In the November/December 2014 issue of Food Manufacturing, Mark Breunig, Videojet North American Product Manager, Continuous Ink Jet, told us how code detection technology increases operational flow and reduces food safety issues. Food Manufacturing recently had the chance to connect with Mark via email for a Q&A on the topic.
Q: In your experience, how are traceability initiatives and regulatory requirements impacting packaging needs for food manufacturers?
A: Some manufacturers are finding that their analog and older coding systems can’t meet new code requirements for traceability and other regulations. For instance, complex codes with multiline requirements, including those necessitated by the Country of Origin Labeling law, may exceed the capability or cause a decrease in print speed of the coding and marking equipment used by some food manufacturers.
Q: How can manufacturers use coding and marking technology to meet these requirements?
A: Sometimes it is possible to augment existing print technology to meet new code requirements, but it is often more advantageous to upgrade the existing coding equipment with newer, higher speed solutions that may carry other benefits such as increased uptime and ease-of-use. Some continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers, for example, can print a three line code at two line code speeds on plastic, glass, aluminum and paperboard packaging. At the same time, manufacturers can benefit from software designed to minimize operator inputs and a choice of fluid systems engineered to help reduce waste, mess and mistakes.
High-throughput food manufacturing environments require printers and inks that can keep up with elevated line speeds, quick dry time requirements, and virtually non-stop production. For these manufacturers, ultra-high-speed CIJ printers operate at the extremes of packaging line speed to deliver the required coding throughput.
Q: What are some of the factors that you’ve found can lead to product recalls?
A: While mistakes in labeling and coding can be preventable within the manufacturing process, manual setup of critical batch, origin, lot, machine, date of manufacture and best by dates is often managed by personnel who are also dealing with multiple demands of their time and attention. Many manufacturers implement standard procedures to manually check printed codes periodically during a production run. Even on moderate-speed packaging lines, hundreds and perhaps thousands of products may be marked between manual inspections. This leaves room for errors to go undetected until they reach the retailer or customer.
Q: What are some ways that food manufacturers can help ensure that products consistently contain the right codes on the right product?
A: Code Assurance solutions can ease the job setup and selection process with centralized message management and set-up wizards that make it harder to choose or create an improper code. Improved control over code content can mean choosing a system with an easy-to-use interface designed to simplify the operator’s choices. In some situations, hand-held scanners can be used to select the appropriate print job from a bar code on a work order or on the product. Connected coders and scanners can be set up simultaneously from a single point to maximize productivity gains and coding uniformity across a plant. For bar code validation, fixed-mount scanners are designed to scan and reject unreadable or missing codes and even stop the line if a coding error is detected.
An automated code detection system can also provide a means to help confirm that products contain the necessary codes. Using presence/absence detection, the system can verify that inkjet printed codes contain an appropriate number of pixels within a defined tolerance in a specific space. The implementation of a code detection system is an easy way to strengthen existing quality control processes. Users can quickly identify the root cause of the printing error by reviewing the bad code images stored on the system controller and take action to correct and help prevent reoccurrence.
Q: What benefits can a manufacturer hope to achieve from a Code Assurance solution and automated code detection?
A: Consistently getting the correct code, in the correct location and on the correct product is a key benefit of Code Assurance solutions. They are designed to help streamline production processes to drive productivity, and at the same time, minimize risk, rework and recalls. Automating and simplifying the input of code information reduces the likelihood of printing the wrong codes and reduces the time needed to input them, providing a dual benefit.
I’ve seen many companies find inline inspection systems helpful in maintaining the quality of the code and in providing early warnings that code quality is suffering before it can be detected by Q/A processes.