By Tim Stark, Abbott Company
When budgets are tight, and operating margins are thin, manufacturers tend to get creative when sourcing coding equipment. Some common practices include buying used equipment sight-unseen, purchasing “low cost” coders from foreign suppliers, and even unknowingly resorting to paying more in parts and labor to keep a printer running than simply purchasing a new coder. Although some manufacturers can make these options work, most experience frustrations stemming from difficulty purchasing critical parts and components no longer available for their used equipment, the inability to get technical support, and – worst case scenario – being left high and dry due to vanishing suppliers.
Fortunately, there are good continuous inkjet coder options available for budget-conscious manufacturers. It all comes down to knowing what to look for and understanding how to evaluate this type of equipment.
Flexibility & Scalability
Manufacturers can get more bang for their buck when they choose a continuous inkjet coder that is flexible enough to serve multiple purposes and scalable enough to accommodate the full complexity of their production environment. Flexible inkjet coders are light enough to be portable and should be able to be carried by one person. This also means they should be specifically designed to move from production line to production line while withstanding the tilting and jostling of the moving process. Another consideration needs to be made for whether or not your continuous inkjet coder needs to serve double duty as both a small character printer and a carton coder. Continuous inkjet coders that can code characters anywhere from 2 mm to 20 mm high can accommodate both needs, thus reducing your requirement for multiple coders.
Many manufacturers manage hundreds of SKUs to remain well diversified in the marketplace. This makes it important to pick a continuous inkjet coder that can match the size and complexity of your operation. Scalable inkjet coders should be able to print more than one line of text to accommodate various message requirements. There are affordable inkjet coders available that can print up to two and three lines of text which cover most print message requirements. Also, consider the message storage capabilities as well as the production line setting storage capabilities of the inkjet coder. Affordable yet scalable inkjet coder options can store as many as 1,000 standard print messages and up to four production line settings, allowing for quick and easy message selection as well as production changeovers.
Typical continuous inkjet coder interventions include actions like refilling fluids and selecting a new message to print. These types of interventions are planned around production and are part of an everyday manufacturing operation. Manufacturers that have experience with “low cost” inkjet coders more commonly deal with unplanned interventions due to poor print quality or printer faults that bring the inkjet to a complete stop. Most print quality issues and printer faults are due to dirty, inky printheads. Manufacturers that find themselves cleaning their printheads due to faults on a daily or even weekly basis are likely dealing with a low-quality inkjet coder. There are affordable options on the market today featuring automatic printhead flushing cycles that keep printheads running smoothly for months at a time. Manufacturers should look for continuous inkjet coders that automatically monitor and adjust ink mixture levels and viscosity based on the production environment to maintain print quality and avoid these unplanned printer interventions.
If servicing a continuous inkjet coder looks like open heart surgery, you will most likely need to call in a service technician for help. There are affordable inkjet coder options available on the market today that are fully self-serviceable. Look for continuous inkjet coders that have module-based service requirements, allowing you to minimize the number of overall parts required for servicing. Many inkjet coders have simplified this process down to a single module and reduced the time needed to complete a preventive maintenance service intervention to as little as 30 minutes or less. If your continuous inkjet coder offers guided on-screen instructions that walk you through the servicing process, you can avoid paying for an outside service technician and easily do it yourself.
Ease of Use
When evaluating a continuous inkjet coder while keeping tight control over the total cost of the investment, manufacturers should not overlook the ease of use of the machine. Struggling with daily activities due to a poorly designed inkjet printer can cost you more time and money to reverse mistakes than the cost you paid for the printer. Line operators should not have to be experts in continuous inkjet technology to create messages or diagnose what is wrong with a printer. Look for options that have prompted message creation capabilities that walk the operator step by step through setting up a new message. Although less commonly found in low-cost printers, spend extra time looking for a continuous inkjet coder that offers onscreen troubleshooting capabilities.
When evaluating continuous inkjet coders under the constraints of a very tight budget, do not ignore the hidden costs involved with low cost, low-quality systems. If the inkjet coder you choose is constantly shutting down your production or so old or obscure that you can’t find replacement parts, you will end up spending more money more quickly over time than the initial savings you gained from choosing a sub-par option.
Consider working with a coding supplier that can match you with an inkjet coder option that is ideal for your unique production environment. A knowledgeable supplier will help you understand the total cost of owning and operating various continuous inkjet options available to you to help you get a full picture of what you are likely to spend over time on a new coder.
Tim Stark is the president of Abbott Company, an industrial packaging solutions company serving the Midwest since 1923.