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Crack the Code: Your Complete Guide to Coding Machines
Cleaning out your medicine cabinet might be a tedious task, but you can thank coding machines for making it easier.

Flip over any bottle or box, and you’ll find a series of numbers printed there. Some tell you what’s expired with a date code, while other numbers designate production information that might be useful in case of a recall.

Package coding has come a long way since the first barcode was used to buy a pack of chewing gum in 1974. Today’s codes allow for more product accuracy, better inventory management, and the collection of real-time data.

The machines and processes for getting codes on products and packaging is improving all the time. If you’re interested in getting one for your business, here’s what you need to know about them so you can be making good choices and investments.

What Are Coding Machines?
Coding machines are specialized printers used to put important information on products and packaging. They use computer-generated data to know what to print so you can customize what gets printed at a very fine level.

Good examples would be a date coding machine that applies the info you see at the store telling you the best by and expiration dates on food. A batch coding machine puts all the production data to identify an individual product batch in case of a recall. For international shippers using a coding machine, HS code markings help items clear customs easier.

The codes can be letters, numbers, barcodes, dates, and other types of information. Some combination of expiration dates, lot numbers, and barcodes are often required to be on primary and secondary packaging. They have to be legible and comply with formatting and placement rules.

Your coding machine should be able to deliver on a range of styles, typefaces, and character sizes. That flexibility allows you to do a different code or mark for every product. This makes product recalls, quality monitoring, and product tracking easier to manage.

Types of Coding Machines
Coding machines proved a huge step up from a mechanical stamp because they use computer-generated data. Codes can print onto a label applied to the product or directly onto the packaging.

There are a lot of ways to designate and divide among types of these machines, mostly revolving around how they print and how you might use them. These differences should factor in any purchasing decision.

One of your first big decisions will be whether you need an inline or handheld machine to meet your needs. Much of that has to do with the size of your operation and how automated it is.

Inline coders work best for mass production use where products move down some sort of automated conveyor system. They are good for when you’re doing multiples of the same product and relying on automation rather than human hands. You can program them to print on a timer or by using a sensor.

Handheld coders work best for small operations where you might be printing on a limited number of items and using human labor rather than automation. They are more flexible for printing on different packaging types and give better quality control since there’s a person there doing the work. They’re flexible and mobile, so they make for a good backup option even if you choose inline.

Inkjet vs. Laser
There are other means of printing, but for most packaging, inkjet and laser can handle your needs.

Inkjet coders allow for larger characters and can print on porous materials. They can even handle printing on wet or uneven surfaces like foodstuffs. They’re the most versatile solution as they can print in color and come in portable and inline versions.

Laser coders burn the code onto the packaging, so they are limited to certain materials. They’re good for plastic, glass, and paper, but need to have a clean environment for printing. They can cost more upfront, but cost less over time since they don’t use ink or labels.

Variable vs. Static
Static coders print tons of unchanging content. They’re great if you have just one set of numbers that are going on everything.

But in today’s world of super customization and personalization, variable coding wins the day and is driving growth in the labeling market. These coders can print different content on every copy without having to stop for adjustment. That makes them great for serial numbers, custom barcodes, or asset tracking tags. 

Buying a Coding Machine
Just looking at the different types you have to choose from you can see there are a lot of factors to consider in buying a coding machine. But there are more things you need to compare as you make your choice

Cost Factors
This includes not just the up-front cost of the machine but also operational costs like inks and maintenance. Inkjet inks will be cheaper than thermal, for example. Choosing a machine with good durability saves on maintenance while ease of use reduces training time.

Printing Factors
You need to have a good picture of what and how much you need to print. The number of lines you need and the text size might require you to get a high-quality printer if you have to get a lot of information into a small space.

Packaging Factors
Your packaging influences your choice because of the material you’re going to print on as well as the printing location. You also need to consider colors, because if you need to print on dark backgrounds, you’ll need a coder that can print in something other than black.

Get Coding Today
As your business grows, automating processes becomes a core part of increasing efficiency and, as a result, profit margins. Coding machines take a lot of the burden off you to ensure your packaging includes consistent and correct information. Choosing one should take into account what you’ll be printing as well as how much.

If you have a question about a coding machine, price ranges, or service, contact us to talk with one of our logistics experts. We’ll work to help you find the best solution for your packaging and shipping needs.

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