In the first UK installation of its kind, Rotech has supplied Molls Bacon with a five head, centrally-controlled TIJ (thermal ink jet) coding solution. The capital cost was a third less than the thermal transfer systems that are usually specified for these on-thermoformer applications, and the bacon producer is enjoying low running costs thanks to exceptional ink economy, reduced set-up times and zero servicing.
“I’m very impressed that the only upkeep I have to do on these printers is clean the heads twice a day. The unit is very efficient in regards to ink consumption - there is still 40% left and we haven’t replaced the cartridges since they were installed in March. If I’d known then what I know now about TIJ, I would have had these printers on our other thermoformer,” enthuses Matthew Oswell, engineering manager at Molls Bacon.
From its Birmingham slicing and packaging facility, Molls Bacon supplies the food service and retail markets in the UK and overseas with vacuum and MAP packed bacon, sold under its Cole Valley brand as well as under customers’ own labels. Molls was already buying coding consumables from Rotech, so when it needed a new automated system for applying date codes and batch numbers to the film lids of thermoformed packs, it sought advice from the coding specialist.
Up until this point, Molls Bacon had been overprinting labels with coding data, then using a label applicator to apply the labels across the web path. A move from labels to pre-printed film prompted the bacon processor to look at direct coding options. The industry standard solution for coding film on a thermoformer is to use a thermal transfer printer in conjunction with an indexing unit. However, these large systems are expensive to buy, and to operate. Ribbon is often wasted and the disposal of the ribbon and cores is an added expense. Even when using continuous inkjet for such an installation brings unnecessary costs, both in terms of initial investment, running costs and waste disposal.
Rotech’s expertise spans all coding technologies, but in recent years it has become more heavily involved with TIJ, as an increasing number of companies look to replace TT and CIJ (continuous ink jet) printers with clean, cost effective and compact TIJ units. TIJ does not require ribbons, significantly reducing cost of ownership on simple coding jobs through savings on the ribbons themselves and time spent changing ribbons. TIJ units are also lighter and more compact than TT machines, so they are easier to mount onto a thermoformer and occupy less line space than a TT printer. Then there is the issue of upkeep; TT printers have a lot of moving parts such as springs and pulleys that require maintenance. By contrast, TIJ printers have no replacement parts other than the inkjet cartridge. All of these benefits combined result in a much lower cost of ownership for TIJ versus TT.
With the thermoformer producing 10 packs per cycle (two packs long, five across), Rotech’s solution was to fit five X1 Jet TIJ printheads in a fixed position across the web to print the film as it passes through the machine, eliminating the need for an expensive indexing system.
Because of space limitations, the coders were installed in a staggered configuration on two frame assemblies, one below the other, with three on one row and two on the other. The film web is coded in a vertical position before being applied to the pack.
A further benefit of this set-up is that rather than having individual control panels on each unit, the coders are all networked to a central PC.
“Set-up time is far less than with independently controlled coders,” explains Steve Ryan, sales manager at Rotech. “The X1 is ideal for centrally controlled applications. It is an entry level printer and doesn’t have a built-in interface unless a customer specifically requests one.”
The printers use iDesign format creation software, which not only enables the user to create and edit the print image from the central PC, but also provides useful information such as ‘job completed’ updates, print quality checks and ink consumption levels.
“This project is a great illustration of how TIJ can offer a simple and lower cost alternative to other more complicated and costly coding systems. Indexing systems are an expensive modification to be avoided if possible. This configuration doesn’t require the film to be indexed or the printer to be moved back across the web, so there is no need for an indexing unit and there is no ribbon wastage. Added to this, it’s a simple, easy to use installation that requires no maintenance or servicing - just the occasional replacement of a click-in, click-out cartridge,” says Steve.