After working 24 years with consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers, I have learned many aspects of product packaging excellence and have come to appreciate the top quality control issues that impact product manufacturers. The funny thing is, I always find myself inspecting every grocery item I put into my shopping cart and sometimes think, how did this one get out the door? Those from the industry know what I am talking about, right? Labeling issues, carton/box glue seal problems and poor quality date codes. This post will focus on the issue of poor quality date codes.
Since date codes provide consumer critical information, a product coding plan should be a part of every CPG’s company quality control process. Many companies now have implemented a “no code, no production” policy. Does yours? With vision system technology pricing at 1/5 of what it was 10 years ago, there is really no excuse to have a product leave your manufacturing site without a date code or one that is of poor quality. What is wrong with just putting a camera on the line to detect the defects? Answer: Time is money. Line stoppage, product rework and scrap can add up to some big dollars very quickly, although, maybe nowhere near the cost of a product recall.
To achieve high production yield and improve manufacturing margins, the underlying causes of poor quality date codes need to be addressed. So why are date coding issues like the elephant in the room for many CPG manufacturers? What cannot be seen cannot be quickly resolved as it takes time to diagnose the issues that create these problems. The most common reasons for poor quality date codes can be grouped into the following categories:
- Incorrect setup with the date coder – date, time, delays, speed, sensor settings, throw distance, heat or power settings, typographical errors or wrong SKU selection
- Material handling issues – guide rails, conveyor slippage, poor product transfer, product acceleration and deceleration or vibration problems
- Poor product sensing – incorrect photocell or proximity sensor selection or speed encoder wheel slippage
- Date coder technology – age of equipment, outdated technology, no status notification alerts, ink or ribbon selection and substrate or environmental incompatibility
With respect to the material handling issues, this is something that will mostly be local and unique to many production sites and need the attention of a skilled line mechanic or in-house technical expert to address. It may require the use of a slow motion camera inspection system to catch the issue.
When selecting a date coder for your application, choose a technology that is most compatible with your environment and packaging substrates. New printing inks and ribbons are now providing superior adhesion. Thermal inkjet (TIJ) coders are advancing the fastest with expanding ink formulations that enable them to work on just about every type of material substrate.
There are now date coders available that have sensors built into the print head to detect products, determine conveyor direction and calculate line speed that eliminate the need to use external product sensors and rotary speed encoders. The less peripheral device attachment to the date coder, the lower the chance of something going wrong.
In summary, it’s never too late to review your date coding process. Is your date coding system innovative and does it reduce user complexity? Can it be programmed in less than a minute and is it possible to manage the installation of the date coders over the cloud? Do you need to invest in better material handling or peripherals? Has your date coder technology passed its expiry date? Answering these questions now can save you a lot of hassle in the future.
ABOUT DEAN HORNSBY
Dean is passionate about sharing his deep knowledge about packaging and perfectly printed date codes. In his more than 25 years in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry, Dean has done and seen it all; from engineering to plant automation to vision and coding systems.