Evolving Technologies Support Modern Coding

New printing and inspection equipment forms the foundation that supports effective serialization of pharmaceutical and medical device packaging.

By Joyce Laird
Freelance Writer

There are many printing technologies available so that every packager can find exactly what best suits their needs. Laser marking, thermal ink-jet, continuous ink-jet, drop-on-demand (DOD) ink-jet, thermal transfer, and others are available from a wide range of manufacturers and suppliers. Each manufacturer may have its own twist on enhancing specific printing technology. Selection of the print technology to use is typically based on four needs: speed, quality, substrate requirements, and total cost of ownership.

The FixedLine system from Griffin-Rutgers is for one-color decorating or variable printing and is designed to be integrated into a company’s current production and
packaging lines.

When upgrading coding printers, speed, quality, and matching the technology to substrate requirements are only a matter of testing. Cost of ownership is another issue because often a trade off is the tie breaker. Over the long haul, what will operation, materials, maintenance, and labor cost be? First, it is important to note that all modern technologies are fairly equal in printing quality. They have to be, or they would not be competitive in the marketplace. But each has a plus to be considered.

“Laser marking may be the most expensive initially, but over the long run, all other technologies use some form of ink. Thermal ink-jet uses HP printer cartridges, [and] it is very high quality [and] prints at very high speeds, but you do have the cost of consumables. The fastest of all technologies is considered to be continuous ink-jet. The very highest quality is either thermal ink-jet or thermal transfer, which uses an ink ribbon,” says Randall Kemmerer, global strategic manager for Life Sciences, Videojet Technologies Inc. (Wood Dale, IL).

As the industry is reevaluating what they need in package printing, companies such as Videojet find great opportunities in pharma packaging. “There are a lot of companies with a single technology, and they are all good. We just provide it all in one place. It simply makes shopping and costing easier,” Kemmerer says. “We provide a full range of all types coding and marking technology, along with detailed consultation services to help companies find the right fit for specific needs.”

In September, Videojet announced that it had agreed to acquire Wolke Inks & Printers GmbH, a provider of thermal ink-jet systems. Wolke systems have been widely used in pharmaceutical applications.

Sidebar: Coding Becomes Environmentally Friendly

When it comes to improving any product, the best route to take is to go to the end-user. Gottscho Printing Systems Inc. (Warminster, PA) recently performed a customer survey. Two top points were the ability to print UV curable inks to improve print quality and reduce maintenance and the desire for a combination of flexographic and digital printing. Flexographic would handle copy text, while digital printing would handle serialization and variable data that change from batch to batch.

“To address the UV conversion, we now provide a UV upgrade kit for converting platen or flexographic printers from solvent to UV inks. Customers can use the same base printer technology that their operators are familiar with, and the printer mounting or integration to the parent machine does not change. This results in a huge savings, reduced integration costs, and a minimal learning curve,” says Rich Smith, engineering manager.

To address the UV conversion, Gottscho Printing Systems provides a UV upgrade kit for converting its platen or flexographic printers from solvent to UV.

“For variable data, we offer a digital upgrade kit, which can be integrated in to existing platen or flexographic printers. The digital printing technologies include HP thermal ink-jet or drop-on-demand printers that can run water, solvent, or UV-based inks. The digital printers can print resolutions up to 600 dpi and can handle most PMS colors,” he adds.

CSAT America LLC (Louisville, CO) has taken coding to the full color digital level. “Our ITS 600 full color, DOD digital printer offers a resolution of 600 dpi, linear speeds of 40 m/min, and up to 400-mm print width. The print quality surpasses flexo printing and uses the benefits of digital technology to increase productivity while offering greater flexibility,” says John Pitts, CSAT sales manager. “It is well suited for label, pouch, plastic, and a wide variety of foil and paper applications. It can be run as either an in-line or as a stand-alone unit.”

This fall, to supplement its UV flexo line, Truflex, Griffin-Rutgers (Ronkonkoma, NY) is introducing a new company, Linoprint, to the North American market. Linoprint is a subsidiary of the oldest printing equipment manufacturers in the world, Heidelberg. Linoprint products are based on the high-resolution drop-on-demand UV cured ink-jet printing method and offer packagers flexibility in labels, web stocks, plastic films, or cartons. Four-color process printing will be available in the near future.

“This technology gives a whole other meaning to the word flexible in the term flexible packaging,” says Jim Umbdenstock, president of Griffin-Rutgers. “Coding becomes part of the artwork and not the dominant task. Imagine that a corporate marketing department receives approval to make a change to the artwork of a package and in the same day that new package artwork is being placed on products being shipped—all completed at a lower cost. And it can be done without the waste of preprinted components, thereby helping to increase a company’s green initiatives.”

Headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, Hapa AG will be getting several “just-in-time” hybrid printing systems out across the globe before the end of the year. Uses of its UV Flexo/UV DOD ink-jet hybrid printers range from straight-forward elimination of steel coding for batch data, through to full track and trace counterfeiting applications.

Christoph Staub, commercial director, Hapa AG, says that there has been a surge in demand for hybrid printing solutions. “The technology has matured, and the cost savings afforded by inline printing is being recognized,” he says. While the hybrids may be two systems in one, Staub says that the results are more like having access to four systems. “The UV Flexo printer can be used for larger batch production; the UV DOD printer can be used for small to micro batches.”

Steve DiAngelis, director, Hapa North America (Rockaway, NJ), adds that when used together, flexo can handle invariable information at lowest running costs, while the DOD completes the artwork with batch number/expiration date; and the system can be used as a two color printer.

With the aid of a vision camera, NJM/CLI’s Label Removal System senses defective labels prior to
application and transfers the defective labels to a separate label roll.

Inspection
To guarantee customers are getting a repeatable print, Gottscho Printing Systems offers a 100% web vision inspection system that will eliminate the statistical sampling process during production. The vision inspection system verifies the printed graphics and text and grades the bar codes to ISO/ANSI requirements, the company claims.

NJM/CLI Packaging Systems International (Lebanon, NH) is addressing this challenge with its label removal systems. The Auto-Colt III and Model 334 Charger labelers are available with an option that eliminates defective labels being applied to bottles.
“Unlike traditional labeling systems that apply all the labels on a roll and subsequently reject bottles with defective labels, with the aid of a vision camera, our system senses defective labels prior to application and transfers the defective labels to a separate label roll. This system eases label reconciliation as well as product rework. By minimizing human intervention and product rework, this system improves product quality and reduces labor costs,” says Omar Azam, applications specialist.

RDG/Bar Code America.com, headquartered in Madison, NJ, builds very sophisticated rewinders for full label inspection, serialized or not. “We can inspect the whole label run online, either randomly or for every detail. And we do it on a format that is only 28 in. wide × 33 in. deep. So instead of having the standard large inspection equipment, ours is more convenient,” says Robert Rack, president.

The RDG 7000XR Label Inspection Rewinder uses line-scan camera technology and multicore processing computer technology. The system can inspect all label content, graphics, logos, fixed-variable-sequential-database driven human readable, and bar code data, as well as grade the bar codes to ISO and ANSI standards at speeds as high as 1500 feet per minute. The vision system shows the label defect image and reported flaw for review of the actual label and inspection results for each stopped label in either the forward or roll-mapped rewind mode.

Conclusion
Without equipment technology advances, the true effectiveness of serialization through coding and marking would not be effective. Continual advances in all supporting areas ensures that pharmaceutical and medical device packagers will not only be able to meet current requirements, but will be ready for the next installment
in the chain of product packaging traceability. ■

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