10 ways to optimise your current coding and labelling operations

Posted by Brought to you by Matthews Australasia on 29th November 2016
good, better and best word written by 3d hand

By Matt Nichol*

Having an efficient production line allows your business to keep pace in a fast, competitive world. But what about the coding and labelling aspect? If it’s inefficient, then in reality your entire line is inefficient — and that’s not good for business longevity.

Inefficient coding and marking cost valuable time, money and resources. Here are 10 things that many manufacturers overlook that could make their inefficient coding and marking operations work far more powerfully.

Some of these are obvious, but it’s still interesting to see how many manufacturers ignore them because of their simplicity.

Firstly, I’ll list them, then explain some quick things to do:

  1. Regularly check and maintain your equipment
  2. Check non-coding parameters
  3. Use the right consumables
  4. Clean the print-head
  5. Watch for warnings
  6. Control the environment
  7. Reduce variability errors
  8. Educate staff
  9. Take advantage of integration software
  10. Be confident in vendor support
  1. Regularly check and maintain your equipment

Regular maintenance is critical to the optimum performance of coding and marking operations. Depending on your equipment, what to look for varies, so work with your supplier to create a Total Preventative Maintenance (TPM) list. It’s far more efficient to maintain your machinery than to risk costly downtime — see how important TPM is to Australian manufacturers.)

  1. Check non-coding parameters

For instance, are all components of your packaging line operating together to create an efficient operation? If package motion drivers aren’t operating within the correct parameters, it could cause skewing, fluttering or random slipping. Check the parameters of the conveyor rail position, backpressure, lighting and lenses. Even the slightest defection from the right parameters could be causing your coding and marking operation to not be working as efficiently as it should be.

  1. Use the right consumables

As obvious as it sounds, using the recommended ink, ribbon and labels is the easiest and most cost-effective way to optimise the performance of your coding and marking equipment. Buying cheaper ink or ribbon to save money can sound tempting, but is a false economy: you’ll only end up losing out in the long-term because your coding and marking equipment just won’t run at its optimum efficiency.

  1. Clean the print-head

Inkjet printers can traditionally suffer from ink settling and thickening, which inevitably diminishes the coder’s performance. Modern inkjet printers have an automatic flush-cleaning feature on shutdown and start-up, so you don’t have to flush out the print-head manually to remove “gunk”. Just bear in mind though that label printer applicator and thermal transfer overprinter print-heads still need to be replaced due to regular wear and tear.

  1. Watch for warnings

Knowing well in advance when ink, other consumables or media is running low gives operators he time to replace the needed consumable during a product changeover without the risk of running out and losing time (and money) or having to stop operations to replace something. Quality coding and marking systems will provide sufficient warning before consumables need to be replaced, so all you need to do is take action when you see those.

  1. Control the environment

The surrounding environment’s temperature and humidity can impact the efficiency of coding and marking equipment, so ensure your equipment is in a stable environment or invest in coding and marking equipment that is known to perform well in varying environments. Also, look at the vibration in the surrounding area, such as that created by conveyors and products on the line. Depending on the equipment, you might need to invest in a shock-absorbent platform to keep them stable. Otherwise, look for equipment with good shock resistance.

  1. Reduce variability errors

Are you printing variable codes, such as use-by and best before dates? If so, ensure your product sensors are kept clean at all times so the correct code is always printed on the correct product.

  1. Educate staff

Giving employees access to the proper training, tools and resources helps ensure coding and marking equipment runs smoothly. Make sure operators understand that it’s not just about high production rates, but that the products have the correct codes and marks. After all, this could be the difference between your products making it to the shelves or retailers rejecting them.

  1. Take advantage of integration software

Integration software, such as Matthew’s iDSnet, can be used to connect all your coding, labelling and other end-of-line packaging equipment (e.g. vision systems, checkweighers and scanners). This can enable validation and error detection, plus quick, without manual intervention. With the correct integration software, you can be confident that the right code and artwork is applied to the right product. Because you also gain access to OEE metrics, you can quickly rectify any issues that might be causing inefficiencies. (See here for OEE improvements made easy, while this article explains what OEE actually is. You may also find it interesting to note the 12 most important metrics to measure in manufacturing.)

  1. Be confident in vendor support

Having reliable, local support from your equipment supplier is very important. When choosing your equipment, choose your vendor on the merit of their long-term support rather than the initial outlay. Service and support are critical in ensuring the ongoing efficiency of your coding and marking equipment. Make sure your supplier can provide regular maintenance and servicing as well as emergency support when you need it. (Here’s a bit more on choosing a provider.) 

 

For guidance on setting up a Total Preventative Maintenance (TPM) list, or other tips in optimising your coding and labelling equipment, Matthews can help.

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* Matt Nichol is a laser marking expert with in-depth knowledge of product ID technologies and a Key Account Manager at Matthews Australasia. He is a regular at international trade shows such as Pack Expo and is constantly looking at emerging trends and technologies.