How to Incorporate a Continuous Printing Machine Into Your Line

Between considering surface shape, determining internal operation requirements, and understanding the properties of different plastic types, plastic printing can appear overwhelming. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be.

Here’s how InkJet, Inc. can help you print on plastic.

Time is money—when it comes to industrialized production, this old adage rings true. Facilities like beverage bottling plants and pharmaceutical packaging factories have enormous product amounts that generally need to be packaged within tight time frames. To keep up with demand, continuous printing is a must. 

Continuous inkjet (CIJ) printers, like the DuraCode Touchscreen and DuraCode Keyboard, meet continuous printing demands by offering fast marking speeds and uninterrupted operation. CIJ printers mark products by creating a pressurized stream of ink. The stream begins at an ink reservoir within the CIJ and mixes with solvent as needed then moves toward the printhead. Part of the stream is propelled toward the product, while the remaining ink is routed back to the reservoir to complete the process once again. Through this process, CIJ printers are able to mark products moving at over 1000 feet per minute, uninterrupted. 

Of course, no matter how well-constructed a CIJ printer is, its codes can turn out illegible if the machine isn’t installed and maintained correctly. Without proper installation, text characters may become obscured and DPI resolutions could turn out lower than expected. Both of these issues can render barcodes and data matrices unscannable, leading the way toward supply chain complications and possible federal/state law violations

Fortunately, by following these CIJ installation best practices, your operation will be able to begin continuous printing without issue.

1. Be Conscious of Your Environment

All product marking technology is susceptible to certain workplace environmental hazards. Industrial manufacturing facilities, in particular, are often home to conditions that could affect code readability. If these factors are not accounted for, it can damage CIJ hardware in addition to negatively impacting code legibility.

Common environmental concerns with continuous printing include:
 

  • High Temperatures: Excessively high temperatures cause ink to thin out. When ink is too thin, it can complicate printhead operation leading to improper ink dispersion. With poor ink dispersion comes illegible markings.

  • Low Temperatures: Just as high temperatures can lead to thinner ink, cold temperatures can lead to thicker ink. Thick ink can disrupt the continuous ink cycle that takes place within a CIJ printer. If the ink flow becomes fully clogged, the entire production line must stop to avoid creating nonconforming products.

  • Dust Particles: Unprotected printers may become damaged when exposed to dusty environments. Once inside the system, the dust can damage the printhead and enter the ink stream leading to ink adherence issues.

  • Humidity: CIJ printers work well because they are able to disperse ink in a rapid and precise manner. However, accurate ink placement means nothing if the ink doesn’t dry properly. In environments with too much humidity, the moisture in the air can affect the dry time of the ink.

  • Vibrations: Industrial worksites utilize powerful machines to prepare and package products. Sometimes, these machines are so powerful they can cause the environment to vibrate. As a non-contact printing technology, CIJ printers propel ink 1-2 inches away from the substrate. Vibrations may cause this ink trajectory to misalign with the product surface leading to an illegible code.

Fortunately, many of these problems can be solved through:

  • Using a CIJ printer with a wide operating temperature range, for example, the DuraCode functions well between 41-113° F.

  • Using a CIJ printer built with an IP-rated structure, because these ratings guarantee protection against dust and water.

  • Using peripherals along the production line that can prevent vibration-induced printing errors. 

2. Integrate Other Equipment as Needed

As mentioned above, peripherals may become necessary if standard CIJ printers are not placing codes properly. Issues like transparent substrates, variable line speeds, and material surface condensation can all cause machines to misprint packaging. In these scenarios, the following peripherals are helpful:

  • Photo-Eyes: Short for photoelectric sensors, photo-eyes detect substrates by emitting light to a receiver. When this light is interrupted, it triggers the printer into coding the material. Photo-eyes increase printer reliability by accurately relating substrate presence and distance.

  • Encoders: In certain production line setups, products will move at varying speeds. These changing speeds may cause blotchy, unreadable codes if unaccounted for. Fortunately, encoders help CIJ printers recognize variable line speeds by transmitting pulse signals. The pulse signal intervals inform the CIJ of the product’s actual speed allowing the printer to produce clean markings.

  • Compressed Air Knife: Excessive humidity can cause condensation to accumulate on packaging surfaces. With wet surfaces come messy, illegible codes. By installing a compressed air knife along a production line, operators can prevent this issue by drying package surfaces before they arrive at the CIJ. And by applying pre-printing treatments like a “flame treatment”, you can further ensure quality results.

3. Consider Printer-to-Product Orientation

Printer orientation is extremely important when it comes to coding. If a printhead isn’t positioned correctly, it can lead to improper ink dispersion thus ruining the code. This is especially true when it comes to curved surfaces. 

Although the non-contact marking method used by CIJ printers is well-equipped to handle curved shapes, the right printhead angle is required. Consequently, it’s important to run multiple tests on your products before entering full production. By ensuring that your printhead is fixed to the optimal angle, you can avoid potential marking disasters and the costs/downtime that come with them. 

Need More Guidance on Continuous Printing? InkJet, Inc. Is Here to Help

A properly installed CIJ printer will allow you to mark quick-moving products uninterrupted. By having a complete understanding of your work environment and production line needs, you can anticipate what accommodations are needed for successful continuous printing. However, at InkJet, Inc. we know that this is sometimes easier said than done. 

Production facilities often have unique properties that may not appear disruptive at first. The products themselves can also prove to be challenging whether due to size, shape, or substrate type. Over the last thirty years, InkJet, Inc. has helped clients across the manufacturing world to conquer these challenges, and we can help you too. Contact us today to learn how our marking technology can set you up for success.

For more information on continuous printing, contact InkJet, Inc. online or by phone at 1(800) 280-3245.

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