.

At Griffin-Rutgers we sell and support a wide range of coding devices to suit any need and budget.  We have done exactly this for over 40 years and continue to do so today.  Call and ask us about how we can help you solve your coding challenge. 

“We can do that.”

Posted in Printing, Coding & Marking.