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Moving away from manual coding

30 October 2017

The replacement of a manual hand-stamping operation with an offline thermal inkjet coder means that butcher and meat supplier, Sykes House Farm, no longer has to worry about incorrect date codes. 

Yorkshire butcher and meat supplier, Sykes House Farm, has been supplying restaurants, hotels, pubs, schools and care homes for around 50 years. More recently, the company has branched out into retail, supplying the major multiples with meat products such as sausages and burgers for sale under various brands.

Originally, the company was hand-stamping date codes onto sleeves destined for retailers. However, this was not only a time- and labour-intensive process, but also one that was open to human error. 

When a date coding error resulted in a costly product recall, Sykes House Farm set out to find a more reliable solution for coding sleeves for packs of bacon, sausages and burgers to ensure that this error was not repeated. 

“We wanted to remove the margin for human error with a machine on which the codes are generated via software, while at the same time increasing the speed of the coding operation to keep pace with our growing retail business,” explained Robert Smith, managing director at Sykes House Farm. 

However, finding the right coder was less straightforward than he first expected. “Many companies use online ink jet coders to apply date codes. We couldn’t do that because with each order, the design of the sleeve is different and the coding area is in a different position. On bacon, for example, the use-by date tends to be on the back of the pack whereas on sausages it is usually on the front of the pack,” continued Smith. 

A two year search
A two year search for a solution resulted in just one, very expensive, quote. In 2016, Sykes House Farm finally found a solution, with a Rotech RF-Lite, supplied complete with a thermal inkjet printer. 

“From them on, it was pretty straightforward. We told Rotech what we wanted and sent them samples of our sleeves; they then came up with a solution - the RF Lite - and offered us a free on-site demonstration,” said Smith. 

The RF-Lite is an entry-level carton and sleeve coding system suited to food packers and processors looking to move away from a manual coding operation. 
The RF-Lite takes flat cardboard sleeves or cartons from a hopper, feeds them through a printer so they can be coded, and stacks them again ready for use. Sykes House Farm was particularly impressed with the fact that the coder was simple to use, which means that there isn’t much that can go wrong.

Also important to Sykes House Farm was the system’s ability to code anywhere on the sleeve and for the position of the code to be varied with each run. The RF-Lite is able to handle pack shapes and sizes ranging from 40x70mm to 300x200mm and can be adjusted to swap between sizes. 

The machine’s linear speed is 60m/sec, which means it can handle just under 200x300mm sleeves or around 250x200mm sleeves per minute, and all on a tiny 500x500mm footprint.

Rotech delivered the coder last November, programmed to restrict operator control. The coder was set up to automatically generate use-by dates for each product, removing the potential for an operator to input the wrong date. However, there is also the ability to retrieve operator control and alter the date in the event of, say, production running a day late.

Sykes House Farm is now coding around 4,000 sleeves a week with the RF-Lite, and this can be achieved in a fraction of the time it would take to do this manually. 

“Automating the coding operation has massively reduced the amount of time we spend on coding,” concluded Smith.  “What used to take an hour now takes five minutes. The codes also look a lot more professional than with the hand stamper - the thermal inkjet printer produces codes that are clear, clean and crisp, and, most importantly, we are now completely confident that there is no risk of packs being coded with the wrong date.”

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