New colour change technique offers custom coding and marking

1st April 2013

Combining chemistry, substrate conversion and laser energy, Sherwood Technology has developed a new technique for the marking and coding of packaging.

This new colour change chemistry has already been implemented by market leader Müller Dairy at its UK production site. It was chosen by Müller to replace traditional methods of coding to enable even higher productivity on their new high speed filling lines.

Traceability requirements

Another key consideration was DataLase's full compliance with the specifications and requirements for traceability. This endorsement demonstrates the interest and rapid acceptance of the technology as it gains momentum in the food and beverage industry.

DataLase is a non-toxic and environmentally friendly ink, coating, or substrate additive that produces a positive image when marked by a low power CO2 laser.

The ink, coating or additive undergoes a simple chemical colour change and creates an image that is stable and has high contrast.

Compared with more traditional coding and marking processes, it also has a higher fidelity. Imaging can also be formed through polypropylene andpolyethylene films, allowing the image to be permanently imbedded or asandwiched' in laminates.

The material to be marked can be treated either by direct doping of the additive into the substrate or its existing surface coating, or by a separate coating or printing operation.

The subsequent laser imaging process does not require any ink or ribbons and is virtually maintenance free.

In sharp contrast to traditional methods, DataLase offers promising possibilities for future developments in the imaging field, including multicolour printing and proofing, virtual labelling, high-speed coding and marking of foodstuffs.

For the Müller project, Sherwood worked with Alcan Packaging to apply a discrete patch of DataLase colour change ink in the coding field of packaging materials during the printing stage. Several of Müller's approved suppliers have integrated this solution into the printing of packaging materials.

Domino's state-of-the art CO2 scribing lasers were chosen and installed on the production line in order to write the date code image onto the patch.

When exposed to Domino's lasers, the DataLase patch changes colour from neutral to black where exposed to the laser beam, thereby producing a permanent mark.

The coding process utilises very low power at high speed. This offers a number of substantial advantages over other commercially available methods, including low emission, high throughput, increased productivity, compliance with environmental regulations, and improved quality with better contrast and image clarity.

Metal decoration

The technique can be used for applications ranging from the coding and dating of products to the printing of graphics, and even security markings. DataLase is equally suitable for metal decoration, flexible packaging, paper, board and plastics. Research is also underway into the marking of glass and confectionery or pharmaceutical tablets.

The technology's versatility makes it ideal for a wide range of manufacturing, industrial, packaging and printing applications.

Steve Kelly, managing director, Sherwood Technology, points out: "DataLase is set to revolutionise the printing of codes and markings in areas where traditional techniques have remained stagnant and offer very limited future development opportunities.

"With a strong commitment to research and development, our ultimate objective is to evolve the technology into a non-contact, full-colour digital printing method.

"This will open up whole new opportunities in the food and drink industries with a new revolutionary and customisable technique for the dating and coding of products.“

Kelly continues: "Our venture with Müller Dairy demonstrates that this colour change technology can fulfil the needs of high speed production lines. Rapid cost-effective deployment can be achieved that minimises disruption to existing operations, yet allows seamless migration to the technology. Key to this process is the symbiotic relationship with all parties involved and Sherwood has the expertise and experience of working with world leaders in the packaging and laser markets to deliver a complete turnkey solution.“

Recognising the impact of a DataLase solution in the coding and marking of dairy packaging, Hayward Green, supply chain director, Müller Dairy, acknowledges that the technique has had an immediate impact on productivity.

He says: "DataLase has allowed us to improve the quality and speed of our product coding and has also provided a more reliable process with far less downtime on our very high-capacity filling lines. DataLase is a flexible and promising technology. We are already investigating the possibility of extending its use to other areas of our business to maximise efficiency and productivity.“


A number of immediate benefits can be enjoyed by implementing a DataLase solution: p Environmental ­ no production line consumables and low emissions. p Productivity ­ faster line speeds. p Applicability ­ compatibility with most substrates and conversion processes. p Quality ­ better image resolution and marking.

Steve Kelly concludes: "The DataLase technology is available through a series of application licensing agreements and strategic partnerships. We want to partner with a broad range of companies to accelerate the uptake of DataLase so that its core benefits are available to the food and beverage industry.“

DataLase was voted as one of the best products in the Technological Development of the Year category at the Food Processing Awards 2004. DataLase was nominated by judges as one of the four finalists from more than 70 nominations from an impressive span of products, companies and developments.

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