The changing regulatory landscape with regards to inks used in the coding and marking of products and packaging can cause significant challenges for manufacturers across a wide range of industries. While many will be aware that food-contact inks are highly regulated, a similar level of control for handling and use is in place for most other manufacturing sectors.
“Changes to safety and environmental classifications and regulations for the inks used in product coding and marking, along with changing trends in packaging design and materials, create production headaches for manufacturers in a variety of industries. In-house ink innovation holds the answer,” says Josie Harries, Domino’s Ink Development Technology Manager.
Ink designs are complex formulations and contain many different compounds which are individually selected by formulators to give certain performance to the final ink. From time to time, reclassification of ink ‘ingredients’ occurs which can have significant consequences on the availability of inks, either because a component is no longer suitable for use, or a more restrictive reclassification leads to a run on alternative options.
Often, it’s not as simple as swapping one component for another as it can have significant impact on the ink performance, such as code legibility and durability; printer efficiency; frequency of nozzle cleaning etc. that can impact product quality and production reliability. If raw materials become unavailable due to supply chain issues or reclassification this could result in a lack of ink supply and cause an inability to code. Consequently, this could lead to costly production stops and cause manufacturers to look for alternative coding solutions. Where specialist substrates or packaging are in use or where special performance characteristics are required, sourcing new coding solutions can be a lengthy and costly exercise.
“It might seem surprising to those outside the coding and marking sector that something so innocuous can have such an impact on throughput, profits and contractual compliance. This is why at Domino we recognise the importance of developing inks with agility with respect to supply chain processes,” said Harries.
Product packaging is constantly evolving, and this has an impact on the suitability of existing inks and drives ink innovation. Current trends include an increased consumer focus on reducing single-use packaging which has hastened the introduction of more sustainable packaging—plastic alternatives—and a move towards products which can operate within a circular economy, designing out waste. Engaging with customers and studying market trends is key to producing innovative and reliable ink products solutions.
For example, increasing numbers of organisations are seeking an ink that will prove durable and last the full lifetime of the product but can also be removed at the end-of-life point if it is to be recycled. This can be quite challenging, but Domino’s inks teams are currently focusing on innovative solutions for environmentally benign and sustainable inks as well as developing proof of concept designs to see how an ink’s environmental footprint can be reduced.
Along with the knowledge and expertise Domino’s ink formulators have, the in-house analytical teams study the substrates of customers’ packaging and, using a variety of techniques, identify the right raw materials that will result in high-quality codes being printed.
A further trend is the drive to improve product integrity to safeguard consumer confidence in the supply chain. There is an expectation that everyone involved in producing, processing, transporting and marketing goods is doing everything reasonable to prevent problems and ensure consumer safety.
“Membership of EuPIA and other key industry-informing associations means that we consider the risks and undertake exposure assessments in accordance with internationally-recognised scientific principles. The principles of continuous improvement align with respect to consumer safety and being members of several interest groups ensures we can stay abreast of any impending market changes,” said Harries.
Throughout the ink development process, it’s important to collect data such as individual compound make-ups and overall ink performance. It’s also important to keep up to date with upcoming regulatory changes to ensure ink compounds can be substituted with minimum disruption should a re-classification of an ink occur. By developing inks this way, customers can experience little or no disruption to their supply.
In a world where quick ink development responses are required, automated systems with statistically designed experimentation mean that new or updated inks can be brought to market fast, reducing the risk of downtime for customers. The ability to build flexibility into the ink development process allows the provision for quick solutions to the ink challenges that stakeholders may face.