Factors to consider when selecting an industrial coding and marking printer
Several factors are driving the increasing need for product coding and marking. These include regulatory requirements, traceability needs, and display of information.
Many manufacturers are using industrial inkjet printing (such as Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) or Drop on Demand (DoD)) to mark and code their products. The attributes of the printing surface significantly impact inkjet print quality.
Therefore, it is critical to evaluate how an ink interacts with substrates for coding and marking.
These printers offer a cost-effective solution with superior print quality. And, this type of printing technology is suitable for a wide range of applications. Some of the industries using industrial inkjet printers are:
- building products
- consumer packaged goods
- glass products
- pharmaceutical & medical
- plastics and rubber goods
The main determinants of print quality are:
- conformity with the intended shapes of the characters
- consistency of print density
- contrast with the surface
- extent of smudging
- the location accuracy of the printed characters compared with their intended positions on the substrate
- amount of extraneous ink
So, here we have listed some of the important factors that you need to consider when selecting an industrial marking & coding printer:
1. Material / Substrate type
Any print surface can be considered a substrate. The substrate plays an essential part in the inkjet printing process. Surface condition and porosity determine the printability characteristics of a substrate.
The attributes of the printing surface significantly impact inkjet print quality. Therefore, it is critical to evaluate how the ink interacts with substrates for coding and marking.
The type of material that information will be printed on determines the type of ink that will be used in the printer. Some ink types have better surface adhesion than others. And, the porosity of the print surface is a crucial component in effective ink bonding.
So, if you will be printing on a porous (absorbent) surface such as paper, cardboard, textiles, carpet, non-woven fabrics, wood, organic surfaces, etc., then the ink type will be different than if you are printing on a non-porous (non-absorbent) surface such as metal, glass, ceramics, stone, plastic, rubber, foils, etc. Therefore, you need to know what type of substrate the printer can print on.
2. Object shape
Printing on a flat surface is a given for all printers. However, there is a threshold where the increasing curvature of the printing surface will result in diminished print quality or no print at all. So, if you need to print on a curved surface, you should make sure that the printer you are considering will print legible, clean marks on your products. Look for a printer with a larger throw distance. CIJ printers have higher throw distances and therefore a better choice for printing on surfaces with high curvature.
3. Choice of printer ink
Selecting the correct ink type for your application will determine the quality, durability, and readability of your codes and marks. Factors affecting ink adherence and performance must be considered. These include the manufacturing environment (temperature, humidity, dust, etc.), time the ink has to dry, i.e., the time between printing and the subsequent production operation. So, these aspects of printer ink should be considered:
- Ink color: will you be using your corporate colors in marking your products? Will the marking ink color be incorporated in overall product packaging design? Will your product variants be differentiated with ink color?
- Ink type: does your application require a food-safe ink or will you be printing on wood or lumber? There are several ink types are available:
- Pigment inks
- Dye inks
- Hot melt inks
- Ink drying time: if you have a fast-moving production line where product markings have to dry quickly before the next line operation, then you need fast-drying printer ink.
4. Print size and print quality
A higher DPI means higher resolution, and a higher resolution means more detail in the print output and therefore better print quality.
So, you need to decide:
- if there is a need to print your company logo or other graphics?
- what quantity of information do you need to mark on your product?
- will there be coding on primary or secondary packing or both?
- does the printed information need to be machine-readable?
- what is the size of the print area?
Answering these questions will help you to determine the required print resolution and character size that your choice of printer needs to be capable of producing.
5. Line speed
To prevent bottlenecks on your manufacturing line, you need to know the line speed of your manufacturing line. A common measure of printer line speed is meters per second. So, among the various measures of production line speed, make sure that you know your line speed in meters or feet per second.
6. Inventory of pre-printed packaging
An industrial coding and marking system can help you to reduce or eliminate the need to keep an inventory of pre-printed packaging, which has to be stored and managed for each unique product. And, since you can print on demand, package markings can be changed without having to scrap pre-printed packaging.
7. Manufacturing environment
How many manufacturing lines require a printer? Will the printer be installed in a humid or dusty environment and be subject to vibration and temperature fluctuations? Can the print head withstand knocks occasionally delivered by products colliding into it? Can the printer be placed in a network of printers and be controlled through a network? A networked solution helps to diminish the amount of time that needs to be spent message set-up and maintenance.
8. Data to be printed
What type of data needs to be coded or marked on your product packaging – do you need to print static data such as company information and product name or, will there be a dynamic variable data such as date, time, counter, shift code, serial numbers, Unique Device Identification (UDI). How easily and quickly can code information be changed?
9. Print head technology & flexibility
Based on your production line, you may require the ability to print in any direction or with a titled print head. Therefore a printer with a remote print head would offer this functionality. Printing in a landscape or skyscraper print orientation could be done using a singular printer. Also, given that print heads need to be periodically cleaned, it is important to consider printer maintenance requirements and the process and the time required for print head cleaning.
10. Ease of operation and set-up
Check if the printing system is plug and play, which requires minimal set-up and user training to get the system operational.
11. Integration with existing processes
How easily can the printer be integrated into your existing production line. Check that the printer manufacturer is capable of providing custom mounting, and possess the knowledge and expertise to offer you an integrated solution and industrial automation, control system design & integration and turnkey automation.
12. Marking & Coding Automation & Message Design Software
Make sure that your selected coding and marking system offers an easy to use operating system that offers:
- Message design & print management
- Windows true type fonts
- Messages repository
- WYSIWYG message design
- Capability to:
- insert dynamic data from a barcode scanner or digital weight scale
- insert dynamic data from database
- insert text elements
- insert date/time and shift code elements
- insert coder counter elements
- insert printer populated elements (printer variables)
- insert data fields
- insert user prompted elements
- generate database and UDI barcodes
- embed images in your codes & marks