By Bob Neagle, Business Unit Manager LPA & LCM, Videojet Technologies
Effective supply chain management and traceability requires the placement of accurate and highly legible coding and product information on secondary packaging. In managing secondary packaging lines, manufacturers have to juggle the requirements of their supply chain partners while at the same time complying with local standards and regulations such as serialisation requirements in the pharmaceutical and food industries in which unique codes are printed on product and secondary packaging. These codes are required so that, for example, the production facility, date and batch can be easily traced in the event of a food-related outbreak.
One very common approach is to pre-print adhesive labels with the coding and product information and apply them to the secondary packaging. Typically, a self-adhesive label is pre-printed either in-house or by an external printing company for each stock control unit (SKU) with specific information pertaining to the product such as name, logo, barcode, etc. The label is normally applied to the secondary package either with a label applicator or by hand. But this approach is being used less frequently because of its relatively high cost. The high cost comes from the need to print, store and manage many different labels and the potential for these labels to be wasted if the product changes. Another drawback of this approach is that the shipment delays can occur whenever a particular label is depleted.
One possible alternative is to print the codes directly on the carton. This can be an effective approach in some cases but the current limitations of case and carton printing and coding technology mean that it is not capable of meeting the challenges involved in many if not most secondary packaging applications.
Potential cost savings with on-demand printing
On-demand printing and application of labels to secondary packaging provides the potential for considerable cost savings in labelling secondary packaging. In this approach, a label file is created and a code is assigned to the relevant SKU with the size of the label matched to the corresponding secondary package. Labels are printed with both fixed and variable information and applied automatically with a label print applicator. On-demand printing does involve some additional costs such as the acquisition of a print and apply labeller as well as printer ribbons. However, the total cost is usually considerably lower because on-demand printing eliminates the cost and waste associated with printing and stocking pre-printed labels.
The trend towards increased use of on-demand printing and application of labels on secondary packaging is being aided by recent improvements in print and apply labelling (LPA) technology. For the last few decades, the state of the art in LPA technology has involved the use of clutches, rollers and manual adjustments to control label speed and position. Manual adjustments often result in costly downtime and loss of production. Even so, it’s not uncommon to experience additional downtime due to label jams, web jams, ribbon jams and mechanical failures. Another pain point is that current LPA technology frequently uses a blast of air to propel the label onto the secondary package as it passes by so misapplied or wrinkled labels are a frequent occurrence.
New LPA technology eliminates manual adjustments
A new LPA system called the Videojet 9550 was designed to overcome these challenges with a direct drive system that feeds and places labels accurately even at high line speeds without the need for manual adjustments, clutches or nip rollers. This new design automatically and precisely controls all key elements of the LPA system, eliminating common operational problems such as label slippage, label jams, web jams, ribbon, jams and other mechanical failures.
When the LPA system is used on an electronic label supply reel, it automatically adjusts the tension of the cylinder and maintains it from start to finish, irrespective of speed and label size. Printhead pressure is automatically regulated to ensure optimum print quality and printhead life. A precise ribbon control eliminates the need for a clutch. The new direct apply design also does not require air to apply the label so it eliminates the problems associated with air blasting as well as the need to provide factory air.