by George ALLEN
Thursday, June 10, 2021

Beverage coding: which laser technology should I choose?

The high production rate in the drinks industry makes applying best-before dates challenging. While certain printing technologies can print at high speed, the codes are not permanent, opening the door to issues such as counterfeiting and non-compliance. One technology that beverage producers are increasingly turning to is laser technology.

Laser coders work by changing the surface of a material, either by ablation, etching or foaming. This makes laser marks indelible – no rubbing, smudging, fading or faking. 

Consider your marking requirements 

To pick the right type of coding equipment for your needs, there are several points to consider. Items that can be effectively marked by lasers include glass, PET bottles, cans, labels, cases and pouches. The type of material is the first consideration when choosing which laser marking technology to use: CO2 or fiber. Both are available in different wattages, determined by factors such as line speed, material, code size, etc. The equipment must also be designed for durable operation in the challenging environment of humid, sugar-infused beverage production. 

CO2 laser technology in the drinks industry

CO2 lasers are primarily used on PET bottles and paperboard cartons. A variety of wavelengths and lenses are available, and these can be tailored for the specific application. Other factors to consider: How deep is the penetration of the laser into the PET bottle? Where on the bottle should the laser code be placed (shoulder, top, etc.)? Does the material allow contrast with the code? 
CO2 lasers can be installed on high-speed production lines and are usually small enough to be positioned even inside labelers or cartoners. Tight confines often require installing a beam delivery system, which can be designed with different lengths to allow the beam to be focused on hard-to-reach areas.  

Fiber laser technology for beverage cans 

Fiber laser coders are relatively new in the beverage industry and require focusing a highly intense beam of energy onto the product surface. Very few companies offer fiber lasers suitable for the ultra-fast production speeds required by beverage can coding. This can require placing codes of two lines with approximately 16 to 24 characters per line at speeds up to 2,000 cans per minute. A fiber laser has a small window of time – generally 25 milliseconds – to place its code at these speeds. Product handling is paramount to successfully coding cans with a fiber laser at these speeds. A smooth, consistent flow of cans will help ensure a high-quality code.
The capital costs for fiber technology are more significant than for CO2 lasers. The costs vary depending on the wattage and customization required. All fiber lasers require a guarding package that protects the operators.

A laser-sharp solution for efficiency

Apart from occasional filter replacement, no consumables are required when selecting either type of laser technology, and the crisp, permanent codes ensure reliable traceability that minimizes rework and recall costs.   
The French subsidiary of Coca-Cola European Partners chose Markem-Imaje SmartLase F500 fiber laser coders for marking aluminum cans at its Marseille facility, where up to 120,000 cans come off the production lines every hour. “With this technology, marking is more precise and the resolution is better,” says Yannick Joubert, Senior Plant Engineering & Technology Manager. “There’s also less maintenance: we change the filters once a year and wipe the laser lens every eight hours.” 

We hope this article has given you some tips on your options for quality coding your beverages. If you have any questions, we would be more than happy to hear from you!
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