Weighing up all the different factors, such as legibility, variety and ease-of-use arriving at the right coding solution is difficult, but there are ways to make it simpler. First of all, the nature of the application can be a reliable starting point. It will tell you the materials you have to handle, in what quantities, and the performance parameters they have to meet.
Don’t focus solely on what you’re producing now; different customers through your supply chain can provide valuable insight and it is always worth keeping an eye on the current trends and latest innovations affecting the industries you supply.
Secondly, you need to establish whether you will benefit more from a contact or non-contact solution. The principal contact technologies include Hot Stamp and Gravure. A significant issue with these technologies however, is neither are predominantly used due to the move away to other coding systems.
Instead, manufacturers have moved to major non-contact technologies such as Continuous Inkjet (CIJ), which holds a market share of approximately 70%, and Laser. For the most part, the industrial market has moved away from contact technologies due to the cost- and time-saving benefits offered by non-contact equipment.
Continuous Inkjet (CIJ): The leading player in the market, Inkjet is a well-established technology having first appeared in the 1950s. As its’ name suggests, a continuous stream of droplets is pumped through the print head, each droplet being less than the diameter of a human hair.
As the droplets pass through a set of electrodes, individual droplets are intermittently charged. The size of the charge given to each droplet defines how far it will be deflected out of the stream when passing through the deflector plates, which determines where the droplet is placed on the product. By placing a collection of droplets close together, different characters are printed as the product passes the print head.
Non-deflected ink droplets are caught in a gutter, recirculated back through the ink system and reused in a very efficient use of ink that enables many millions of characters to be printed from a single litre. The key benefits of CIJ are apparent from this description. Discover the full benefits of CIJ by having a look at our new Ax-Series website or downloading our white paper.
Laser: While there are a number of different laser technologies available on the market, all of which are non-contact, the preferred choice for marking wire and cable is with a fibre laser, which produces a photochemical ‘bleaching’ effect that produces a high-contrast image on the insulator. Fibre lasers are notable for their extremely small focal diameter, which produces a fine mark. The beam’s intensity is up to 100 times greater than CO2 lasers, making fibre lasers very energy-efficient. Fibre lasers also tend to be maintenance-free.
There is a slight drawback with fibre laser, however, as the process works best with black substrates. With some modifications, the laser can be used on other colours, although at a significant cost increase, and in the price-critical wire and cable sector this is inevitably perceived as a drawback.
In an industry where production downtime costs significant money, it is essential that the coding system you choose is reliable, and the contact and non-contact processes described above are all proven in this department. System flexibility, however, is another matter. Mechanical contact coding processes such as hot stamp and gravure are less capable of meeting wire and cable customers’ demands for shorter runs of more customised products. This trend will only get stronger, placing a premium on technology that is able to adapt quickly to changing requirements.