Mark Rapposelli, vice-president of marketing at Markem-Imaje, outlines why the packaging industry needs to embrace technology. He highlights the biggest concerns for the company's clients and how its products overcome these.
The content below is the unabridged version of the interview which was published in the March/April 2018 issue of Packaging Today.
Mark Rapposelli: Markem-Imaje is a solutions provider for coding and marking as well as packaging line traceability. Our primary market is the consumer packaged goods industry with a strong presence in food, beverage, confectionary, cosmetics, dairy and pharmaceuticals. However, we also play a significant role in some specific industrial segments, most notably wire and cable, extrusion, and medical devices.
Some customers think we just supply printers and coders. However, in addition to offering the most complete portfolio of coding and marking solutions to use with any packaging material, we are the only company to offer a one-stop-shop for software- based packaging line management solutions. Unlike others, our CoLOS® integrated software solution does not rely on third-party vendors so customers face fewer integration and operational issues as proven by the 17,000+ installations we have globally. And, our dedicated software excellence center and experienced project management team continue to build upon a 25-year track record of software development activity. We are always innovating to ensure the platform continues to streamline process and operational efficiency on packaging lines while improving coding quality and compliance in a way which enhances our customers' brands.
Our CoLOS software platform automates many key steps in the coding and marking process. We will soon be launching a new version which will make it even easier to error-proof complex coding applications. We will also provide additional decision management functionality by way of real-time reporting on smartphone, tablet or PC to optimise printer performance. CoLOS' ability to link printer data with production equipment and back-office information technology, such as enterprise resource planning and warehouse management systems, is also being enhanced. These advances improve bottom line performance by minimising waste and increasing uptime while improving supply chain visibility.
And, with traceability concerns driving a rise in compliance mandates for GS1 barcodes on cases, particularly of the GS1-128 variety since they encode more information than other options, we offer unique technologies to address this cost-effectively.
GS1, the not-for-profit organisation responsible for global standards for business communication, recommends that, when using print and apply technology, barcode labels appear on two sides of a carton and/or pallet in case one gets damaged. Accommodating this is a challenge for manufacturers as it typically involves costly pack-turning devices, product separators, line speed reductions and/or lengthening existing production lines. Markem-Imaje's recently launched Flex SE applicator allows front, side, or dual label application on a wide variety of surfaces at high speed without such modifications and with marginal impact on space.
For those preferring to print directly onto cases and reduce their total cost of ownership by eliminating labels, our patented Touch Dry® hot melt inks, used with our large character inkjet printers, ensure content remains compliant. Because the Touch Dry inks dry on contact, unlike liquid inks which spread along corrugate fibers, they remain in place and at the resolution at which they are printed. In fact, to meet the particularly stringent GS1-128 standard, Markem-Imaje's high opacity Touch Dry inks are the only direct printing option. Even with the latest ISO/IEC 15416 (2016) standard, liquid ink printing technologies struggle to achieve the minimum C ANSI grade required.
And, although corrugate case coding is the most common application for this inkjet printer family, customers who need to print on polystyrene are amazed to find that these same inks, in a variety of colors, may be used in their frozen food applications, which allows for enhanced product differentiation.
Automation and traceability are the hot topics with both our customers, who are product manufacturers, and their customers, who are companies like retailers and foodservice wholesalers. Across all of our markets - whether in food, pharma, or beverage - companies are striving to do more with less in the most efficient manner imaginable.
As companies explore what the industrial internet of things can bring their business, we see a growing interest in automation technologies to improve operational efficiency and drive down costs while obtaining a more granular view of products within the supply chain. In a world where analyzing 'big data' becomes increasingly important, automating processes ensures the data being considered is reliable and easy to obtain.
On packaging lines this is manifesting itself in increasingly sophisticated end-of-line solutions which communicate a greater than ever before level of information to back-office systems. Further down the supply chain, this can be seen in automated handling procedures and equipment. And, with an increasing bias towards pallet-splitting as a way to facilitate smaller, more frequent deliveries to better match demand to supply and minimize storage issues, maintaining traceability in such situations is particularly vital. Automation minimizes the scope for human error here.
We foresee an increased adoption of the GS1 standards, particularly the GS1-128 barcode, as probably the biggest development that will impact the broadest range of our customers worldwide. There are several significant regulatory developments in healthcare with the EU's Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) and the US FDA's unique device identifier (UDI) for medical devices, to ensure traceability of products through distribution and use. But the need for enhanced visibility is not limited to healthcare. Given a range of recent high profile food scandals, there is an increased sensitivity towards end-to-end traceability to meet increasingly demanding consumer and governmental expectations for dealing with recalls quickly. They are, by now, well aware that we live in an Information Age where the technology exists to make it possible to track any item from the point of production through to final consumption.
Not leveraging this technology is becoming less and less sustainable. In fact, we have just launched a white paper discussing how a rising demand for detailed information at a case level. is putting the GS1-128 barcode on course to become the preferred standard for retail grocery and foodservice packaging. GS1-128 barcodes encode far more that than just an identification number through the use of 100 Application Identifiers, providing detail such as expiration dates and lot numbers. Our comprehensive analysis, some 40 pages long, not only explains how we have reached our conclusion about its inexorable rise, but also provides case studies of current GS1-128 implementation initiatives along with tips for achieving compliance.
In the short term, compliance trends continue to drive the need for full solutions regarding product safety whether it is retail compliance, recall management or traceability. That being said, coding and marking is evolving in two interesting directions: the first is improving the integration of coding systems with automation and master data to eliminate coding errors, waste and recalls; and the second is being able to do more with your codes than just meet regulatory compliance. Each code on a product can be unique and will enable our customers to use that unique code to help manage product quality, effectively promote their brand and ensure product authenticity.