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Ink-jet coders make dairy products more accountable.

Ink-Jet Coders Make Dairy Products More Accountable

Throughout the food processing industry demand is growing for higher quality product coding, particularly in terms of the information supplied. Accurate production details enable products to be traced to source in the event of contamination scares but, for these to be included, coding methods must be as flexible as production itself.

At Goodwins Dairy in Whitchurch the necessary levels of flexibility have been achieved by installing Videojet ink-jet coding equipment. An Excel 100 small character printer is used on the company's two carton filling lines which produce up to 16,000gal. of milk a day.

Goodwins has been a pioneer in packaging developments since it was the first UK dairy to introduce cartons back in the early 1950s, and the new coding facility replaces the widely used hot-burn method. According to group engineer David Higham, "Ink-jet printing has improved both the quality and presentation of coded information. Before we only included the sell-by date, as required by law, but now we can include details of which line the goods were filled on and when".

This information is updated every hour by recalling codes stored in the Excel's software. This requires no more than the press of a button, which means there is no downtime. It is only this speed which makes the inclusion of such precise detail possible. Before it would have taken at least ten minutes to switch codes, due to the time required for the brass fonts of the hot-burn equipment to cool down.

The programming capabilities of the ink-jet printer have also enhanced the presentation of information, allowing a choice of single or twin-line codes, or a combination of the both. Characters can now be 8mm in height, compared with only 4mm before. "There is also clearer definition - it looks a much better code", concludes Mr Higham.

Adjustments to the timing of the ink-jet spray will also enable codes to be placed in different locations. At present, Goodwins Dairy places its code in the standard location on the top lip of the carton but the installation could easily adapt to any future requirements presented by differently shaped containers.

Because ink-jet coders are situated on-line, however, they must be reliable, easily maintained and suited to the environmental conditions found in dairies. These factors, as much as the obvious benefits, were considered by Mr Higham when he undertook an analysis of the various alternatives.

Hygiene is of great concern in any food processing business and the ink-jet printer at Goodwins must withstand the worst excesses of hosing and cleaning operations. Only the printing heads themselves need to be covered while the mechanics and software are enclosed to IP65 standard, and wall-mounted for added protection.

Even in the absence of cleaning operations, the filling line creates a very damp and humid atmosphere, which places exacting demands not just on the equipment but on the ink itself. The 16-8200 ketone ink supplied by Videojet Systems International of North Mymms, Hatfield, Herts is unaffected by this, whilst it dries quickly on to the wax-board cartons and gives a good contrast on the packaging.

The ink used is approved by the US Department of Agriculture for use on food barriers but it is still important that it is carefully contained. "Compared to other ink-jet coding systems it is a very clean machine", states David Higham. "There are no large volumes of ink around". This is assured because of the small volume of ink in circulation at any one time; this is only 80ml on the Excel 100 due to its effective ink retrieval system.

The carton filling line runs for up to 7hr a day at Whitchurch and reliability is essential to ensure production is not held up. An average of 120 cartons, ranging in volume between a pint and a quart, are filled and coded every minute during this time.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Food Trade Press Ltd.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:product coding
Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Words:645
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