Traditionally, lot Numbers (containing details of when manufactured etc) and expiry codes or dates (time by which the product
has to be used) that appear on cartons have been considered as an add-on to the cartoning process rather than an essential
element in their own right. This is because coding was previously a separate function that took place after the carton was
filled. Today, increasing regulation has placed more emphasis on codes being right in order to provide accurate traceability.
This can be better achieved if they are part of a continuous process.
Today, the need for effective traceability throughout the supply chain, driven by regulatory changes and the increasing prevalence
of counterfeit products, has created a demand for real-time printing of serialised information. This need has changed how
the product is presented to the coding equipment because cartons need to be more carefully controlled to ensure that printing
is legible and readable (particularly for the scanning of barcodes). As such, the coding station integrated into the line
must be able to control the product’s transit for printing, vision inspection and rejection of any print faults.
Harry Thomason. Managing Director, Travtec Group.
In today’s competitive market, budgets are always being stretched so manufacturers have to consider new investments very carefully.
One of the major factors when selecting new coding and feeding equipment is ease of integration into packaging lines. In particular,
equipment must have the ability to be installed quickly and validated off-line to ensure minimum downtime during installation.
Size is another important consideration because factory space is always at a premium, particularly for existing lines, which
has led to the design of compact units. Other factors to consider when investing in new equipment include:
The coding process must form part of a fully integrated system.
Printers need to be of a suitably high resolution for the types of codes required (often 2D Data Matrix) and should have serialisation
- Feeding equipment must provide total control of the product to ensure a smooth transit during the printing and inspection
- Equipment must have the ability to be validated off-line to ensure minimum downtime during installation.
- Full integration with networks, vision systems and mechanical handling systems is essential.
Track and trace
Track and trace requirements have led to the development and introduction of more sophisticated code types. 2D Data Matrix
codes can contain much more information compared with conventional EAN 128 versions, and can also be more easily included
on primary packs or labels, as well as outer cases. In many instances, different information is required at different points
during distribution; for instance, the transport company will need to ensure that they have the correct number of packs for
delivery, while the pharmacist will want to know that they have the correct drugs. For storage purposes, the date of manufacture
and use-by date are also important. The growing prevalence of 2D Data Matrix codes means that equipment must be capable of
high resolution printing to ensure that the codes can be successfully scanned. Equipment must also allow full integration
Today, there is less focus on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) as a track and trace solution, even though it was initially
seen as a breakthrough technology in this area. While RFID does have many advantages, the high cost (when compared with other
track and trace solutions such as 2D Datamatrix), lack of standards and unaddressed privacy concerns mean that it is not yet
ready for use. However, any 2D system based on the GS1 standard should allow upgrade to RFID in the future once these issues
have been addressed.
2D Data Matix codes need to be produced with a print resolution of at least 600dpi.
One of the major drivers for future innovations is the need to develop ever-more sophisticated systems to beat the counterfeiters.
The number of counterfeit drugs being sold through the internet and, more worryingly, in traditional supply chains, is increasing.
Pharma companies now use all types of covert and overt anti-counterfeit technologies on their packaging, including holograms
and serialised codes, as well as innovations in ink types, such as DNA taggants and colour shifting inks. All of these solutions,
however, present new challenges for equipment manufacturers, who must ensure that their systems can cope with the latest innovations
and ever-evolving global standards.