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Confronting coding challenges

03 July 2017

A recent whitepaper produced from Domino aims to address the packaging coding challenges which face the baking industry, and to offer advice on which coding and marking techniques might offer the best solution. 

Packaged food needs to adhere to a variety of requirements, including the need for ‘best before’ dates, barcodes and traceability information to be clearly and accurately printed onto all types of packaging. This is particularly relevant in the bakery sector, which deals with products produced in high volumes, but with a relatively short shelf life. Furthermore, bakery products require different types of flexible packaging. Breads, cakes, biscuits and other snacks all require different types of packaging which represents a challenge when applying codes, as the area where the data needs to be printed will vary from item to item. 

Maximising uptime is a key priority. With production often running 24/7, any unplanned downtime will seriously impact product output and profitability. At the packaging stage of the process it is technical failures and human error, such as message creation and selection for coding, which tend to be the most common causes of stoppages. However, state-of-the-art packaging solutions are increasingly being utilised to provide more value-added information for the consumer and greater product identification and traceability information for the manufacturer. Short-term price changes and the introduction of promotional codes for marketing campaigns mean that the coding equipment deployed needs to be able to accommodate these requirements now and into the future.

Today’s coding technologies can help manufacturers achieve their goal of 24/7 production, whether this is due to increased ink capacity, single point message creation through specialist software, or ribbon economy to decrease time between changeovers. Code printing technology has certainly moved on since hot stamping, where planned downtime for typeface cooling and change-out had a noticeable impact on OEE. 

Addressing allergens
Food safety is another key priority. Due to the variety of ingredients seen within similar products it is important that consumers can identify potential allergenic ingredients clearly and easily. 

Since the introduction of EU Regulation 1169/2011, nutrition labelling and a clear listing of allergens in contrasting fonts have become mandatory. This covers the provision of allergen information on all ‘saleable units’ for retail and online sales across the various sectors of the food industry. These requirements directly affect the product’s primary packaging, as well as any secondary packaging where larger volumes of items are sold in multiples or in bulk to retailers.

Failure to comply with these legal requirements could lead to litigation and could pose a threat to consumer health. As a result, fully scalable coding solutions – which include basic variable message design tools and a database management system that is able to automatically extract the correct information and highlight allergens and intolerant substances in different fonts and sizes for each print job– is a good investment. This will ensure that compliance is achieved and also keeps operator intervention and associated errors to a minimum, while maximising output.

Ink migration 
It is necessary to guarantee that the inks or varnishes used in the printing process will not penetrate the packaging layer and come into contact with foodstuffs. Despite being used in minimal quantities, there is a possibility that chemical components might transfer to the food, product. So, appropriate ink selection is important to ensure compliance with EuPIA (the European Printing Inks Association) standards.

The ease with which an ink is able to migrate and come into contact with foodstuffs is determined just as much by the substrate as it is by the components of the ink. The considerations with packaging substrates in the bakery industry specifically is that they are a combination of functional and non-functional barriers. For example, BOPP (biaxial-oriented polypropylene) films used for bread and biscuits qualify as functional barriers that are effective against water, but are incapable of blocking certain ink components, such as mineral oils. Other packaging materials, like paper, card, and perforated polypropylene (OPP), are deemed non-functional barriers, as their substrate composition allows ink components to migrate into the food.

It is, therefore, important to seek advice about whether inks utilised in packaging are fully compliant and compatible with the substrates they are printing on. 

Coding solutions 
There are a variety of coding solutions that answer the demands of the bakery sector. Factors such as packaging material, production speed and quantity of code required will determine what is the most suitable printing technology for a given production environment, as well as company requirements like minimal consumable change-overs, planned downtime, desired levels of OEE, etc.

The available coding technologies include:

• Thermal Transfer Overprinting - TTO
• Thermal Ink Jet - TIJ
• Continuous Ink Jet - CIJ
• Print & Apply Labelling - PALM
• Laser

The choice in technology should be informed by an understanding of the multiple coding solutions that can be deployed for the highly diverse packaging types in this industry. For example, the coding technology used for bread packages will vary according to where the code is to be applied and the material at the point of location.  In this case it could be on the bread bag or the tag found on the bag closure. A non-contact solution, like CIJ, can be employed for coding onto bags once filled, as there is no risk of compromising the integrity of the product or the packaging, whereas the tag coding will depend on material – an adhesive closure tag can be easily coded using a TTO printer, while the harder plastic clip style closure may be ideal for laser coding. 

Cakes and biscuits often come in trays or wrappers which can be coded before the product is packaged. Since breathable packaging can pose an issue due to ink migration, labelling methods such as TTO and print & apply labelling are suitable alternatives as they remove the risk for ink-based contamination.

For carton boxes and snack bars that come in flow wrappers, TIJ and laser often prove to be better choices. Lasers deliver clear and permanent codes at high speeds on flow wraps without damaging the product, while TIJ systems’ ability to print at a higher resolution than other ink based printers means they are well-equipped for dealing with porous carton surfaces.

Maximising uptime
Selection of the right coding and marking solution can prove instrumental in maximising uptime in the bakery industry. 

A coding system with an auto-swap feature that allows ink cartridges to be automatically exchanged mid-operation can extend production runs, whereas the ability to manually edit text and messages while the printer is still running will guarantee continuous production is maintained on the packaging line, resulting in zero downtime. Furthermore, a system that requires no routine service without compromising on efficiency or reliability will also add significant value in terms of throughput.

The technologies most relevant to the bakery industry is TTO, largely driven by the sectors preference for flexible packaging. With this technology, printing is achieved by placing a thermal ribbon between a heated print head and the substrate to be marked. Some of the latest TTO systems incorporate advanced ribbon drives that optimise consumable cost-savings and increase OEE.

TTO systems have the capability to print graphics and QR codes at the same time, providing a reduction in downtime and coding errors to maximise output. More importantly, TTO helps address the issue of allergens identification. With an ever-increasing demand for flexible packaged foods, TTO systems are capable of producing good quality codes in a range of fonts and sizes, making them suitable for printing ingredient lists and singling out allergens in bold characters to achieve compliance. 

Coding providers who are members of EuPIA ( will have signed the ‘Compliance Commitments’ related to the manufacture and supply of compliant food packaging inks. These providers are able to help tackle the issue of ink migration by taking an analytical approach to current regulations when selecting the raw materials and components in the development stage of new inks, as well as during the ink selection process ahead of deployment on site. 

The coding challenges for the bakery sector are manifold and varied, while pressure for consistent, high quality ‘use by’ and ‘sell by’ codes continue to increase. With these factors in mind, bakeries need to invest in the right type of equipment to ensure compliance is observed and maximum uptime is achieved. 

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