Modern laser makes its mark for cost effectiveness

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 9th February 2016

1 Laser coding _Matthews_product showcase Feb16 PETAnti-counterfeiting, brand protection and high quality presentation are just three qualities that laser coding offers. An extremely fast, cost-effective way to place permanent, human-readable text or a host of codes — such as barcodes,date codes, batch codes, QR codes, and so on — onto primary and secondary packaging, laser coding is no longer a specialist solution with a hefty price tag.


And with no consumables, investment payback can be less than three years — even on medium-volume production lines. Here are five stand-out points of modern laser technology’s capabilities.


Rapid advances have propelled laser technology to be highly cost effective, and the number-one choice for host of applications across food, beverage and pharmaceutical packaging; think PET, polystyrene, polypropylene and cardboard. It’s even popular in heavy industry to mark metal. Perhaps one of the biggest leaps has been laser’s capability to mark clear, legible barcodes on primary and secondary packaging — very handy for anti-counterfeiting and brand protection. (Here’s a great example with infant formula exported to China.)


The capability of modern laser technology makes its application broad …


  1. Varied substrate types: technology advances mean lasers can reliably code human-readable text as well as fully compliant barcodes onto glass, plastics, metal and cardboard and flexible packaging.


  1. Indelibility: lasers use a two-step process to make permanent marks. Firstly, the laser ablates the substrate to remove materials from the area to be marked (such as ink on printed packaging or a layer of metal), then the laser engraves the substrate with a very fine groove onto this clean patch — and the item is marked permanently. Depending upon the substrate, the colour can change. Indelible marks are perfect for anti-counterfeiting and brand protection. (This case study on BlueScope Steel shows how the iconic Colorbond uses lasers to protect brand integrity.)


  1. High quality: lasers create very high quality marks, so they’re ideal for applications where product presentation is very important. This is no doubt why lasers are now the wine industry’s number one choice. (Speaking of wine and anti-counterfeiting, you may like to read about how wine makers can beat counterfeiters.)


  1. High-speed lines: with no consumables, such as solvents or ribbons, lasers offer a highly cost-effective solution for high-speed lines. As noted earlier, research shows that ROI even on medium-volume production lines can be less than three years. For lines outputting more than 100 products per minute, laser has definite benefits.


  1. Lower cap ex and TCO: also as noted before, lasers used to be confined to being a specialist solution mainly due to the rather large capital outlay. They were most suited to high-volume applications where the higher capital cost was balanced by the ongoing lower operational costs. But technology developments have included more compact, lower-cost systems, putting laser well within reach as a cost-effective solution for lower-volume manufacturers, who can also enjoy the low total cost of ownership (TCO) too.


Types of laser technology


2 Laser coding _Matthews_product showcase Feb16 wine boxThere are two types of laser technology — CO2 lasers (the traditional method) and fibre lasers (the “new” way). Which you choose depends on your application and the substrate.


As a quick run-down, CO2 laser coders are extremely versatile and can be used to mark a wide range of materials at high line speeds — paper, cardboard, foils, coated metals, plastics, wood, glass and so on. These are the most widely used types because of their low maintenance among other attributes.


The newer fibre laser does have some extra advantages, including that its higher intensity laser suits it to metal engraving and high-contrast plastic markings. But fibre lasers’ major advantage is that they can mark flexible packaging material where no special laser field exists — and without perforating the film. In other words, the original field created for a small character inkjet code will often be sufficient. That makes it ideal for grocery packaging, particularly snack foods and confectionary. Another advantage is that fibre lasers are completely maintenance free over thousands of working hours, with a life expectancy more than four times standard CO2 laser tube technology, and while lasers already have a very low TCO (total cost of ownership), fibre laser’s extended extraction filter life reduces this even more. Plus, there’s no need for factory air for cooling or marking-head cleaning.


To cross check the benefits of laser and inkjet technology, read our white paper, Inkjet vs Laser.


If you have any questions about laser coding, or how it can be integrated into your business, contact Matthews today. Or call 1300 CODING (1300 263 464).