King of the code22 December 2011
Lynda Searby investigates whether TIJ, laser and high resolution piezo are eroding CIJ’s share of the primary pack coding market
It will come as no surprise to most that continuous inkjet (CIJ) reigns supreme as the coding method of choice for the FMCG market.
“In the UK and across Europe, CIJ is still the universal coding technology of choice,” confirms Tom Hawkins, UK sales manager with Videojet. “This is due to the flexibility it offers for line integration, the throw distance of the printhead and the varieties of ink available.”
It’s difficult to know precisely how large a lion’s share CIJ has, but Jim Orford, UK sales manager at Domino, estimates overall market sales are between 1,200 and 1,800 CIJ units in the UK each year.
However, there are some in the industry who think that CIJ’s days as king of coding may be numbered, as users migrate to other coding methods, in particular thermal inkjet (TIJ).
“We have replaced quite a few CIJ printers with TIJ now,” says Ian Luck, MD of Euromark. “We will shortly have some new equipment that will eat further into the CIJ market and it’s just a matter of time until CIJ is the less used of the two.”
He says the force driving uptake of TIJ is that there is no maintenance needed. “The ink cartridge contains all the clever stuff and you replace that when it’s empty.”
Few agree that TIJ is going to have quite the impact on the CIJ market that Luck suggests, though there’s no doubt TIJ is building a following among certain users.
“In some applications, TIJ can provide a better solution, and as a result has become the first choice,” says Paul Doody, director of marketing with Linx Printing Technologies. “For example, where machine-readable datamatrix codes are printed, the resolution and print consistency of TIJ provides a much more reliable read rate.”
For this reason, the vast majority of primary coding applications for TIJ have been in the pharmaceutical industry, where high quality QR and 2D datamatrix codes Linx undertook ‘Voice of customer’ research prior to developing the CJ400 CIJ printer The Linx SL scribing laser range is said to be ideal for bottled products Markem-Imaje’s 9232 CIJ coder responds to the requirement for intuitive user interfaces are now becoming a legal requirement.
“Certainly, this is an area where TIJ has demonstrated particular advantages because of its ability to print all types of code in high resolution, including alphanumerics, barcodes and monochrome graphics, which can then be read by automatic vision systems.
This is especially important for 2D datamatrix codes, which require coders with a print resolution of at least 600dpi,” says Harry Thomason, MD of Travtec Group, supplier of the Wolke TIJ m600, the coder of choice for many pharmaceutical companies.
“AstraZeneca, for example, has installed 15 Travtec systems to date at its site in Macclesfield, UK. Seven of these are Pharmacarton Lite coding stations, seven are print conveyors and one is a manually-fed system.
All of them incorporate the Wolke m600, and the Pharmacarton Lite system also incorporates an OCR/OCV optical character verification system.
The decision to install the Travtec systems was underpinned by anti-counterfeit regulations introduced in Turkey, and latterly French CIP13 coding requirements, both of which have necessitated the inclusion of 2D datamatrix codes on packs.
It is worth noting that the widespread adoption of TIJ by pharmaceutical companies is not necessarily at the expense of CIJ, as Linx’s Doody points out: “TIJ is displacing older technologies rather than CIJ. There is only a small amount of substitution from CIJ to TIJ currently.”
As for FMCG markets, Markem-Imaje doesn’t think it will be following in the footsteps of the pharmaceutical industry.
“We are not seeing a similar growth pattern in FMCG markets, due to the fact that TIJ uses only water and alcohol-based inks, which are not suitable for non-porou substrates,” says Helen Cole, customer sales support manager with Markem-Imaje. “Furthermore, we believe that the market has discovered that the total cost of ownership of TIJ is much higher than expected; as a result, we don’t see a great future for TIJ in FMCG applications.”
Euromark’s Ian Luck also concedes that inks are a restricting factor with TIJ, saying “so-called fast drying inks, when compared with what CIJ can offer, are anything but fast.” But he says some cutting-edge developments are on the horizon.
Travtec/Sunala has already made headway in this area for pharmaceutical applications with a new ink that enables Wolke TIJ printers to be used on nonporous surfaces, including blister packs.
Laser is the other obvious challenger to CIJ and, according to Linx, there is some migration from CIJ to laser, though this is very application-specific.
His observation is supported by Videojet’s Tom Hawkins, who says: “Laser is being used for some packaged goods applications where inkjet would once have sat but this is still a minority group of larger FMCG customers.”
Hawkins says advances in laser coding are opening up new applications which would previously have been unachievable with laser technology. For example, he claims Videojet’s 7000 series of fibre lasers can mark metals and plastics at very high speeds, and says the company’s 3000 series together with laser sensitive coatings (thermochromic ink) have revolutionised the way large companies with multiple SKUs achieve high quality code on outer case packaging, labels and primary packaging.
Markem-Imaje is also finding that the latest generation of laser coders are increasingly being specified for coding on PET bottles and confectionery stick packs, and says laser coders are now capable of addressing wide web applications such as foil yogurt pot lids.
“However,” adds Cole, “while laser is becoming a key technology in primary coding applications, we anticipate that it will cover no more than 20% of this market’s need for coding and marking.”
As with TIJ, laser has limitations on the types of applications where it can replace CIJ. “Speed and product placement need to be consistent, and laser cannot code onto certain substrates,” says Linx’s Doody.
The capital cost of a laser is generally higher than that of CIJ printer, which is why, as Videojet puts it: “Laser is great for high speed, 24/7 production environments where the ROI will be quick.”
Some suppliers have been exploring ways of making laser more accessible to lower volume, smaller producers and Allen Coding has come up with a solution in the form of its Nano range of entry level laser coders.
“By packing all the electronics into the printer we’ve designed a lower cost range of laser coders that will close the price gap with CIJ,” predicts Allen Coding’s UK sales and OEM manager Steve Ryan. “You would probably pay £6,000 to £7,000 for a high spec CIJ and £8,000 for our entry level C02 laser coder. They will end up becoming a serious contender to CIJ.”
Innovation in piezo
There is a third contender too: high resolution piezo coding, as offered by Maplejet.
Historically, outer case coding has been a stronghold for high resolution piezo printing, as the information that needs to be printed often extends to barcodes, logos and graphics with print heights of up to 100mm, according to Chris Coyne, Maplejet’s VP sales and marketing: “CIJ technology simply cannot achieve the quality of print demanded or the print heights required.”
However, the technology’s scope beyond outer case coding was limited by the slower ink drying times.
Maplejet’s ProDigit 18UV system addresses this issue, making the technology accessible to the primary coding market. “Our ProDigit 18UV system provides users with a coding solution that combines instant dry inks normally only associated with CIJ technology, and the low cost of ownership and low maintenance that has long been a feature of high resolution piezo systems,” says Coyne.
“With the ongoing development of UV inks and printers I believe that high resolution piezo will continue to gain market share in primary packaging applications.”
More to come from CIJ
Amid all this talk of innovation in other coding technologies, it’s important to note that development is still taking place in CIJ.
“There will still be more development to come in CIJ,” predicts Domino’s Jim Orford. “This will focus on making machines easier for operators to use and more efficient to run, reducing fluid consumption and removing heavy metals and solvents from inks.”
In addition, he says more and more customers are asking for total cost of ownership (TCO) models and minimum maintenance.
“Our A320i has been developed around the service-free concept, with features like the Qube quick-change consumable module and i-Tech ink and solvent management system, which monitors ink quality and warns the operator when it’s time to replace the Qube.”
Markem-Imaje’s Cole says its customers are also looking to reduce their TCO and optimise their production efficiency.
“Our customers want printers with the best availability rates and an optimised maintenance scheme to avoid any impact from printer downtime on the production line,” she says.
“They are also looking for solutions that reduce the potential for operator errors, such as the intuitive user interfaces that is used on the latest generation of our CIJ printers.”
Linx, meanwhile, developed its CJ400 in response to customer feedback which suggested that users preferred a simple, cost-effective solution rather than complex, feature-heavy machines.
The coder features one-step set-up and an Easi-Change Service Module, which means that scheduled maintenance is easily completed without the need for a trained technician or costly service calls.
Pouch coder restores reliability
A Sussex-based food producer has just taken delivery of a Thermocode 107M thermal transfer printer from Open Date Equipment, to print specific product information onto pouches containing its chutneys, sauces, dressings and soups.
When BD Foods’ existing printer, which it bought in 2010, started becoming unreliable, Open Date loaned the company a Thermocode machine. This enabled BD to fulfil commitments to customers and convinced it to purchase a new model.
Mike Beresford, chief engineer at BD Foods, says: “Our pouches are generic in colour, style and brand. They need product information such as ingredients, allergy and storage advice, barcodes, date and batch codes printed on them prior to filling. They are all hot filled, but can also be frozen later, so the printing needs to withstand extremes of temperature.
“To date, the Thermocode has proved capable of meeting all our requirements and has been very reliable. In addition it has been easy to train our operators to use both the hardware and software supplied.”
Linx undertook â€˜Voice of customerâ€™ research prior to developing the CJ400 CIJ printer Linx Open Dateâ€™s Thermocode 107M has been installed on a pouch filling line at BD Foods Open Date A new ink for WolkeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s m600 Advanced TIJ printer enables coding onto blisters Wolke Videojet says its 1000 series of CIJ printers eradicates the age-old problems of cleanliness and reliability Videojet