Ink is ink is ink. Or is it? It is common knowledge to those in the ink industry that not all inks are made the same. Even the same ink applied to different surfaces, products or substances can have different effects. Marking and coding ink perhaps one of the more important examples this as it can contain product information (e.g. lot numbers) and legally mandated information (e.g. expiration dates). The information of any of these pieces of information can have dire financial and legal consequences. Imagine the outcome of a customer getting sick from outdated products and was unknown to them because the ink wore-off of the code. A law-suit is only the beginning.
A good way to avoid such a costly outcome would be to consider what is known in the industry as a cradle-to-grave approach. This methodology looks at the entire lifespan of the printed ink on the product from the moment it is printed all the way to its destruction or recycling. This may seem like a logical and straightforward idea, but few companies spend the time to go through every scenario and factor it in accordingly. Take a simple plastic bottled beverage for example. A lot number and expiry date are coded on it at the climate controlled factory. It is then filled with a cold beverage and is then transported to a transport truck that may or may not utilize a refrigerating unit. The bottle is then dropped off at the retailer’s storeroom which is not usually refrigerated. The bottle is then placed in a refrigerator where it may be handled multiple times by customers and shopkeepers multiple times before it is finally sold, opened and consumed. In order for the marking ink to stay in place, the manufacturer must compensate for the multiple expansion and contractions caused by the refrigeration and warming of the bottle, and the inevitable abrasions caused by transport and handling.
Once the manufacturer or printer has the proper methodology in place, logic dictates that they must put this theory through the wringer by testing their assumptions. The current standards of testing are a good place to start but a more holistic approach that encompasses more factors, situations and scenarios should be used instead.
Believe it or not there are ink experts out there. These professionals know the latest and greatest tools, and best practices being utilized in the industry today. It is best to consult with them to achieve the best results. While adopting new technology may prove to a costly endeavor for most, new technology builds upon the old. It is usually more efficient and is able to produce a higher quality product.
Finally, and this should come as no surprise, do not cut corners. Taking the easiest or cheapest solution available is an alluring idea, but quality is bound to suffer. Lower quality inks are used which means that the coding can be easily rubbed off. Look at the bigger picture besides getting ink on product. You must be able to envision how you want that print to look down the entire lifespan of that product and you must then be willing to do what it takes to get it there.
This article was written by Erryn Deane. Erryn is the digital business manager for The Needham Group of companies.