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Flexible solutions for case coding applications

“The newly released Videojet 2351/61 decreases required maintenance by adding an easy to replace low cost filter to the ink return line, extending the associated interaction cycle from daily to monthly. The only frequent maintenance that is required is a daily, quick wipe down of the printhead surface.”

videojetGlobal consumer demand for product variety and diversity has created a significant challenge for manufacturers, who are increasingly required to make their packaging lines more adaptable and flexible. For manufacturers utilizing traditional pre-printed cases for packaging, product proliferation can cause significant strains, as the need to create more unique Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) with product-specific printed information can overwhelm production processes and create unnecessary costs.

Stating that global consumer demand for product variety and diversity has created a significant challenge for manufacturers, who are increasingly required to make their packaging lines more adaptable and flexible, Bob Neagle, Global Business Unit Manager for Case Coding at Videojet Technologies said: “For manufacturers utilizing traditional pre-printed cases for packaging, product proliferation can cause significant strains, as the need to create more unique Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) with product-specific printed information can overwhelm production processes and create unnecessary costs”.

Recently a major US retail chain implemented a mandate requiring suppliers to use barcodes which were pre-printed using a flexographic process. This mandate has largely gone against the grain of the emerging trend of utilizing on-demand printing solutions or Large Character Marking (LCM) technology, in case packaging lines. While pre-printed cases have traditionally been viewed as the simplest marking solution in such applications, inventory and changeover costs often make it the less straightforward option. On-demand case printing can overcome many of the challenges traditionally experienced with pre-printing processes, such as SKU proliferation and increased production demands.

Bob Neagle, Global Business Unit Manager for Case Coding at Videojet Technologies, discusses how on-demand technologies are helping manufacturers to optimize their production processes.

Pre-printing cases seems to be contrary to what manufacturers are trying to achieve, why is this issue?
Manufacturing operations are always looking to increase efficiency, both with incoming goods and with finished products which move through the supply chain. Pre-printing cases essentially means that a manufacturer will have a case SKU to match every product SKU, which adds to costs and production complexity. This particular coding process also excludes a manufacturer from being able to add production related information, such as lot code and date of manufacture – which facilitates better inventory management of finished goods in the supply chain, particularly for short shelf life products. Ultimately the goal of the manufacturer is to increase product uptime; hence it is critical to utilize the right technology to keep the production line running as smoothly as possible.

Does pre-printing boxes make regulatory compliance more difficult for manufacturers?
While there are little to no government regulations that directly prescribe what information should be contained on a shipping case, regulations such as the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) do require enhanced record keeping, which enables recalls to be performed rapidly and effectively. Being able to include production information, such as a lot code and production date, greatly enhances a manufacturer’s ability to locate the product in question within the supply chain, and for supply chain partners to quickly identify and remove products when needed. With pre-printed cases, it isn’t feasible to include data that isn’t available until the time of production, so you are limited to just identifying the product.

What are the main benefits of printing on demand – why do manufacturers prefer it?
Printing on-demand enables manufacturers to add production level information to packaging. Ultimately this facilitates supply efficiency and allows for the effective execution of product recalls; for producers negating both the short-term and long-term negative effects of product recalls is a key concern, which should be addressed at a primary production level.
Mmanufacturers using LCM systemscan also reduce their case SKUs by printing additional product information at the time of manufacture, which decreases costs and increases flexibility to react to changes in demand. As well as improving production efficiency, this process helps to avoid downtime.

Is retailer demand for pre-printed boxes justified in terms of their reasoning – do quality levels not come up to standard in on-demand applications?
Direct to case LCM printing has been shown to deliver scan rates approaching 100%, even on brown corrugate. As with any technology, LCM systems do require some degree of maintenance rigor, which if not controlled can lead to a decrease in print quality and barcode scan rate. While no LCM on the market is maintenance free, the amount of upkeep which may be required on a system will vary depending on the operation. Provided correct maintenance procedures are carried out as per the correct schedule, there is no reason to suggest that quality levels will not meet the required standard.

How can LCM technology help to alleviate the perceived issues of retailers?
Commonly retailers may have the perception that the code quality produced with LCM systems is second to that of pre-printed processes, however LCM print quality is more than sufficient for use in the supply chain, while still supporting brand image initiatives.Recent advances in LCM technology have made further gains in improving the overall quality of codes produced. The Videojet 2300 series patented micro-purge function frequently and automatically blows off any dust or debris that may have settled on the printhead and could potentially clog ink nozzles. With this approach a high level of print quality can be maintained over extended periods, with minimal monitoring and intervention. Since the purged ink is filtered and put back into the ink supply, mess is minimized and running costs are reduced.

How has the technology advanced in the last 12 months – are there any upgrades/updates to report?
Suppliers of marking and coding technologies are quite aware that production costs incurred through machine maintenance are a top concern for manufacturers. Recent advances in technology have incorporated features that help to reduce the strain of maintenance. The newly released Videojet 2351/61 decreases required maintenance by adding an easy to replace low cost filter to the ink return line, extending the associated interaction cycle from daily to monthly. The only frequent maintenance that is required is a daily, quick wipe down of the printhead surface.

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