This blog is an excerpt of an article that currently appears on xerox.com.
For brand owners, late-stage printing calls to mind simple coding and marking completed just prior to shipping, such as date stamping or lot and batch information. However, recent advances in late-stage printing capabilities have given rise to innovative inline digital laser technology that is anything but standard.
We had a chance to speak with Aanand Parthasarathi, business manager for late-stage printing at Xerox Corporation about the various consumer, retail and regulatory trends that are driving innovation in late-stage printing.
A: We are seeing demand for more information at late process stages. For example, if a facility has multiple fulfillment lines and one of those lines comes into direct contact with peanuts, brand managers want allergen warnings on that packaging line without requiring one on all products. In addition, brand owners want to print richer quality graphic ads at later stages for real-time marketing purposes.
Retailers are driving another major transformation in late-stage printing. Walmart recently announced that its suppliers are not to use inkjet coding, citing durability issues. This is going to create a serious challenge for manufacturers. Accounting for approximately 60-70 percent of all coding and marking, inkjet is the dominant technology.
Lastly, new coding and marking regulations are driving changes to font sizes for more readable formats. This is going to require printing technology that can clearly print more information, coupled with graphics that boost visual appeal and readability.
Q: What new technologies have emerged as a result of these trends?
A: These trends are directly responsible for the development of inline digital laser printing that provides high-quality, complex graphics and text, up to 100mm wide at late stages of the fulfillment process. Working with our Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Xerox will be introducing an inkless printing technology next year that we think will be a game changer. This proprietary laser technology utilizes thermochromic pigments. When packaging goes through normal flexo, offset or gravure printing processes, a thermochromic material is applied to the packaging in the form of a patch. When the pack substrate is then exposed to a laser at the fulfillment stage, the laser changes the color of the pigment, from clear or white to a monochrome color, resulting in a permanent durable image.
A: It allows for streamlined operations. Take ingredient lists, for example. Products going to 10 countries will need to have ingredients listed out in those native languages, requiring printing in 10 different languages and 10 separate stock keeping units (SKUs). With this technology, you can vary the late-stage printing at the flick of a switch, reducing both SKUs and inventory.
The technology also provides high-quality barcode and QR code capability, allowing for a unique serial number for each individual product sent out that can tie in with product security and track and trace features.
Finally, innovations in late-stage printing technology lend nicely to real-time promotional efforts, such as content or around a recent Olympic medal winner on packaging.
Q: What are some advantages to this digital laser printing over inkjet?
A: Digital laser printing is easier to read and has better durability than inkjet printing. Replacing ink incurs higher costs, and there are maintenance issues when equipment is shut down due to dried-ink blockage. We’ve estimated that this downtime can cost up to $5,000 per hour. Lasers do not need ink and offer greater reliability and reduced maintenance. This technology also avoids the use of consumables (ribbons and inks) in the fulfillment area, reducing inventory management as well as health and safety issues.