Changing times, changing lines


CATEGORY: Retail and visibility in the linear BRAND: Videojet Technologies

How coding and marking helps manufacturers to avoid downtime when dealing with multiple products on a production line.

Viktor Puzakov


As beverage brands expand their ranges to meet consumer demand, the way in which manufacturers operate their lines must adapt to accommodate. How coding and marking fits into the equation

In order to meet consumer demand, at the same time increasing their market share, beverage manufacturers are constantly increasing the variety of products they offer. This assortment may come from adding new flavours, introducing different package types and sizes or experimenting with a product mix. No matter where increased SKU proliferation come from, it has the potential to affect operational performance.

Quite often both the space and capital that can be deployed are the main limiting factors when building a new production line. To overcome this, beverage manufacturers use one production line for multiple products, making them in batches that meet market demand. Batch manufacturing means more set up time and less production and, in addition, changeovers are often carried out manually, increasing the probability of coding and marking errors.



Coding and marking is essential

Without coding and marking operations as part of a production line, beverage manufacturers would be unable to bring products to market in accordance with current legislation from global regulators and governing bodies, therefore they must be applied to each and every batch produced. Lot, batch and use by dates are all common requirements and even in countries where expiration dates are not regulated they are commonly used to ensure products reach consumers in peak condition.

Traceability is also a key element facilitated by coding and marking, and is particularly important in an age where a product recall can have a significant impact on a brand’s reputation. According to the International Standards Organization (ISO) Product traceability means “the ability to trace the history, application or location of an item or activity by means of recorded identification.” This feature allows the final consumer and the manufacturer to know where the supplies have come from and the various stages a product has undergone on its journey to the retail supply chain. It also allows products from a suspect batch to be identified and recalled quickly and efficiently. Inkjet, laser and thermal transfer overprinters (TTO) can be used for printing bar and matrix codes for product traceability. The production line speed, resolution and type and colour of substrate will dictate what technology is best to be employed, and this is easily determined through working with an expert provider of coding and marking solutions. 

Finally, a large number of beverage brands are the victims of counterfeiting operations. INTERPOL-Europol seized more than 10,000 tonnes and one million litres of hazardous fake food and drink in operations across 57 countries in 2015 (1) and the counterfeit beverages not only hurt the original manufacturers and federal budget through the lack of financial reward, it also can put final consumers’ health and even life in danger. There are several ways to protect all parties from the negative effects of consuming counterfeit products. Legislation and law enforcement are often expensive and difficult to enforce and pre-printed security packaging requires significant investment and is not totally “bullet proof”. Coding and marketing solutions, on the other hand, are cost effective, easy to implement and are an extremely effective way to address the issue of counterfeiting through measures such as covert inks, for example.


Coding and marking technologies

Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) systems are ideal for high-throughput environments such as beverage plants. Such environments are typically characterized by elevated line speeds (up to 960 ft/min), quick dry times and virtual non-stop production. CIJ technology employs different types of inks, such fast drying, removable, high contrast, food safe and condensation penetration depending on the type of application. The technology also offers increased flexibility and can be used on almost any substrate, including glass bottles, aluminum cans, flexible pouches, plastic bottles, caps and lids, paperboard, cartons and labels.

Laser Marking Systems are also commonly used in beverage applications and offer several significant advantages over other technologies, including mark quality, permanence and almost zero use of consumables. There are three types of laser: CO2, fiber and UV. Laser Marketing Systems utilizing CO2 are the most economical type on the market and therefore are the most commonly used in the beverage industry. It is typically used to code on glass and plastic beverage containers and lids in high throughput applications - typically with line speeds of up to 2,950 ft/min.

Thermal Inkjet (TIJ) printers use ink-based, non-contact printing using heat and surface tension to move ink onto a package and are generally used to print 2D DataMatrix and other barcodes where required in the beverage sector. Thermal Transfer Overprinters, where a digitally controlled printhead precisely melts ink from a ribbon directly onto flexible films to provide high resolution, real-time prints, are also commonly used where a manufacturer is using flexible film packaging – an increasingly popular format.



The benefits of advanced coding and marking systems

To address the production related challenges that arise from more frequent changeovers, advanced coding and marking systems have a number of features designed to make operations more seamless. Error reduction is of course a key element. Smart interfaces now have the ability to reduce operator interactions by employing intuitive software. Built-in wizards allow operators to customize printer interfaces, helping to ensure operators only see the options they need. Error-proofing rules help to greatly reduce printer interactions, and step-by-step embedded video instruction guides the operator through routine tasks to make job creation quick and simple – a huge advantage where small batch operations are in effect.

The downtime associated with frequent changeovers also has a major impact on productivity and therefore profitability. In order to alleviate this issue, rapid line changeovers are possible via advanced coding and marking systems, which have capability of storing more than 250 messages in their memory. This makes transitioning from one line set up to another almost immediate and protects the manufacturer and its employees from any mistakes during line changeovers.

In addition, major advances have been made where printer availability is concerned. Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) printers for example, common in beverage operations, are now available on the market that feature predictive capabilities. In some instances, manufacturers can be alerted to a potential degradation in print quality up to eight hours in advance through features such as ink build up sensors – the principal cause of unplanned printer downtime. Powerful on-board intelligence is also integrated into the most advanced systems, monitoring over 150 key indicators of printer performance, providing expert diagnostics, analytics and guiding operators to correct problems before they happen.



The future of coding and marking systems in the beverage industry

As the beverage industry continues to flourish through its ability to remain versatile, a number of trends have emerged that are vital to take into consideration in the coming years.

Firstly, green Initiatives are on the rise. “Green” can mean many different things depending on which side in the industry you stand. From the perspective of the coding and marking company, “green” means to develop and utilize new printing technologies and environmentally-friendly inks. These “green” inks may feature some or all of the following properties:

· Low odor inks have been specifically designed to avoid contaminating goods and food with unnecessary odor during manufacturing and packaging processes

· No-MEK: although MEK is neither a hazardous nor ozone depleting chemical, it is typically a preference to limit its use

· Fast Drying inks: use acetone solvent, which is both free of Volatile Organic Compounds and provides good code resilience.


Secondly, coding for promotional and loyalty programs is a great opportunity to connect with consumers and tailors valuable marketing data to each customer. Increasingly, this method of coding and marking is being used to connect directly with consumers and to better understand buying habits and behaviors. It encourages consumers to interact directly with a brand, further reinforcing a connection and therefore promoting loyalty.

Finally, as we have touched upon already, flexible pouches are gaining much wider share within the mix of beverage containers. This can be attributed to a number of factors, such as their ability to contain a much larger amount of information due to a wider, more friendly surface on which to print; the enhanced product protection they offer through the barrier they create via metalized films; and finally the cost benefits they bring to those manufacturers that have adopted flexibles as a format. Pouches are lighter and less bulky to transport, making them a perfect product from a logistics perspective.

As the beverage industry must continue to work in a smart manner to keep up with the very real demands of its consumers, it is clear that technology has a key role to play if production schedules are to be maintained. Coding and marking, although a small element in the overall equation, is a critical one to consider, as through implementing advanced systems that reduce operator error and all but eliminate printer-related downtime, beverage manufacturers can ensure optimal efficiency on the line and ultimately protect their profits.


Videojet Technologies is a world-leader in the product identification market, providing in-line printing, coding and marking products, application specific fluids and product life cycle services. Our goal is to partner with our customers in the consumer packaged goods, pharmaceutical and industrial goods industries to improve their productivity, to protect and grow their brands and to stay ahead of industry trends and regulations. With our customer application experts and technology leadership in continuous inkjet (CIJ), thermal inkjet (TIJ), laser marking, thermal transfer overprinting (TTO), case coding and labeling and wide array printing, Videojet has more than 325,000 printers installed worldwide. Our customers rely on Videojet products to print on over ten billion products daily. Customer sales, application, service and training support is provided by direct operations, with over 3,000 team members in 26 countries worldwide. In addition, the Videojet distribution network includes more than 400 distributors and OEMs serving 135 countries.




Viktor Puzakov is Global Marketing Manager at Videojet Technologies.



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