The mark of quality: coding on the production line26 April 2013
In an age of food contamination scandals, it has never been more important to ensure the security of your production line. Packaging & Converting Intelligence speaks to Kristian Berings, head of packaging development at global bakery and ingredients supplier CSM, about the importance of coding and marking technology, and its changing role in the packaging process.
It is a time of transition at CSM, but innovation is, as ever, high on the agenda. The group has just divested its European and North American bakery supplies businesses to focus on transforming into a leading bio-based ingredients firm.
And Kristian Berings, the group's head of packaging development, is a busy individual. When he is not drawing up procurement projects across CSM, or chairing discussions on packaging technology, he spends his time visiting the group's partners across the supply chain. Among his fields of expertise are sustainability, flexible and active packaging, and the changing role that coding and marking has in the packaging sphere.
"At CSM, we incorporate a wealth of major technologies, from a range of coding and marking manufacturers, across 18 or so different factories," says Berings. "If looking at this from a European perspective, we have to adopt a mindset that takes into account how we can get consistency across production. You want to harmonise best practice and, therefore, work out what is the best fit. And in my opinion, to do this, you ideally want one or two technologies across the group."
According to Berings, the need for consistency brings about a number of benefits: "If you have uniformity in your coding and marking set-up, you gain from the inevitable convenience of using and handling the same system. You also want a set-up where the operators trained on the equipment do not have to spend too much valuable time setting up or, equally, rectifying issues if something goes wrong. Then, of course, you can look at the equation from the consumables side. How much do the inks cost and what volumes are required for suitable production, because different systems often require different inks? Are these environmentally friendly? Then you need to ask if they are solvent-based or water-based, or maybe they are alcohol-based? The desired application could of course impact these choices as well.
"Once you've taken these factors into account, you move on to the small matter of the print quality you will be achieving with the desired system. You need to analyse the quality of the substrate and how it will react to the inks being used. In one instance, you may be printing onto corrugated boxes that are solid, or maybe you are printing on a flexible foil substrate, which will inevitably offer a different appearance and react to the printing process in a different fashion."
Supply chain integrity
One major role coding and marking technology is playing across packaging at CSM is in managing its supply chain integrity. Integral to suppliers in pharmaceutical sectors, traceability in the food and drink supply chain is proving more important than ever.
"It is key, and I am not solely talking about its role in applying expiry dates but also its role in applying lot numbers and production numbers," says Berings. "This matters because it means our products are traceable. So if we were to have a complaint, we have an immediate, direct route to the exact materials and the ingredients used in that particular product. Therefore, it makes it is easier for us to analyse the potential cost and risk of the fault in question, and handle the situation accordingly.
"Traceability is also important because it gives insurance for our customers. If we look at a possible situation where it was claimed that one of our food ingredients was not functioning as it should, we could easily trace the product in question and analyse the ingredient to discover any alleged faults in properties. If the ingredient was found to be up to the exemplary standards we expected, we could then turn to the customer and offer them assistance with their application of the product. In short, it helps us eliminate any possible inaccuracies at various points across the supply chain."
Operating a lean, efficient and cost-effective unit are qualities desired by any organisation, and CSM is no exception. Mature coding and marking technology has enabled the group to improve the traceability and integrity of its supply chain, but to Berings, advancements in the sector and the benefits they will bring are perhaps of greater interest.
"I'm interested in packaging innovation in many different areas, and that includes coding and marking," he says. "Developments in substrates, machinery, inks and applications open up a wealth of opportunities in packaging and I believe that new coding technology can do the same.
"Here at CSM, something we are looking into and would like to see improvements in is the technology itself," he continues. "Take corrugated materials, for instance. We use a high volume of corrugated for secondary packaging applications. Most of these, if not all, will require labels to carry product-specific information such as the brand name, the ingredients and health information. Inevitably, this brings with it additional costs across the supply chain. You need to source the label stocks, print on them, or buy pre-printed materials. This brings the costs associated with that product right up."
So where next? "I want to see further development that enables printing on larger surface areas. This technology would allow us to add more detail while using an existing coding system to carry out the marking of standard information such as expiry dates. Ideally, we could be looking at the scenario where, in-line, we can print expiry date and lot number but also information such as ingredients, product and brand name. This would most likely be in black and white but perhaps also allow us to offer basic colour illustration. I believe there are some manufacturers working on such larger surface-printing capabilities. It will be interesting to see the route these technological developments take."