Confronting coding challenges in the bakery industry
Consistent year on year growth of the food industry means that packaged food requirements are steadily increasing across the world. Chief among these is ensuring that ‘best before’ dates, barcodes and traceability information are clearly and accurately printed onto all types of packaging. There are several coding technologies that are equipped to deal with the challenges presented by the baking industry. The aim of this white paper is to address those challenges and identify which coding & marking solutions are best suited for this diverse sector.
Baked goods comprise a range of products that require different types of flexible packaging. Breads, cakes, biscuits and other snacks all have their own type of packaging (such as plastic bags, flow packs, food pouches or carton boxes), which represents a challenge when applying codes, as the coding area where the data needs to be printed will vary from item to item. As a result, the large number of product types within the bakery packaging environment can potentially lead to decreased line availability so limiting production capacity. In addition to code quality and consistency across multiple packaging formats, manufacturers are increasingly working towards GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) guidelines. Manufacturers, as stipulated by European (EU Regulation 1169/2011), US (Food Allergen Labelling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004) and other regional regulations, must ensure that food safety is being observed in the form of exhaustive ingredient information included on each food pack. These same regulations also outline the complex rules surrounding the use of inks for coding and marking in food production, which means that businesses need to consider a number of potential issues when printing codes, such as the risk of migration of inks from packaging into food products.
“…coding technology used for bread packages will vary according to where the code is to be applied and the material at the point of location”
What coding solutions are available?
There are a wide variety of coding solutions that answer the demands of the bakery sector. Factors such as packaging material, production speed and quantity of code required will ultimately determine what is the most suitable printing technology for a given production environment, as well as company requirements like minimal consumable change-overs, planned downtime, desired levels of OEE, etc. The available coding technologies include:
• Thermal Transfer Overprinting - TTO
• Thermal Ink Jet - TIJ
• Continuous Ink Jet - CIJ
• Print & Apply Labelling - PALM
“TTO systems have the capability to print graphics and QR codes at the same time”
The choice in technology should be informed by an understanding of the multiple coding solutions that can be deployed for the highly diverse packaging types in this industry. For example, the coding technology used for bread packages will vary according to where the code is to be applied and the material at the point of location. In this case it could be on the bread bag or the tag found on the bag closure.
A non-contact solution like CIJ can be employed for coding onto bags once filled, as there is no risk of compromising the integrity of the product or the packaging, whereas the tag coding will depend on material – an adhesive closure tag can be easily coded using a TTO printer, while the harder plastic clip style closure may be ideal for laser coding. Cakes and biscuits on the other hand often come in trays or wrappers, which can be coded before the product is packaged. Since breathable packaging can pose an issue due to ink migration, labelling methods such as TTO and print & apply labelling are suitable alternatives as they remove the risk for ink-based contamination. For carton boxes and snack bars that come in flow wrappers, TIJ and laser prove to be better choices. Lasers deliver clear and permanent codes at high speeds on flow wraps without damaging the product, while TIJ systems’ ability to print at a higher resolution than other ink based printers means they are well-equipped for dealing with porous carton surfaces. The selection of the right coding and marking solution can prove instrumental in maximizing uptime in the bakery industry.
A coding system with an auto-swap feature that allows ink cartridges to be automatically exchanged mid-operation can extend production runs, whereas the ability to manually edit text and messages while the printer is still running will guarantee continuous production is maintained on the packaging line, resulting in zero downtime. Furthermore, a system that requires no routine service without compromising on efficiency or reliability will also add significant value in terms of throughput. One of the coding technologies that is most relevant to the bakery industry is TTO, largely driven by the industries preference for flexible packaging, the packaging type of choice for 79% of all baked good units produced in 2015, followed by paper-based packaging at 14% and rigid plastics at 7%.
TTO has long been an established coding method for sectors typically characterized by high volumes, low margins and where flexible packaging is prevalent. With this technology, printing is achieved by placing a thermal ribbon between a heated print head and the substrate to be marked. Some of the latest TTO systems incorporate more advanced ribbon drives that optimize consumable cost savings and increase overall equipment effectiveness. TTO systems have the capability to print graphics and QR codes at the same time, providing a significant reduction in downtime and coding errors to maximize output. More importantly, TTO helps address the issue of allergens identification.
With an ever increasing demand for flexible packaged foods, TTO systems are capable of producing superior quality codes in a range of fonts and sizes, making them perfect for printing ingredient lists and singling out allergens in bold characters, therefore allowing businesses to achieve compliance. Finally, the best coding providers will be members of EuPIA who have signed the ‘Compliance Commitments’ related to the manufacture and supply of compliant food packaging inks. These providers are able to help bakery manufacturers tackle the issue of migration by taking an analytical approach to current regulations when selecting the raw materials and components in the development stage of new inks, as well as during the ink selection process ahead of deployment on site.