“We expect our suppliers to adapt their coding solutions to our operational needs. Markem-Imaje has come up with a solution for us that facilitates cleaning and maintenance while at the same time being both safe and easy for our operators to use.”
Anke Speckhahn, Unilever European coding platform leader
Coding standardization is continuing and the ice cream sector is the latest to be brought in line with European coding traceability standards defined within the EU directive 2000/13/EC. “Like all snack foods, individual ice creams, lollies and ready-made cones that are purchased direct from a retailer’s freezer will, from June 2014 onwards, have to display a date and traceability code on their packs, even if the outer box which contains them is already marked,” explains John Testar, Markem-Imaje Global key account manager. These new regulations oblige the sector manufacturers to examine their production lines to determine how they can best implement the coding process. Many are discovering that not all coding technologies that are available today are suitably developed to meet the challenges of this integration. “Manufacturing of extruded and coated ice creams is a complex and messy process. It requires high levels of efficiency to ensure that the finished product is rapidly placed into a cold store. Coding equipment must therefore be able to accomplish several tasks: Avoid contaminating the ice cream, but also not contribute to a stoppage in production if the cream comes in contact with the coding head," adds John. As early as 2006, the two sector giants – Unilever and Nestlé – sought a solution to eliminate these risks from their lines, when introducing coders. Laser technology, they determined, was best suited for preserving ice cream integrity and ensuring optimum line OEE*, both of which being priorities for manufacturers.
A broad range of packaging substrates are employed for single serve ice creams, ranging from PET, to PP and cardboard. Laser coding systems can mark the lids of ice cream cartons but also the individual flow wrap. "For PP wrappers, this is a real feat since the marking area is limited to 5 mm in height and can only be marked along the sealing edge to ensure that the packaging remains air-tight. In addition, packaging lines in this category are usually multi-track, which means that several printheads have to be mounted into the lines where the space available is limited," says John Testar. The equipment must be entirely safe for operators and the mounting must be flexible enough to allow coders to be easily moved during cleaning or maintenance operations. Line stoppages must also be reduced to the minimum. With this in mind, printer manufacturers working in this sector need to provide specific solutions, which Markem-Imaje has successfully done by installing wide print area laser coders on a variety of multi-track lines from various ice-cream line manufacturers. This experience of working together with the line designers puts Markem-Imaje one step ahead by providing an effective and robust solution to tomorrow’s challenges, like sequential pack coding, promotional codes, new packaging formats… and new markets. Already the biggest consumer of ice creams, Asia should also be stepping up its production over the coming years, with a growth forecast of over 6% by 2015.
* Overall Equipment Effectiveness
A complete solution
7031 LHD IP65 0°
Launched on the market at the beginning of 2013, the 7031 LHD IP65 0° laser printer has been specially designed to meet the needs of ice cream makers. First advantage: its printhead angled at 0°. Installed vertically, it can be incorporated in the middle of production lines. Another benefit concerns its IP65 humidity protection, guaranteeing perfect waterproofing and meaning that it can withstand frequent and intensive packaging line washing. Coupled with the FS400, an accessory that cools the laser head and filters ambient air, this new coder does not require plant air to operate, a technical advantage that significantly reduces operating costs. Finally, the large coding zone – up to 300 mm per head - makes it possible to optimize the number of printheads installed. An innovative, made-to-measure solution that has already convinced some major market players, including Unilever and Nestlé.