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Learn more about Coding Equipment
Coding and printing equipment like inkjet coders use ink to print a date or other variable code on a package with no contact.Three basic types are in common packaging use:
Continuous Inkjet (CIJ)
CIJ systems are the most versatile and widely used type . They generally use a solvent based ink allowing them to print on most surfaces including metals glass and plastics. They are called “continuous” because they continuously generate a stream of ink droplets as shown in this schematic:
Ink is pumped to the droplet generator in the print head which discharges it as a stream of fine droplets. The character generator electrostatically charges each droplet corresponding to the intended character. As it passes the deflector plate, the droplet is deflected vertically, placing it in the desired position on the package. Movement of the package past the head creates the horizontal displacement.
When a droplet is not needed to form the character, it is deflected to an ink return or gutter.
Thermal Inkjet (TIJ)
TIJ coders use the same ink cartridge technology as desktop printers. Lack of suitable inks initially limited applications but specialty inks allow printing on many materials including plastics, metals and glass.
TIJ coders consist of a control cabinet and a holder for the cartridge. The print head itself is integrated into the cartridge. This minimizes any need for cleaning or maintenance of the head. It is replaced whenever the cartridge is replaced.
TIJ coders are also dot matrix. Because they have 300 ink nozzles (HP-45 Cartridge) they give a much higher resolution and the appearance of fully formed characters and graphics. Each nozzle is individually controlled, expelling a droplet only when needed.
Drop On Demand (DOD)
DOD coders combine characteristics of both TIJ and CIJ coders. Like the CIJ they print dot matrix characters and generally have an separate ink reservoir and print head both requiring some routine maintenance. Like TIJ, they have multiple nozzles and only expel ink as needed to form part of the character. Thus Drop-on-Demand. DOD printing is often used when larger codes are required such as on cases.
Examples of all three are shown below.
Coding and printing equipment like lasers are an alternative to inkjets for non-contact coding. Lasers work by focusing an intense beam of light energy on the package surface. The energy reacts with the surface in a controlled manner, forming characters. Different surfaces react differently. Lasers can code printed cartons by burning away or “ablating” ink. PVC will turn amber, Pet will melt slightly, PE generally won’t mark, glass will microetch.
Three types of coding and printing equipment lasers are in use on packaging today:
Scribing lasers are the most common style today. They generate what appears to be a continuous stream of light. In actuality, the beam is made up of many tiny pulses. Overlapping the pulses gives the appearance of a solid line. This pulse stream is steered onto the package by an X and Y mirror, drawing the code.
Dot matrix laser
Dot matrix lasers use a vertical array of lasers. As the product passes the coding head, the lasers pulse forming a series of vertical dot rows corresponding to the character. For example, in a vertical row corresponding to the first line of the character. Below is an example of a dot matrix character.
To form the letter “B”, as the package passed the laser head from left to right lasers 2, 3, 5 & 6 will fire, forming the right-hand vertical of the letter. After a slight delay as the product moves, lasers 1, 4 & 7 fire, forming the 2nd vertical and so on.
Resolution is not high but it will produce a legible character and code. As with the scribing lasers, horizontal speed of the package must match the programmed speed of the laser to provide proper spacing of the vertical lines.
Pulse lasers are not very common anymore but may still be useful for their very high speed. As the product passes the laser head, the laser releases an intense pulse of energy. This passes through a series of mirrors and focusing lenses that guide it onto the package. A metal stencil in the beam path forms the beam into the desired code.
A pulse laser schematic is below
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