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    Upgrades in Printing Technology Get High Marks

Equipment suppliers are aiding packagers with process improvements to meet demanding product coding and marking needs.

Justifying a machine upgrade for in-line coding and printing is getting easier. Coding and marking systems are providing packagers with increasingly higher quality at affordable prices. The rationale for machine upgrades ranges from cost reduction, by replacing a preprinted top web, to an improved ability to verify product marking.

Combined with these trends, pharmaceutical and medical product manufacturers continue to segment their product offerings to design short runs and unique packaging, thus creating the need for highly flexible machines capable of quick changeover.

While their motivations for upgrading equipment vary, healthcare packagers seem to agree that bettering in-line coding and printing equipment is easier to justify today than it has ever been and well worth the investment, as the following examination of coding and printing processes demonstrates.


In the world of flexographic printing, new developments are making in-line color coding more precise, according to Bob Batesko, Project Manager for Bell-Mark Sales Company. The company recently outfitted packaging equipment supplier Multivac (Kansas City, MO) with a two color in-line flexographic printer. The printer "is an extension of our established FlexPrint line," says Batesko, "but it's unique because it has two color printing capability and is installed on a horizontal form-fill-seal machine."

(Pictured above, FlexPrint II on Multivac R530)

Bell-Mark's FlexPrint II replaces the single color in-line printer Multivac's customer had been using for a medical device application that calls for manufacturing in a variety of designs, including dosage variations. "With the additional requirement for bar coding, a two color preprinted top web would have been required. This would have been way too costly," says Tom Pugh, Vice President of Bell-Mark.

The two color flexographic printer, which incorporates precise print capability, achieving color-to-color registration of 1/64", is designed with a central impression cylinder and two servo driven motors, one on each print cylinder. One Axima unit controls both motors and ensures exact color registration along with precise package registration.

"Justifying the installation of this New two color [printer] was really based on the inventory reduction of preprinted to web," says Wil Caraballo, technical manager of the medical division at Multivac. "Because the customer required a bar code and a logo, the amount of preinventoried top web was extremely high. This made it very difficult to make any further packaging changes on demand, because a large quantity of preprinted web would have to be made obsolete by any print change. In addition, the lead time for preprinted top web is often several months. This requires even more inventory." By contrast, he says, using the two color system from Bell-Mark allows the packager to hold unprinted paper/poly top web, significantly reducing the investment in inventory. Multivac's customer spent nearly $100,0000 to outfit its form-fill-seal machine with the two color in-line printer, and, according to Caraballo, the money was well spent.

"From our perspective," he says, "manufacturers of medical devices [would benefit from] this type of print technology" being installed on packaging machines. When it comes to short runs and changeovers occuring as many as three to four times per day, he says, the demand for precise print registration is high.

In addition, says Glenn C. Breslauer, Director of Marketing and Internet Development for Bell-Mark, makers of such products as syringes, catheters, and latex gloves have a need for two color process due to sizing requirements. "ISO standards that exist for certain products call out exact color codes for a corresponding size of a needle, for example," Breslauer says. "Two color in-line printing allows the user to color code at one station of the printer, and print the corresponding information with the other station using another color."

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Many medical devices need to have certain international symbols printed directly onto their packaging, adds Breslauer. "Two color printing can be utilized to differentiate the contents of the package from the required symbols. One plate can be designed and printed in one color, and a different variable plate can be removed or replaced when either a company logo or the contents of a package might need to be changed."

The potential for gaining market share by offering a cleaner, less confusing package, says Breslauer, is perhaps the greatest benefit that two color in-line printing can offer medical device and drug companies. "Pharmaceutical and medical packagers can offer more attractive packages that are more easilty identifiable by their customers."

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