Creating a Unified Digital Thread

Once characterized by closed-looped manual operations and separate software components, marking and coding systems have become integrated with interconnected and intelligent systems. © Cesar Andrade – stockadobe.com.

The Crucial Role of Coding and Marking Technology in the Packaging Industry

By Josh Roffman, senior vice president marketing and product management at Loftware

The packaging industry has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. While these changes have been influenced by various factors such as shifting industry demands as well as the evolving regulatory landscape, arguably the greatest catalyst has been the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, often referred to as Industry 4.0, which has had a considerable impact on companies and their manufacturing processes.

One area within the packaging and printing industry that has undergone a transformation is marking and coding. Utilizing marking and coding devices that leverage laser and spray technologies to print on almost any surface has become widespread across various industries. These technologies help to disseminate crucial information, including variable data such as expiration dates, serialization codes, barcodes, expiration dates and batch numbers.

Marking and coding systems which previously operated as ‘closed-looped systems’ with separate, purpose-built software requiring manual operation are now becoming connected, integrated and controlled by intelligent systems. As manufacturers continue to automate and digitize their operations to streamline printing operations, utilizing a standardized and centralized platform for all their labeling requirements will play an increasingly important role.

Spotlight 1: food and beverage

Already heavily regulated, the food and beverage sector has been tightening its grip on food labeling, ingredient disclosure and product traceability in recent years. The implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011 in the United States completely shifted the approach to food safety regulation in the U.S., placing stronger emphasis on prevention rather than reaction to foodborne illness outbreaks and encompassed provisions related to labeling, ingredient disclosure and traceability. Similarly, in 2021, the UK introduced Natasha’s Law to improve food allergen labeling and protect individuals with food allergens following the tragic death of a teenager after consuming a baguette that was packaged without listing specific allergen information.

Marking and coding devices play a crucial role in heavily regulated industries like the food and beverage industry, which places a considerable importance on consumer safety and transparency. These technologies enable food and beverage manufacturers to label products with vital information such as batch numbers, expiration dates, ingredients and allergen warnings; ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. Moreover, coding and marking technology helps in tracking products throughout the supply chain, facilitating recalls if needed and minimizing food safety risks. It also enhances brand trust and consumer confidence by ensuring that consumers receive accurate information about the products they purchase, ultimately contributing to the overall quality and safety of the food and beverages we consume.

More recently, sustainability credentials have also been incorporated on some product packaging, providing clear information about sustainable sourcing, recyclability and environmental impact. By integrating sustainability messages into their packaging through coding and marking technology, companies not only meet regulatory requirements but also build loyalty among consumers who prioritize eco-friendly products.

Spotlight 2: pharmaceuticals

For pharmaceutical manufacturers, coding and marking devices provide the ability to print vital information, such as lot numbers, expiration dates and dosage instructions onto product packaging with the utmost precision. This accuracy is essential, not only to ensure patients receive the right medications but also to combat counterfeit drugs — something which has emerged as a significant global concern.

Recent research from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revealed that, on an annual basis, counterfeit goods are estimated to reach a staggering $1.7 trillion to $4.5 trillion in sales. Furthermore, according to PwC, pharmaceuticals are the most lucrative sector of the global trade in illegally copied goods — with sales ranging from $163 billion to $217 billion per year.

With this in mind, the need to combat counterfeit goods and prove product authenticity is of great importance for this sector. Cloud-based technologies prove particularly useful here as they allow manufacturers to centralize their labeling to gain visibility, control, and auditing and reporting capabilities. Combined with access to business intelligence, this enables the monitoring and tracking of all labeling activity to help prevent counterfeit drugs from entering the market.

Cloud-based labeling, marking and coding technologies also play a pivotal role in facilitating adherence to stringent regulatory mandates, streamlining product recalls and amplifying transparency within the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Spotlight 3: batteries

In June 2023, the European Parliament approved new rules for the design, production and waste management of all types of batteries sold in the European Union. These new rules mandate the use of Digital Battery Passports for industrial batteries above 2kWh, with manufacturers being required to disclose the carbon footprints of their batteries from as early as 2024. Additionally, to better inform consumers, batteries will need to carry labels and QR codes with information related to their capacity, performance, durability, and chemical composition, as well as the “separate collection” symbol.

Populated with dynamic data, the passports must be stored in the cloud for easy access by authorized users. To meet this requirement, companies will need cloud-based labeling solutions that can generate the battery passports and coding and marking systems to mark or label every battery with its unique digital passport. By deploying both technologies as part of an all-in-one digital ecosystem, manufacturers can easily prepare for this and other battery labeling laws.

Right now, the battery labeling and digital passport initiative is primarily being driven by the EU, but the momentum is also picking up in California and various other U.S. states. The whole issue of traceability for recycling and remanufacturing is a hot topic across the industry, and we only expect this to continue as the impetus for greater sustainability and circularity grows.

Looking to the future –  a unified digital thread

The labeling industry has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, largely driven by Industry 4.0. Marking and coding systems, once characterized by closed-looped manual operations and separate software components, have evolved and become integrated with interconnected and intelligent systems.

Manufacturers have recognized the benefits of automation and digitization, resulting in a notable increase in the adoption of cloud-based technologies for mission-critical business processes such as labeling. This shift toward standardized and centralized solutions has not only streamlined processes but has also improved efficiency and accuracy across the packaging and printing sector. Looking ahead, it is evident that technological innovations and shifting consumer demands will continue to shape the industry. Embracing these opportunities will be crucial for companies aiming to maintain competitiveness and agility in today’s dynamic landscape.

About the Author

Josh Roffman is Loftware’s senior vice president of marketing and product management. Learn more at www.loftware.com.

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