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Videojet, the world's largest coding company.


Continuous stream ink jet technology was developed in the 1960s within A B Dick, to find marketable applications for a new technology in which electrostatically charged droplets of ink could print rapidly, without pressure contact on the print surface. Acquired by GEC in 1979, the separate operating unit of Videojet followed, to develop 'total coding solutions' to industrial, commercial printing and postal coding markets.

Videojet is the world's largest coding company. It ships more ink jet printers and coding equipment from its manufacturing sites in Chicago and Bar Hill, Cambs., than any other company. This is import for one reason only. To provide users with the widest possible expertise available for a demand driven company producing customer solutions, not products.

Developments for 1993

The most recent development offers a unique solution, in its price performance, for ink jet printing. Developed specifically from independent market research conducted in the UK, Videojet has launched the 37e into the food and drink market this month.

The innovative Videojet 37e combines simplicity with Videojet's renowned high standard of reliability at a low cost of |pounds~4750 to bring the best of ink jet technology to small or low volume manufacturers previously restricted to less efficient coding methods. Additionally, larger operations with more basic coding needs will also benefit from the new printer.

The Videojet 37e allows Videojet to serve a market that the company's high reliability machines have not previously addressed and so take the peace of mind of continuous ink jet into the drop-on-demand market.

Printing in Colour

Videojet offers a variety of different coloured inks to suit demand. When printing with pigmented ink, where pigment tends to settle to the bottom of the system, automatic stirrers are used to keep the ink particles suspended. The ink is kept at the proper consistency for easy flow through the printer and to produce clear and sharply printed images. In 1992, in direct response to customer's requests, Videojet introduced an organic pigmented ink to run in standard printers without the need for stirrers.

Information can be changed and printed as quickly as the printer codes it, with fixed and variable information. Dates, times, sequencing and even individual serial numbers can be combined with product, plant or information messages determined by legislation. Messages can be amended and stored in memory so that they can be switched without interrupting the production line.

Characters can be printed in any direction, from any angle above, beneath or to the side of products, over multiple lines and in varying sizes and speeds, currently in excess of 1100 ft/min. They are often linked with other control systems to tell them when and how fast to print.

Target Substrates

By using continuous ink jet printers, many leading food producers and manufacturers and packers can rely on a labour-free technique which not only offers accurate and clean code changes at the press of a button, but can cope with any substrate. This versability owes much to the development of printing inks, which has also continued at breakneck pace in recent years.

Among the most innovative are UV inks, which are invisible but can be seen when exposed to ultraviolet light. These are particularly appealing to producers who wish to code products for security and safety without it being apparent after the product leaves the factory, for both commercial and aesthetic reasons. Another ink, based on a synthetic solvent, responds to growing environmental awareness and health concerns, especially in food manufacturing plants.

The most important consideration in applying ink jet codes to any surface is the ability of the ink to adhere to a given surface. Videojet has developed over 100 inks falling into four main categories determined by the bases used as solvents: alcohol, methyl ethyl ketone, poly and water based inks. Each have different adhesion properties.

Paper: water based inks adhere to uncoated paper, cardboard, wood or any such porous materials. The ink dries quickly as the porous surface absorbs the ink. Drying times can be higher than 10 seconds on coated paper surfaces, where absorption does not occur. Use of alcohol or ketone cuts down drying time.

Glass: combined base inks of ketone and alcohol or alcohol and water are often appropriate for a generally difficult coding substrate. It has to be dry to produce good legible adhesion.

Metals: most metal parts are coated with light lubricants, which require an aggressive base chemical to penetrate them. Some ketone inks are formulated specifically for use on bare metal with differing degrees of abrasion resistance. These include thermochromic inks, which are heat sensitive and designed to change colour when exposed to retorting or sterilising product.

Plastics: fast dry poly inks evaporate more slowly than solvent or ketone, so are more cost effective. They are legible and adhere well, but are less resistant to water or chemicals. Ketone inks are required for any plastic which will be frozen or exposed to excessive moisture or product contact. One ink's design uses water to promote its adhesion because of its vinyl content. Solvent based inks work especially well on refrigerated containers, being more resistant to moisture than ketone.

Food Grade Ink

Much has been made of Food Grade Ink in recent months, and indeed its chemical development has been relatively easy compared with the stringent approval procedure to qualify its safety for the food and confectionery markets. Videojet pioneered Food Grade Ink releasing its first in February 1991. Since then it has continued to improve its inks in response to request for European uniformity.

This year's abolition of pan-European trading frontiers will be shadowed by a scramble for uniform compliance with recent legislation. Many producers have still not taken up the European marking directives which will in the long run benefit not only the customer, but also the value for money producer; and because the terminology used in one country may well differ from another, the practicalities of implementation will be fraught.

Videojet's Food Grade Ink can be printed directly onto sweets and pharmaceutical products. It contains a small amount of ethanol which prevents the growth of micro-organisms and speeds up drying time on non-porous surfaces. Its primary customers are manufacturers or processors who must conform to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Laws and Regulations in the production and packaging of their products.

Food Grade Ink can be viewed as serving two similar yet very distinct applications. Firstly it is used in food packaging where direct contact, or the possibility of direct contact, of the ink with the food exists. Examples of such applications would be coding of packages inserted into dry food packaging, as well as coding on packages consisting of porous or semi-porous substrates. Secondly it is used to print directly onto food supplements in individual forms such as confectionery and sweets or tablets. Manufacturers use this coding for a variety of marketing ideas.

Videojet Food Grade Ink 16-9000 x L can be used in the above applications because the ink complies with FDA Regulations CFR, Title 21 Part 73.1 (b)(1): Confectionery and Vitamin Supplements. It is not certified by the FDA simply because the FDA does not provide certification. Videojet Systems International Inc., itself certifies that its 16-9000 Food Grade Ink products comply with the above cited regulations.

In order to be able to provide such a guarantee, the manufacturer must assure that:

Food Grade Ink products will contain only materials and dilutants listed in 21 CFR chapter 1, Section 73.1 (b), or ingredients 'generally recognised as safe' by the FDA.

The ink, make-up fluid and cleaning solution will contain only dyes certified as FD & C colourants.

All raw materials will be produced by outside manufacturers and will be supplied to VSI as food grade quality, having been tested to fulfil FDA safety requirements.

Ink, make-up fluid and cleaning solution will be manufactured in accordance with FDA Food Manufacturing practices.

The use of Food Grade Ink does require that the customer uses a new printer which has been manufactured and tested using only Food Grade Ink.

The quality of the air supply should be a familiar factor to food and drink manufacturers and is considered part of their Food Manufacturing Practices requirements. Videojet has constructed a completely separate manufacturing facility for Food Grade Supply products - this separate specialised facility is unique in the ink jet supplies manufacturing industry.

The Environment

In an effort to break from other manufacturers' traditional reliance on heavy solvent based inks Videojet reprofiled its production facility and product range in 1990. The InkSource manufacturing facility is a state of the art operation producing, warehousing and distributing inks and fluids.

The facility embodies Videojet's approach to producing high quality inks and fluids. Unique safety features, filtration and sophisticated air conditioning systems provide a secure and controlled environment for process stability. Manufacturing sections are sealed from airborne particulate contaminants to ensure a pure manufacturing environment.

The product range was relaunched under the InkSource label improving legibility and information about ink properties. Colour coded labels now clearly depict fluid contents as well as hazard ratings and other precautionary information for users.

Research and development of new inks moved up a gear two years ago, following the introduction of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations, which helped call attention to the presence of ketone - a carrying agent for ink dyes and binds - in standard inks. Under the regulations ketone was given an occupational exposure limit (OEL) of 200 parts per million in the atmosphere throughout an eight-hour working day. At a bakery location Videojet printers were measured at below one part per million per eight-hour exposure producing a result better than 1/200th of the maximum exposure level. If used incorrectly - without sufficient ventilation for example - ketone could be a health hazard.

Thanks to the use of compressed air, Videojet machines are among the most environmentally-friendly of all ink jet printers available. Positive internal air pressure to the print head ensures that the ink supply does not attract outside contaminants such as water or dust. This eliminates the need for frequent ink changes, minimising the use of toxic, flush-cleaning solutions. Also, the air acts as a dilutant for any volatile solvent emissions which are present with all makes of ink jet systems. This means, uniquely, that the Videojet design only permits the smallest volume of ink to be in circulation, thus reducing local air pollution.

Laser Coding

Anxious to emulate the global success of ink jet is another important non-contact marking technique, laser coding, which involves focusing a high intensity light beam on to the product to burn away a surface layer and leave the printed information.

As well as reacting less well to some pack surfaces than to others, many laser systems - pound for pound - are more expensive than alternative non-contact coding systems such as ink jet. Their development has also been hampered in recent years by their requirements for message 'masks' and poor 'portability'.

Videojet has overcome these problems with a new generation of totally sealed, compact carbon dioxide gas lasers. Called DigiMark, they offer a distinct advantage to production companies whose production space is limited or where a portable system needs to be transferred between coding stations as production requirements change. Not only is the mark of the systems very clear, but as the high energy pulse of invisible infra-red light travels at the speed of light and lasts less than a millionth of a second, they are suitable for high speed, high volume production lines. DigiMark can code suitable plastics at up to 175 ft/min, paper at 300 ft/min and suitable plastic film at up to 900 ft/min.

To make its mark, the laser pulse induces a photochemical reaction with the substrate, and leaves the code by removing or altering a layer of the substrate material to a depth as thin as a layer of ink. Lasers have special relevance to the environment as they do not involve inks or solvents. Their mark is indelible and batch or lot numbers printed, for example, on high quality perfumery goods, preserve the 'key image' of the product whilst being free from any further additives.

This is also significant for production and retailers. Items can be quickly identified should certain batch numbers need recalling. Products can be coded by the day, hour or even to individual serialisation if required, to minimise production costs whilst keeping in full control the safety of any batch.

The growing sophistication of ink-jet coding technology is clearly illustrated at Scottish Pride Dairies in Glasgow, where an EXCEL 170i printer from Videojet codes six portion-size milk pots in a single fourteen inch sweep. The lone print head traverses each multi-pack using a rodless cylinder, and repeats the exercise in the opposite direction once the conveyor has indexed forward to the next package.

Portion packs contain the small servings of milk that frequently accompany a cup of tea or coffee in a restaurant. Because of the likelyhood that they will be separated, each portion within a multi-pack has to be coded individually. To achieve this using a single print head, a special interface was developed by Videojet Systems International to instigate printing at the necessary pre-determined positions.

The portion pack coding facility is one of nineteen EXCEL 170i printers used by Scottish Pride Dairies. The company, which is a leading fresh milk producer in the UK, uses the Videojet coders to provide the customary 'best before' date, a line identification number and where requested - usually by supermarkets - a 'display until' date on 258ml, one pint, two pint and four pint containers.

Production monitoring, downtime, maintenance and packaging quality have all benefited at Scottish Pride Dairies from the introduction of ink-jet printing technology from Videojet.

As the leading manufacturer of medicated pastilles in the UK, Ernest Jackson & Company Ltd, faces stringent demands on the traceability of its products. Batch codes have to be changed at least four times each day, and to ensure this is possible without disruptive levels of downtime, the company installed EXCEL 100 ink-jet printers from Videojet.

Ernest Jackson is part of the Trebor Bassett group of Cadbury Schweppes. It manufactures a range of medicated pastilles and lozenges under its own brand names - such as Throaties and Zubes - or under contract for major suppliers. Each product carries a sell-by date, together with a batch lot number which can be cross-referenced against production records to pinpoint its exact source and the ingredients used.

The EXCEL coders are found on the main cartoning and tube packaging lines, and before their installation a variety of contact coding methods were tried.

The soft pastille cartoning operation relied entirely on hot-foil stamping and as a result, Ernest Jackson was losing around 80 minutes of production every day on this process. Since the adoption of ink-jet coding, downtime is closer to eight minutes.

The tube packaging line, which accounts for the company's new high-boil product, Zubes medicated lozenges, also presented its own challenge. The product is contained in a round plastic tube, and the awkward shape of the container made traditional hot-foil or roller-wheel coding methods impractical.

Before two Videojet EXCEL 100 ink-jet printers were introduced, adhesive labels containing the codes were applied by hand. In addition to being time consuming, this offered a low level of aesthetic consistency.

While the Videojet printers will stand idle and unattended for days (the longest shutdown was for a week at Christmas) without affecting print quality, their most important characteristic is the extent to which they avoid downtime during operating hours. For Ernest Jackson, which is legally obliged to provide accurate batch coding, this has resulted in major productivity gains.

Videojet's future lies in providing a total coding solution, whatever the substrate whatever the process. The company has already worked in tandem with parts of the GEC group and several other major corporations to co-develop new products to widen the customer base and continue to manage the environment.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Food Trade Press Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:high speed inkjet and laser coding
Publication:Food Trade Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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