What are the best technologies for coding onto cartons?

  • By Jeff Cheatham
  • June 04, 2020
  • Food
  • Life Sciences
  • Tobacco
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Cartons see heavy usage in both the Food and Pharmaceutical industries. That's why carton coding is crucial to operational success. So what are the best technologies for product coding onto cartons for the Food and Pharmaceutical sectors? How do they tackle the unique coding challenges of the food and pharma sectors?

Cartons: Carrying a Load

Think of your daily life and think of just how many cartons are in it. Cartons are everywhere. They carry the medication that keeps you alive; they probably carried the lunch you ate and the candy that your sweet tooth craves.

One thing that these two sectors have in common is that they are both heavily regulated. They also have extremely high outputs. That means your ability to add product codes – everything from expiration dates and barcodes to data matrix codes and batch numbers – must be ultra-consistent, secure and on-brand to keep up with the speed of manufacturing output and comply with regulations.

But that’s no walk in the park for the average product coder.

The challenges of Coding on Cartons

Even in a fine-tuned factory, there can be issues with coding and marking on product cartons. For starters, there’s always the risk of coding errors. It’s no overstatement to say that if the wrong pharmaceutical product ends up in the wrong hands, it’s potentially a matter of life and death. Such high stakes is why coding errors carry substantial fines for drug manufacturers.

Similarly, food allergies can also be a life and death matter for some people. Again, that's why coding errors carry fines in the Food sector, too. This risk is why if there are coding issues, you risk losing contracts with major buyers. Our blog on automatic print inspection explores some of these risks, and carton coding is an area where new technology like this can aid production uptime and improve code quality.

Across both sectors, without legible codes (or machine-readable in certain applications) it is difficult to achieve legislative compliance and ensure customer safety. Traceability is critical in the pharmaceutical sector. And then there’s the need for durability of the code. Take expiration date codes, for example. It’s crucial that they are readable for the duration – and beyond – of the product lifespan. Otherwise, they are useless for the end consumer.

Sounds demanding? Now consider that these codes must be applied in mere fractions of a second to each carton. And sometimes each carton will carry an item-level code that’s unique to that carton only.

Resolving carton-coding challenges

Pharmaceutical cartons come in all shapes and sizes.  The number produced on an annual basis is measured in the billions. As for the food sector, cartons are used for everything from confectionary to pizza, from chicken nuggets to potato waffles, from sandwiches to fruit juice.

Yet, despite the diversity of carton types that are used across the food and pharmaceutical sectors, there are solutions to the shared coding challenges that are applicable to both industries and the various cartons they use. Here’s a quick introduction to how the technologies that can help.

Continuous inkjet printing

No hyperbole: Domino's Ax-Series has revolutionized continuous inkjet printing. It’s incredibly fast and highly flexible, with supreme droplet accuracy that makes it easy to apply high-quality text, graphics and QR codes onto the majority of commonly used carton materials – with automatic adjustment of ink viscosity for amazing print quality, even at high production speeds.

The Ax-Series uses fast-drying and highly-durable alcohol-based inks, which reduces the use of solvents on your site for more environmentally-friendly operations. Easy to set up and control, the printer is lightweight, has a higher OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) and runs for longer without stoppages, meaning a lower operational downtime.

Domino Ax-Series code printed on a carton

Maximize uptime with our support packages

The Ax-Series is designed for service-free operation and comes with Domino Cloud, a remote diagnostics service that proactively monitors your technology to ensure maximum uptime on your production lines – helping your machines to run faster, for longer - all without stoppages.

All products have the option of extended warranties, training courses from fully qualified engineers and a roving network of technicians who are available to conduct site visits according to our Domino Customer Standard commitments. 

Thermal inkjet printing

Our Thermal Inkjet (TIJ) range offers an alternative solution to tackle the challenges of coding onto cartons. Our Gx-Series are versatile, easy to integrate and easy to operate, with only simple ink cartridge replacement required. The fact that Tij printers have the option of multiple printheads means you can print many lines of code at speeds of up to 300m/min - with dry times of less than half a second. Whether it’s TrueType, alphanumeric text, batch codes, barcodes or 2D data matrices, our TIJ range provides high-contrast, scratch-resistant codes with a lifespan that exceeds the two-year industry standard.  

>> Take a look at our thermal inkjet range

Domino Gx-Series printed onto pharmaceutical cartons

Laser printing

Promising speed, legibility and durability, laser coding is a common favourite in the pharmaceutical sector.  In addition, our laser range also delivers lower long-term running costs and environmentally-friendly operation. With no inks or solvents and automatic temperature cooling, it has the potential to make your operations more eco-friendly.  Our laser range can also deliver both human-readable and 2D matrix coding at high speeds.  

>> Take a look at our laser range

Domino Laser QR code printed onto Ibuprofen box

QuickDesign makes label design easy

You can't just go into Microsoft Word and create a new, compliant product label - especially one for the heavily-regulated Food or Pharmaceutical industries. That's why we created QuickDesign label design software. This free, easy-to-use label design software makes it easy to take control of your label creation operations – whether you are on your production line or in the back office – to dramatically reduce the risk of coding errors.

Stay fully-compliant and in complete control of your package messaging, from product to pallet, right from the factory floor with automated coding operations. You can manage your data from a simple touchscreen PC interface and create accurate labels from a built-in product table.

>> Find out more about QuickDesign

Coding onto cartons: why you can trust Domino

Domino technologies are used by some of the world’s biggest manufacturers to provide fast, accurate coding operations. If you would like to see our products in action or find out how they could help you, please get in touch and one of our experts will provide assistance immediately. 

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