In today’s global marketplace, companies can utilize distribution networks that reach farther than ever before. Products can travel a long route to finally reach the consumer, and to help ensure safe arrival to each location, manufacturers code their goods in a way that makes them all traceable.
Beyond aiding travel, the traceability of these codes also helps in the event of a product recall. Although you may not often hear about these recalls, a brief look at the lists on either CPSC.gov (the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website) or FDA.gov (the Food and Drug Administration’s website) will show you just how common these market withdrawals actually are.
Of the codes used to create this traceability, some of the most common are barcodes, QR codes, date codes, and product batch codes—the last of which is the subject of this FAQ article. Throughout this piece, we will explore three of the most frequently asked questions regarding this topic, including:
- What is a product batch code?
- When are product batch codes necessary?
- Which printers are best for creating product batch codes?
With these answers, you can be sure you are fully compliant, informed, and equipped to use these codes with ease and success.
FAQ #1: What Is a Product Batch Code?
Also referred to as a lot number, lot code, or code number, a product batch code is a combination of numbers and/or letters that are used to identify a set of identical mass-produced products. These shared characteristics may include:
- Date/time of production
- Location of production (Plant Code, Line Number)
- Expiration date/Julian date
- A common material used in the production batch
Generally, these codes are placed on the outside of the product packaging and can take on whatever number/letter combination the manufacturer needs to fit their system. This batch classification helps companies perform quality assurance checks and enables accurate searches through inventory records in the event of a recall.
FAQ #2: When Are Product Batch Codes Necessary?
Depending on the industry in question, different federal regulations and industry standards dictate when it’s necessary to create a product batch code. For instance, the CPSC has passed regulations that require all products designed for child use to be labeled with a batch number. The USDA has also passed laws requiring that infant formula prominently display these codes, under the threat of expensive fines. In other cases, pharmaceuticals, home goods, chemicals, and cosmetic products are also subject to their own regulations either from the FDA or the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).
However, even when federal regulations don’t explicitly require these product encodings, distribution networks and retailers often do. Accordingly, it’s best practice to research what your distribution channel requires, communicate your numbers to any participating partners, and mark your packages with the appropriate printer.
FAQ #3: Which Printers Are Best for Creating Product Batch Codes?
Just as product batch code specifics vary based on factors like industry and distribution networks, choosing the right machine to create these codes depends on your unique operational needs. The most important factors to consider are:
- Whether you are printing on primary or secondary packaging: Primary packaging refers to material that most closely protects the product (e.g., the aluminum can that soda is in). Secondary packaging is what encases the primary packaging (e.g., the cardboard box that soda cans are sold in). Primary packaging materials will often vary but secondary packaging will generally be made of some form of corrugated cardboard.
- The required print speed for your line: Your manufacturing line’s required prints per minute will determine what printer model will fit best.
Here is a quick rundown of which machines will best match with these different characteristic combinations:
Primary Packaging at Intermittent Speeds:
Anser U2 Pro-S: This thermal inkjet (TIJ) printer is built for encoding both porous packaging (such as paper, cardboard, sponge, etc.) and non-porous packaging (such as plastics, metal, glass, etc.). The Pro-S’s lightweight construction of 1.2 pounds makes it perfect for mobile or conveyor-mounted use and its print speed of 120 m/min will meet the needs of most small-to-mid-level operations.
Essentially, this is a compact, low-cost coding equipment option requiring minimal servicing and performing best on intermittent lines.
Primary Packaging at Continuous Speeds:
DuraCode: This continuous inkjet (CIJ) printer is made for industrial coding operations and can handle demanding 24/7 operation. Printing at a max speed of 320 m/min, these machines can imprint codes on glass bottles, metal cans, plastic containers, and flexible packaging. This versatility makes them great for the majority of primary packaging tasks. The DuraCode is a system that offers a larger supply of ink fluids to provide an extended run time.
Secondary Packaging at Intermittent Speeds:
Precision Series Case Coding Printers: Coming with either a 72 mm or 18mm printhead, these high-resolution printers can code porous surfaces at 60m/min. The dense ink used by these models can create high-DPI codes as well as more intricate graphic images such as logos. The Precision Series provides a larger print area where more information can be displayed on a product.
Secondary Packaging at Continuous Speeds:
Anser U2 Smart One: Another TIJ model with the same speed output as the Pro-S, the Anser U2 Smart One is specifically designed for porous printing applications such as cardboard-based secondary packaging. The cartridges used by the Smart One also enable a font-size as large as one inch, creating clear box markings that can even be read at a distance.
If You Have Questions, We Have Answers
Product batch codes keep your products compliant with federal law and aligned with industry standards. However, we know that there are a lot of diverse production line conditions out there and successfully applying these codes might not always be as easy as it sounds. If you have any more questions on this topic, we have three decades of experience and our experts can happily help you find the perfect product and ink for your operation, even if it isn’t made by us.