Labelling and coding, market news and trends

Reading a nutrition label on food packaging
Reading a nutrition label on food packaging

Perfectly adaptable labels
News also in the field of labels: pre-glued, heat-shrinkable and roll-fed labels, without siliconized backing. Thanks to their high heat-shrink capability, these labels perfectly adhere even on rough surfaces. They can be clear to obtain the “no-label-look” required for many products as beverages. They are suitable also for roll-fed wrap around labelling. Pre-glued labels without liner can replace shrink sleeve labels on containers whose shape does not require high shrinking temperatures. The adhesive applied onto the labels is specific for the different types of containers to be labelled, as PET, HDPE or glass.

Labels and recycling
Even in the packaging and labelling sector, environmental sustainability is of highest concern. Which precautions can be implemented? In the case of pre-glued labels, the elimination of the hot-melt labelling station ensures glue and energy savings, next to eliminating fumes and plant downtimes for cleaning interventions. Furthermore, the label can be removed easily without glue residues on the container, thus facilitating its recycling. Presently, manufacturers are developing thinner materials, and machines suitable for handling them, as well as technologies for separating the sleeve from the container, for an easier recycling of PET. Another important point is the creation of a system for measuring the carbon and water footprint along the label production chain.

Product identification and anti-counterfeiting
Improved traceability and counterfeiting prevention are possible thanks to serialization, i.e. by means of a unique random number distinguishing each individual package, and Datamatrix identification, with 2D bar codes, lot number, expiry date, product code and serialization code. By applying these codes upstreams of the production line, the traceability along the entire processing chain is easier and real-time identification of secondary packages is possible. The codes are scanned at high speed, using scanners, cameras, bar-code scanners; non-compliant products are ejected. Another anti-counterfeiting system consists in a random number, unique and impossible to accidentally reproduce, not assisted by computer or numerical control machines. The codes produced are read and stored in a database, and then applied onto the products, for their certain and unmistakable identification. The authenticity of each product can be checked at any time by sending the image of the code to the remote server via MMS or email; the server compares the image received with the database and confirms in real time its authenticity or lack thereof. The Near Field Communication (NCF) technology enables short-range wireless (RF) bidirectional radio communication of data, typically requiring a distance of maximum 10 cm. Unlike RFID chips (Radio Frequency Identification), NCF bidirectional communication establish contact between devices that receive and transmit data when they are approached within a short distance. NCF technology operates at 13.56MHz, and at ranges up to 424 kbits/s. Some NCF tags are unalterable, others are rewritable, meaning that each player can add information for a full traceability. Costs have come down, so that these tags can be used also for some value food products and not only for technological products.

Nutrition labels
The market offers new software for printing nutrition labels, in response to the European regulation 1169/2011, entered into force on December 13, 2014 and requiring additional information to be printed on the lables, as for instance the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance), information on potential allergence and intolerances. Such software, combined with a digital printer, enable the printing of nutrition labels, starting from the entry of a recipe with its ingredients for all product references proposed by a company, thus cutting label production and storage costs, as well as the wastes for unused labels. Furthermore, the flexibility obtained with these labels opens up new market opportunities for manufacturers: exports, commissions for private labels or specific and occasional marketing activities.

die070New printers
To meet market needs printers have to ensure high efficiency, optimised process, and small overall dimensions; furthermore, they have to be suitable for installation on packaging form-fill-seal lines, both vertical and horizontal. More and more easy to use, install and configure, many printers can handle a wide range of labels in different sizes, apply them on a variety of containers such as bottles, cartons, trays, blisters, bags and sacks. They can print bar-codes, 2D Datamatrix codes, different information, expiry date, lot numers, production date and time. Some thermal printers use mini-ribbons for a more accurate print within very tight spaces, others can reduce the emtpy space between the labels, thus halving the amount of wasted tape. As for thermal inkjet printers, among the latest developments there are compact controllers, suitable to control up to 4 printing heads, on multiple lines or larger areas.

Even inks evolve together with printers and labels. The trend is to use inks offering high adhesion even on difficult carriers, MEK-free fast-drying inks and permanent inks. Fast-drying inks dry in 10 seconds or less, when dried by an air drying system, and ensure high printing quality even at high temperatures. Between high-performance inks, there are also biodegradable inks, MEK-free, obtained from vegetable-based components, thereby having a lower impact on the environment: they do not release any volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, and are biodegradable. Ideal for printing on primary – even food-grade – packaging, they are available in different colours. The market shows a growing interest also in edible inks for direct coding of food, and for pigments for the production of UV-resistant labels.

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Labels: the sector grows

In 2013, overall demand in Europe grew by 3.5%, with non-paper labelstocks growing more than paper stocks. (These data are documented by Gipea, the Italian Group of Self-Adhesive Label Producers, with 87 printers specialising in the printing of roll-fed self-adhesive labels and 29 suppliers of raw materials and technologies.) The first months of 2014 saw a 9.9 % growth in Southern Europe, of 7.2% in Northern Europe, of 6.8% in Eastern Europe, and of 3.7% in the UK. The data show that Southern Europe uses more paper, whereas the North uses more plastics. In 2013, the Italian market value amounted to 740 million Euro (European: five thousand million), i.e. 14.7%, with a positive trend over the last five years of 5.8%. Even the turnover of the Italian label printing industry has grown by 8.8% in the period from June to September 2014.