High-quality traceability begins with accurate product identification
The efficient labelling of your products does not need to impact your production speed
“In order to comply with national and international regulations, companies from industries such as pharmaceuticals or food and beverage need to take responsibility for the traceability of their products”, explains Jean-Jacques Schormans, general manager of the 3i Print & Apply Innovation Centre at Zetes. “And these regulations are becoming ever stricter. Let’s think for example, of the EFPIA’s (European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations) recommendations on the traceability of pharmaceutical products, which have already been written into the French and Turkish national law. In the food industry, rising concerns over the quality and origin of products has led to the adoption of a number of regulations, amongst others, at European level. One of the latest adopted by the European Parliament stipulates that there should be more, better and more visible product information on food packaging.
Solid data aggregation is key to optimal traceability
The labelling and identification of products is the first step in the traceability chain. Each product receives a label with basic consumer information, such as the expiration date, lot number and production line identification number. Integration of the company’s ERP system with the Print & Apply application enables the company to include the right information on the label. As a next step, consumer packs are packaged in larger boxes. Using barcodes that include information about their contents, these boxes also need to be identifiable, allowing the company to keep track of its production. Traceability doesn’t end there, as these boxes are placed on pallets for further storage and transportation purposes. Obviously, each pallet needs to be traceable, too.
A Print & Apply implementation generally requires a lot of integration with other solutions. Print & Apply at the consumer level is often the most difficult part, as products come in all shapes and sizes. A product orientation system may also be needed to ensure the product is facing the Print & Apply solution correctly. Quality controls are built into the solution – using cameras or barcode scanners – to verify the readability of the labels that are applied to the consumer packs. Apart from quality, production speed is also a concern. Print & Apply solutions need to be seemlessly integrated into the company’s high-speed production lines – without slowing down the production process.
Constant adaptation to the market evolutions
The growing need for traceability also brings important evolution within the auto-ID industry. Traditional barcodes are slowly being replaced by other means of identification offering different advantages. RFID tags, for example, can be read from a greater distance or can be more suited for rough environments, etc. But they are expensive and interference can be an issue as well. The recent arrival of Databar offers an alternative for the identification of small products, vegetables and fruit for example. Datamatrix is a type of barcode that can hold more information. It incorporates specific information, such as lot number, product code and expiration date and is easier to reconstruct when damaged. This is the barcode recommended by EFPIA for the identification of pharmaceutical products.
It is therefore important for the providers of Print & Apply solutions to follow those advances and enable their customers to benefit from such technological improvements by integrating them into their solutions.
As already highlighted, implementing a labelling solution requires expertise from different fields. Zetes manages every aspect of the solution, offering all necessary machines and conveyor belt installations, integrating label and inkjet printers, implementing camera systems that control the readability of the marking on each package, developing the PLC-techniques that control all machines and integrating the whole solution with the manufacturer’s production system. “Our solutions are designed to integrate with high-speed production lines, ensuring secure marking, inspection and storage of data”, concludes Jean-Jacques Schormans.