Precise, technical analysis of how substrates and inks interact in different environments is key to achieving optimal code quality, but choosing the best possible solution for a customer’s specific needs requires more than just scientific testing.
Domino recognised an opportunity to improve its in-house sample testing capabilities by bringing together a team of experts to provide additional, strategic support in selecting and testing ink coding solutions.
The newly expanded Global Pre-Sales team, led by Dr. Susan Palmer, is responsible for pre-sales support and testing across Domino’s ink-based technologies, including continuous inkjet, thermal Inkjet, piezo inkjet, and thermal transfer overprinting solutions.
“The new team was borne out of a desire to do more for our customers. Domino recognised that we had a unique opportunity to bring together technical expertise from across the business, in order to improve the service that we offer our customers.”
Dr. Susan Palmer - Head of Global Pre-Sales team at Domino Printing Sciences
We caught up with Dr. Palmer, to discuss how the Pre-Sales have been working to improve the samples testing process and increase support in the areas that customers need it most.
Changing regulatory landscapes can cause significant challenges for manufacturers across industries; how do you ensure that the team is kept up to date with current regulations?
Domino has a team of regulatory experts – our compliance team – with whom the Pre-Sales team work very closely to ensure that they can anticipate and respond to regulatory changes. We also collaborate with many different trade organisations on changes to regulations that might affect our ink development and sample testing capabilities. These include the British Coatings foundation, the Retail Consortium, the British Printing Ink Federation, the Food and Drink Federation, and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
We develop guidance notes for our technicians based on this work, to ensure that they are kept informed of any changes to regulations and given appropriate training. The benefit to customers is that all our technicians are trained to recognise when a customer requests an ink that is not suitable for certain applications and will always offer alternatives. Our global representatives, business development managers, and distributors are also provided with training on any changes to legislation, so they are equipped to advise customers where necessary.
What key regulatory requirements are currently affecting the market?
At present, we are dealing with several chemical reclassifications due to complying with the European Union regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). This is an area in which we have to remain particularly vigilant, as changes can have an effect on the permitted ink usage at the local level. Regulations vary between countries, so when dealing with larger customers selling into multiple regions, we need to take this into account and ensure that we provide solutions which can be used across territories. We are also members of the European Printing Ink Association (EuPIA).
As a company, we take a strategic approach to dealing with these reclassifications developing alternative solutions with future regulations in mind, rather than reacting once the changes come in. For example, we have recently dealt with the reclassification of some chemicals which have historically been used in food packaging. By keeping up to date with upcoming legislation, we have been able to develop alternatives inks. As a result, we have several inks that are globally suitable for food packaging solutions, and so we are always able to suggest an alternative.
How do you ensure that you keep up to date with trends in product packaging to ensure that you can offer customers a solution for changing packaging requirements?
Domino has longstanding relationships with many major global food and beverage companies that are at the forefront of packaging development. As such, we can actively source and test new packaging materials as they are being developed.
From our labs, we regularly reach out to customers developing innovative packaging solutions, so that we can obtain samples for testing as they are being developed. By working with our customers in this way, we can plan and ensure we have solutions and inks available for any customers using these, or similar substrates, in the future.
What procedures do you go through when advising a customer and carrying out sample testing?
Firstly, it’s all about asking the right questions, and understanding the limits and capabilities of the customer’s substrate. Once we have information on the substrate and the application, we can refer to previous sample tests to find possible solutions. We have a searchable database of previously coded materials and the results for different inks on them, as well as a searchable catalogue of results from extensive in-house testing.
Once a solution, and ink, have been selected and a sample has been run, we carry out rub, scratch, and swipe testing to check code resilience and drying time. For some flat substrates, we use an automated Taber tester with a weighted reciprocating arm to apply a predefined pressure on the printed sample and check for ink transference.
In the samples labs, we also have specialist equipment that helps us to check the quality of the code in different sector-specific environments, including a high-speed conveyor system, and an industrial steam steriliser to test code adherence for samples which require a retort process. We also carry out code verification for barcodes, QR codes, and Data Matrix codes using a 2D-code verifier.
Do you have a global sample testing facility? And do you work from a shared database of samples?
Our sample testing labs in the UK work on a global scale, providing expert advice and sample testing to Domino subsidiaries and distributors regardless of location. In addition to this, some of our international offices, including India, China, North America, Mexico, and Germany, also have regional labs and some sample testing capabilities. Providing sample testing in the country of origin has the obvious advantage of saving time and air miles, though ultimately, the decision of where to test the sample comes back to what is best for the customer.
When it comes to advising solutions pre-test, we work from the same shared database of previous samples and solutions, so all customers can be sure that they are getting the most up to date advice and support. Our extensive database includes information on materials that have previously been submitted for testing, as well as results from in-house experimental testing of new substrates. Through the database, our international labs have access to reports and photos of final codes and test codes for any given substrate, as well as lab testing results, and any working notes from our experienced technicians.
How are current trends in recycling and sustainability affecting the sampling process, and how are you responding to this?
In recent years, we have noticed a significant increase in the number of recycled cardboard samples that have been requested. Cardboard made from recycled paper is variable in quality and colour, which can lead to lower quality print if the wrong type of ink is used. Such samples require a dark, viscous ink which can stick to the substrate without spreading out. This is particularly important when printing barcodes, for example, as code quality is of the utmost importance.
From the opposite side of the spectrum, we are also seeing an increasing focus from our customers on the recyclability of their cardboard packaging. This requires an ink that will not harm the recyclability of a substrate or contaminate the recycling stream. In response to this, Domino has developed a range of mineral-oil-free ink solutions specifically for use on recyclable cardboard.
We have also seen an increase in single-layer plastic films made from polyethylene and polypropylene, including BOPP (biaxially-oriented polypropylene) film for food packaging. These products are replacing traditional multilayer plastics as they are more easily recycled – however, they also require a different coding solution. Where multilayer films would traditionally be coded with a laser, ink coding is a far superior solution for single layer plastics.
We are now starting to see more customers exploring reusable packaging. This requires an ink coding solution that will stay on a product throughout its use but can be removed once the packaging is returned. Domino has a longstanding relationship with many international breweries for whom reusing glass bottles and kegs has been standard practice for many years. We have developed washable inks, specifically for use in this area, which can be removed with a caustic water bath ready for recoding time and time again.
Looking to the future
Sustainability in packaging is likely to be a recurring theme for many years to come, and we are already anticipating further regulatory changes concerning the use of recycled and recyclable materials. As a team we will continue to monitor these trends and respond with innovative solutions for coding the very latest substrates. We are already actively obtaining samples of new materials from customers, partners, and other industry leaders so that we can ensure we have solutions available when our customers need them.
To discover how Domino is supporting its customers in selecting and testing ink coding solutions for these new packaging approaches, visit: https://bit.ly/3fJ8hEo