Chirag Sheth elaborates on the importance of accurate coding of materials and the role of advanced printing technology along with automation and software solutions in reducing unnecessary costs associated with coding errors.
Imagine a building constructed with inferior quality concrete and reinforced with shoddy metal rods. That is exactly what contributed to the collapse of an eight-story garment factory in Bangladesh in 2013 resulting in the death of 1,100 people. In fact, several recent building collapses and fires around the world have been blamed on substandard or misused building materials. These preventable disasters have driven stricter building material-specific safety requirements developed by reputable organisations such as the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), ASTM International, the CSA Group, and NSF International. Put into place to help ensure that building materials meet established safety standards and are utilised properly in construction, certification information is then coded onto building materials and external packaging for ready visibility in the field. These groups provide recognisable certification marks and labels signifying that materials meet internationally accepted safety standards. Additional information includes the established quality or grade of materials such as metal or PVC pipe often printed directly onto the product, as well as orientation markings on building materials for use in assembly and manufacturing to help determine proper usage.
While this sounds simple enough, according to an industry survey, coding errors take place regularly, with 25 per cent of respondents reporting them as a daily occurrence typically resulting from human error. Miscoded products used in construction can result in unsafe conditions, potential regulatory fines, lost profits due to re-work and scrap, and damage to brand integrity.
Building materials from bagged concrete and PVC pipe to wood and tile products present a wide range of coding challenges due to irregular shapes, varying substrates, production environments, and the amount of information required. However, building material manufacturers can take active steps to mistake-proof the coding process. Using advanced printing technologies, best practices and advanced software can virtually eliminate data entry errors while also increasing uptime, decreasing maintenance/operator intervention, and minimising scrap.
Material applications and integration
Due to recent advances in printing technology, there is a wide range of state-of-the-art printing solutions for building material manufacturer coding and marking challenges. Available systems suitable for building materials include Thermal Inkjet (TIJ), Continuous Inkjet (CIJ), Laser Marking, Label, Print and Apply (LPA) and Large Character Marking (LCM), and Thermal Transfer Overprinter (TTO). It is important to note that pairing the right technology with the right material application is critical to clear and
Thermal Inkjet (TIJ): TIJ utilises ink-based, non-contact printing using heat and surface tension to move ink onto a package surface. It is generally used to print 2D DataMatrix codes – the standard code carrier for a wide range of regional and country-specific serialisation requirements – onto porous building materials such as wood products and floor tile, as well as commonly used cardboard packaging.
Continuous Inkjet (CIJ): CIJ provides fluid based, non-contact printing for up to five lines of text, linear and 2D bar codes, or graphics, printed on a variety of packaging types including stationary packaging via traversing systems. Extremely flexible, it can be used across a wide range of building and construction material applications, including bags, wood products and floor tile, polymer extrusions, and flexible and rigid packaging. In addition, CIJ can print easily readable variable data codes on difficult to mark materials, using high-contrast, pigmented inks to create bright, clean codes on surfaces on which dye-based inks are ineffective, such as rubber and plastic tubing that do not support dye-based inks.
Laser Marking: Laser marking systems use a beam of light focused and steered with a series of carefully controlled small mirrors to create marks where the heat of the beam interacts with the packaging surface. It is widely used on difficult to code polymer extrusions, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe, where fast, accurate coding is vital. It is also suited for rigid and cardboard packaging.
Print & Apply Labelling (LPA) & Large Character Marking (LCM): LPA is typically used to print and place labels of various sizes on multiple package types, such as cardboard. LCM is an ink-based, non-contact printing for multiple data types (alphanumeric, logos and bar codes). LCM is ideal for bags, wood product, floor tile, and cardboard packaging.
Thermal Transfer Overprinter (TTO) uses a digitally controlled printhead to precisely melt ink from a ribbon directly onto flexible films to provide high resolution, real-time prints. Its high-resolution capability makes TTO the ideal choice for flexible building materials packaging.
Once specific building materials have been paired with the right coding and marking solutions, it is equally important to properly implement the technology at various stages along the production line. Knowing where and how to best integrate advanced coding and marking solutions can go a long way in reducing coding errors and increasing operational efficiency.
Weighing control and bag filter: Manufacturers can increase efficiency using printers that are compatible with continuous operation roto-packers, such as laser marking, CIJ and LCM. These technologies enable reduced maintenance – key in challenging manufacturing environments (dust, fluctuating temperatures, etc). Note that adding specialised bulk fluid containers can allow printers to run for longer periods of time, lessening intervals in between required fluids replacement.
Extrusion: Extrusion facilities can be difficult because they are continuous operations. These types of production processes are consistently challenged by fast-moving lines, and hot and dusty environmental conditions which are typically not conducive to conventional coding and marking technologies. In addition, production uptime is critical given the expensive start-up costs associated with an extrusion line. Integrating coding equipment that have been designed to meet these challenging demands can help keep extrusion lines running at full speed.
Vertical form, fill and seal: Integrate CIJ or TTO technology capable of printing variable information including, but not limited to, logos, product names, and bar codes directly onto flexible film. A key feature of TTO is that it enables the use of generic standard film as opposed to pre-printed films with product-specific content printed on-demand.
Integrating additional principles: Additional approaches to reducing coding errors and increasing overall efficiency include a mix of best practices and the latest in control technology. For example, simplified message selection and reduced operator input are two principles that can significantly help eliminate operator error. Industrial manufacturing automation and various specially designed control software along the line can also prevent coding errors. Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software can streamline operations by centralising and managing coding and marking data.
Substandard or misused building materials have been cited as the primary cause for several deadly building collapses and fires throughout the world. In an effort to prevent these disasters from happening in the first place, prominent international standard organisations have developed building material-specific safety standards and certifications. It is required that this information is coded directly onto building materials, such as wood, metal, floor tile, and external flexible and rigid packaging. The problem is that building materials can be difficult to code due to unconventional shapes and substrates, resulting in all-too-common coding errors inadvertently caused by an operator. This renders crucial safety precautions ineffective. The good news is that pairing advanced printing and coding solutions with specific building materials at various stages along the production line can not only ensure accurate coding, but can also streamline operations. Advanced printing technology along with automation and software solutions can virtually eliminate operator error, increase line operating efficiency and help reduce unnecessary costs associated with coding errors.
The author is Global Marketing Manager for Building Materials at Videojet Technologies.
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