Lexmark has recently made public its intention of quitting the inkjet printing business. This has to do with HP, Canon and Epson dominating the market, but mainly with a serious decrease of consumer use. It was just a matter of time until people, benefiting from social media sites, would lose interest in the printed image.

According to BBC News, Lexmark would stop development of the technology by 2013 and close its inkjet supplies factory in Cebu, Philippines by 2015.

While the interest in consumer printing photos has faded, the one in labelling has increased. Various legislations underline the importance of consumers being informed about the products they are purchasing. The information is done through printed labels or messages.

The APLINK Series from ALS are inkjet printing systems that can cover a wide range of marking and coding industrial applications for porous but also non-porous surfaces. Industrial inkjet printers are used in a range of businesses area: food industry, medical industry, cosmetics industry, package labelling and security labelling.

What are the main advantages?

  •  very good resolution and clarity
  • flexibility and economic production

 How do industrial inkjet printers work?

Industrial inkjet printers work by propelling droplets of ink onto paper from a computer produced digital image.

There are two main technologies: continuous inkjet (CIJ) and drop on demand (DOD). The CIJ is used commercially for marking and coding of products and packages.
The DOD technology uses a piezoelectric crystal in each nozzle instead of a heating element. When current is applied, the crystal changes shape or size, forcing a droplet of ink from the nozzle. The advantage of piezoelectric ink jets is that they allow a wider variety of inks than thermal or continuous ink jet.
An example of the piezoelectronic application is the “use before” date. In this case the head is stationary and the product moves, which highlights the long service and the low operating cost.

Although invented in 1976, the inkjet printer became a home consumer item only in 1988 when Hewlett-Packard made it available for an exorbitant sum. Having lost in the consumer sector recently, it has been perfected to respond to an increasing industrial demand.
Apart from offering label applicators and thermal transfer printers, ALS is also dedicated to industrial inkjet printers, as one of the best choice for porous materials.

It all started in the 15th century when the skilled Johannes Gutenberg devised the movable type printing technology. This was the first major revolution that determined the course of culture and communication. Centuries later, we have the photocopier, the thermal printer and the laser printer.

A thermal printer produces a printed image by selectively heating coated thermal paper when the paper passes over the thermal print head. The coating turns black where heated and an image is thus produced.

In theory, it sounds easy, and even in practice this is easy, but only because others thought hard of how to make this mechanism possible. One of the reasons it’s possible and so easy is due to the thermal print head which is responsible for a line of controlled dots of heat which will produce an image in conjunction with heat sensitive ribbons or paper.

Since they are direct responsible for the actual image we can see on various items, mainly labels, the quality of the thermal print heads has to be one of the best. Let’s just say they have to cope with a very demanding and fast paced environment. Not properly maintained or badly manufactured, they will generate text that is difficult to read, unacceptable now when consumers have to be informed as most accurately as possible about the product they are about to purchase.

If you think of tomato purée, hand cream and oil paints and we give you a small hint: the container, you’ll soon get the picture of what unites them: the tube.

Having low costs of production and easily manufactured in multi-layered options which offer extra protection for certain products – cosmetics or food related, the tube has become one of the most demanded commercial container. Metal, plastic or laminate, it is flexible and air-tight which contributes to a longer and more hygienically storage of the contents.

The tube only receives value once this one gains commercial awareness by means of the label. Targeted at consumers, the label says everything there is to be known: the ingredients, the expiry date and the manufacturer. Proper tube labelling is very important and the advantages have to match those of the very manufacturing of the tube.

  • Improved logistics
  • High quality graphics at a lower cost
  • The labels can easily be re-thought in terms of colours, design and information
  • Can choose between paper, film or metalised labels
  • Labels can be applied in various ways: full-wrap; partial-wrap; with or without product orientation

The ALS tube labeller tackles the concept of labels from both the manufacturer’s and the consumer’s perspective. It is sophisticated, reliable and fast, already present in Europe, USA and Asia. It works at speeds in excess of 100 tubes per minute, being accurate every single time. This is due to the solid foundation that each ALS T-Series machine is built on, which keeps movement and vibration to an absolute minimum. In no time anonymous tubes will be labelled and made known to the consumers.

industrial food labelsConsumers are more than ever interested to know what’s in their food. Over several decades there has been an increase in legislation which forced food manufacturers to display more and more information about the food on its labelling and packing.

ALS understands that proposed changes in food labelling legislation could lead to industrial label applicators benefiting significantly.

In California, the Right to Know initiative, which would require the labelling of food which contains genetically modified ingredients, will appear on the state’s November ballot according to the California Secretary of State’s office.

“We’re thrilled that Californians will have the opportunity this November to vote for the right to know what’s in our food,” Stacy Malkan, a spokesperson for the California Right to Know campaign told the Sacramento Bee.

“This initiative is pretty simple. It’s about our fundamental right to make informed choices about the food we eat and feed our families,” she added.

Malkan claims the proposal gained steam quickly as her organization collected nearly a million signatures in “just 10 weeks.”

If voters pass the law, it would take effect on July 1, 2014. Labels would read “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.”

This highlights just how sensitive some food manufacturers are regarding changes in label legislation. As a result labelling businesses which can efficiently label huge volumes of products are best placed to deal with such demands.

There are two types of printers, dot matrix printers and heat transfer printers. In the first type, the printer ribbon is soaked with the ink and a hammer like motion prints the text onto the paper. Heat transfer printers are mostly used for label printing. With heat transfer technology, the printer ribbon is covered with ink and a coating of wax. The heat melts the wax and the ink is transferred to the paper. Besides heat transfer technology being new, its principles exist since typists invented printer ribbons.

This new age of printing systems are widely used in label printers or barcode tags using black ink. However it can use blue or red ink also. These printer ribbons have many advantages over traditional printing systems. The most obvious are the speed, image quality and effectiveness. Furthermore they are noise free, maintenance free and no need for ribbons or cartridges. All these aspects and advantages have made this technology popular and is very useful for businesses operating in retail, warehouse and food processing industries. There are mainly three types of printer ribbons:

  • Wax-based thermal ribbon– used to hard-wearing labels
  • Resin-based thermal ribbon- used for labels not subjected to moisture
  • Combination of wax and resin – used on glossy paper

Not all thermal transfer label systems are created equal however, results can look the same to the eye. Other important aspect you need to know is that some thermal transfer label printers work only with wax-based ribbons, while others may need resin-based ribbons. There are also some that work with both wax and resin. This means you have to choose carefully based on your particular situation.

Whilst they have different characteristics all varieties of thermal ribbons can create quality images, are resistant to heat and are high durable. This is the reason why these thermal printers are becoming popular for creating long life span labels.

traffic labelsThe government has begun a nationwide consultation on the front-of-pack labelling to make choosing healthier food easier for shoppers.

Ministers in the UK want to see all food manufacturers and retailers using the same system to show on the front of food packaging, how much fat, salt, sugar and calories are in their products.

The department of Health estimates that approximately 80% of food products sold in the UK already has some sort of front-of-pack labelling. What seems to be concerning the department of Health is that different retailers and manufacturers are using different labelling systems, which some consumers find confusing.

Some food packaging labels show the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA), which are guidelines about the approximate amount of particular nutrients and calories required for a healthy diet. Meanwhile others will use a traffic light coding system which highlights foods high in fat and sugar, and other products might use both systems.

The UK government argues that if the biggest seven supermarkets all use the same labelling for their own brands, it would equate to about 50% of the food sold in the UK and would also encourage other food manufacturers to follow suit.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Being overweight and having an unhealthy diet can lead to serious illnesses such as cancer and type 2 diabetes. We must do everything we can to help people make healthier choices.

“Offering a single nutrition labelling system makes common sense, it would help us all to make healthier choices and keep track of what we eat. Making even small changes to our diet can have a major impact on our health. Cutting our average salt intake by 1.6 grams a day would prevent over 10,000 premature deaths a year.”

For businesses specialising in the food labelling industry, such as Advanced Labelling Systems (ALS) any changes to the industry are being closely monitored. Food manufacturers will no doubt be doing the same as the changes in law could mean significant changes to the packing of their products.

The consultation will run until Monday the 6th of August.

The food industry and the labelling industry, one could argue are a match made in heaven. As consumers we rarely, if ever, think about the labels on our food when shopping because we are so used to seeing a clear label with the right information on it.

Food manufacturers must by law clearly convey the following:-

  • the name of the food
  • a list of ingredients (including food allergens)
  • the amount of an ingredient which is named or associated with the food
  • an appropriate durability indication (e.g. ‘best before’ or ‘use by’)
  • any special storage conditions or instructions for use
  • the name and address of the manufacturer, packer or retailer
  • the place of origin (where failure to do so might mislead)

Without this kind of information not only would doing the shopping be a lot more problematic, it would also be a serious risk to your health. If for example you are extremely allergic to nuts or dairy produce, doing the food shopping without labels could be life threatening.

In the UK and the US we are lucky that food labelling is an issue that has been addressed for quite some time now. However with the planet’s population estimated to swell to 9 billion by 2050 there will be significant increase in demand for food.

The farming, food, and drink sector is an important part of the UK, being responsible for over 3.5 million jobs. It has a key role in driving strong and sustainable growth, particularly through exporting to overseas markets.

Exports in the agri-food sector have been growing steadily, with 2010 seeing the sixth consecutive year of growth in value to £16 billion.

Key facts and figures:

  • The USA, France, Germany, Spain and Ireland together account for over half of all UK agri-food and drink exports. These are markets which are geographically close, have a large number of ex-pats, and with historic cultural links to the UK.
  • As high-growth consumer powers emerge exports need to be re-orientated to take advantage of new opportunities. The combined value of UK agri-food and drink exports to Brazil, Russia, India, China and Mexico, which together account for 44% of the world’s population, is less than the UK exports to Belgium.
  • China, USA, India, Russia and Brazil are expected to be the top five retail grocery markets by 2015.
  • Research across sectors shows that exporting is good for businesses, with organisations that export demonstrating higher productivity levels, stronger financial performance and greater longevity.