Colour change specialist Sherwood Technology claims that the technology can help packagers meet traceability requirements and achieve cost savings at the same time. Codes can be printed on outer cartons after the application of a polypropylene shrink film, using a patch of DataLase applied as a gravure ink at the same time as other colours.
And by combining DataLase Masterbatch with low power CO2 lasers, Sherwood Technology says it is able to cut the costs associated with marking plastics by approximately one third.
According to the firm, DataLase Masterbatch is an innovative new coding, marking and printing additive that enables plastics to be successfully marked using low power CO2 lasers. Traceability throughout the supply chain has course become a regulatory obligation - since 1 January 2005 all EU companies operating along the food chain are obliged to identify all food, food products and feed suppliers.
This information needs to be systematically stored and be made available to inspection authorities upon request. Datalase can therefore help with the tracking and tracing of batches at different stages of distribution.
Before adopting the new technology, Sherwood Plastic - no business relation - used YAG lasers and ink-jet printers to mark sequential numbering and/or logos onto tamper-evident plug seals, to enable customers to track and log containers of products.
Whilst the numbers printed by ink-jet were found to rub off, by ablating the numbers using YAG lasers, a permanent mark was established, albeit at a high cost.
Low power CO2 lasers are considerably cheaper than YAG lasers, although an extremely high power is needed to mark plastics (normally at least a 100 watt power). However, polyolefins such as Polyethylene, and Polypropylene have been notoriously difficult to mark with CO2 lasers even with existing additives, which mark well with YAG lasers.
To address this, Sherwood Technology, developed the patent-pending DataLase Masterbatch, which the company claims can be added directly to the polymer to be extruded or injection moulded. The additive is non-toxic and environmentally-friendly, and is capable of producing an image when marked by a low power CO2 laser (around 10 watt power).
The additive undergoes a simple colour-change and creates an image that is stable and high contrast. By combining DataLase Masterbatch with low power CO2 lasers, Sherwood Plastic were able to cut the costs associated with marking plastics by approximately one third.
"It was essential that we found a tamper-proof method of applying sequential numbers to our security plug seals, at a low cost," said Brian Hood, managing director of Sherwood Plastic.
"By using DataLase Masterbatch, we are able to mark plastic with a permanent image whilst ensuring that costs are kept down."
Achieving greater efficiency within the printing and packaging sector has become a key objective due to rising raw material costs. Limited supply, an escalating issue worldwide, has exacerbated the problem.
Since the beginning of 2003, raw material feed stock costs have increased from 9 per cent for ethylene to 190 per cent for benzene, the basic building blocks of many packaging films and resins. Crude oil costs are up 65 per cent and natural gas is up 67 per cent.
These costs have consistently been passed on to printing, packaging and manufacturing firms. With retailers reluctant to increase consumer prices, those stuck in the middle have had little choice but to absorb the increased costs.
With this in mind, Steve Kelly, managing director of Sherwood Technology, claims that DataLase Masterbatch has the potential to redefine the process of marking on plastics. "The additive has an infinite range of applications, including product security and packaging for the food and beverage, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries," he said.
"We aim to make DataLase Masterbatch available globally via lasting and strategic cross-industry partnerships."