Marking and Coding Tips and Tricks

Cracking the Code: How to Maximize Marking and Coding Reliability

Here are four real world strategies to help you avoid unplanned downtime and keep your lines up and running strong

Whether you’re producing a single product on one production line or hundreds of products across the globe, equipment reliability is a critical factor in manufacturing. And when it comes to marking and coding products, your printing technology must consistently meet the highest standards to ensure product tracking and traceability.

Though often overlooked, the importance of marking and coding reliability can’t be overstated. Missing marks can lead to costly rework and spoilage. In the case of Sierra Aluminum, this manufacturer of aluminum extrusions found that unreliable printing equipment was having a major negative effect on operations. Switching to more reliable equipment resulted in a remarkable 50% improvement in line efficiency.

Reliability encompasses a range of considerations that go beyond if the printer is simply functioning at the bare minimum level. These include:

  • Do you have the right print technology?
  • Are you taking advantage of automation?
  • Are maintenance guidelines being followed?
  • Are you using the right ink formulations?

Even a single one of these can create issues with your marking efficiency, ultimately putting your organization at risk for reduced productivity and decreased volume, challenging product recalls, or lost inventory. Let’s take a look at four ways you can maximize the reliability and ensure your marking and coding systems can withstand the test of time.

1. Choose “most reliable” over “most popular”

Selecting the right inkjet printing technology for every stage of production can be a puzzle, especially with a large number of SKUs. If you find that your printers are failing unpredictably, it may be time to re-evaluate your printing situation. This is especially true if you have continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers on your line and you’re operating under harsh conditions (temperature fluctuations, dust, moisture) .

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with CIJs for small character, primary coding in a controlled environment. But things can start to go sideways in a hurry if CIJ is applied to the wrong application. There’s a tendency to default to CIJ since it’s familiar, but that’s often a mistake. For every new application, be sure to approach the project with an open mind.

For example, drop-on-demand (DoD) valvejet printers are designed to handle tough environments with low maintenance needs. On the flip side, CIJs can sometimes be hypersensitive, as they rely on two electrostatic plates to charge ink droplets – which can cause ink build up on print nozzles in dusty environments, affecting the quality of the mark and requiring more frequent cleaning and maintenance.

2. De-stress with automation

Automation is key in any manufacturing setting to boost production output and lower costs. This includes marking and coding systems, which often lack even basic automation.

Still you may be wondering how exactly automation improves inkjet printer reliability. In this context, reliability refers to putting the right message or code on the right product, case or pallet every single time. When you’re relying solely on manual message updates, you’re opening the door to errors and costly re-work or discarded products.

When marking and coding equipment is integrated with other systems, such as ERP or production systems, you can be assured of fast, error-free updates based on the most recent data. Automated marking systems, such as those powered by MPERIA controllers, can also validate code accuracy and verify barcode readability as further assurance against errors.

Of course, automated platforms can also monitor printer health and alert staff of maintenance tasks, adding to the reliability equation.

3. Only maintain the printers you want to keep

Has your dentist ever told you to “only floss the teeth you want to keep?” It’s the same with your marking equipment only more so. Presumably, you have inkjet printers on your line because you need them to be there day in, day out.

Man using dental floss

Inkjet printer maintenance is like flossing your teeth: only maintain or floss the ones you want to keep.

Unfortunately, far too often marking and coding equipment is left off of maintenance schedules, or left up to line operators to flag issues when they crop up. Neither approach works well when it comes to maximizing reliability, just as skipping on flossing is not doing your teeth any favors.

Regardless of the print technology you’re using, it’s vital to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance. Many failures in inkjet printing equipment can be traced back to inconsistent maintenance that falls short of recommendations.

Different print technologies thrive in different environments. Historically, CIJ has dominated marking in many segments, but has also been maintenance intensive. Other inkjet printing offers less demanding maintenance routines, like TIJ, PIJ, and DOD valvejet.  For example, valvejet printers typically only need a daily flush of the valves at the end of a shift or production run.

4. Think about ink as substrates change

Ink selection plays a major role in marking and coding reliability. As substrates evolve to meet sustainability goals and consumer demands, ink performance can be impacted. Continuing to use the same ink on a new or changed substrate usually is a big mistake. Consider these scenarios:

  • Marks or codes start to fade or lack contrast with new substrates
  • Ink doesn’t dry fast enough leading to smeared, unreadable marks
  • Inconsistent absorption degrades mark quality

Any of these – or other missteps with ink selection – could result in issues down the line with tracking, traceability, inventory management, and brand reputation. As such, it’s critical that the inks you use are designed specifically for your latest substrates.

Beyond reliability in mark quality, ink also plays a role in inkjet printer reliability and performance. The wrong inks can lead to printhead clogging premature wear. It’s imperative that every ink you’re using has been extensively tested with the exact inkjet print technologies you’re using. Don’t be fooled by third-party companies offering cheap inks as that’s what they are – cheap. Inks are the epitome of you get what you pay for.

Matthews leads the way in marking reliability

Creating consistently reliable marks and codes on your products is easy once you find a credible and reputable equipment vendor. Matthews Marking Systems can help you with the considerations listed above, with:

  • A wide variety of low maintenance, easy-to-implement printing technologies, including our ultra-reliable, flexible V-Series DoD valvejet printers
  • Our automated MPERIA controller, which allows you to seamlessly switch messages in seconds, enhance mark quality, and centralize coding control on your production lines regardless of equipment manufacturer.
  • A team of chemists, engineers and mathematicians who have a combined 118 years of experience working in the ink industry and offer research and development, ink formulation, systems testing, sample marking, and technical sales support.

Don’t let unreliable marks and codes drag your business down. Contact us today by completing the form below to find out how we can help you make the best mark on your products.