Sleeve coding system launched following retailer calls to minimise packaging waste

The new RF-Lite offline date marking system from Rotech is designed to address key technical challenges presented by the drive to minimise the environmental impact of food packaging while maintaining its on-shelf impact.

With its compact size and unrivalled price tag, the RF-Lite is an ideal entry-level solution for artisan food producers and other small food companies looking to automate their offline date marking pro-cess for the first time. It also suits larger operators who are looking to install multiple date marking systems to cater for multiple products and short production runs.

The concerted effort among British food manufacturers and retailers to minimise the environmental impact of packaging is paying off, according to a recent report from WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) [1]. The weight of primary packaging is continuing to fall, despite rising food sales, and the latest figures show that the carbon dioxide emissions associated with packaging fell by 3.9% between 2012 and 2015.

One practical step in achieving this progress is the use of thinner sleeve materials and a variety of narrower, ‘watchstrap’-style cardboard sleeves around chilled products in tubs and trays, such as dips and ready meals. Sleeves may be getting smaller, but companies in this highly competitive market typically cannot afford to eliminate them altogether, since sleeves are often crucial in lending on-shelf impact and a premium look to products.

However, this development presents a technical challenge, since the growing variety of sleeve shapes and sizes makes it tricky to print the date code so that it’s positioned correctly when the sleeve is wrapped around the finished product.  In addition, the trend towards ever-larger product ranges and smaller batches only exacerbates the problem.  Date marking must be legible, indelible and conspicuous, since it is an offence for retailers to sell food after the use-by date.

The RF-Lite is a simple, low-cost solution that overcomes all these challenges. The system takes flat cardboard sleeves from a hopper, feeds them through an inkjet printer so they can be date-coded and stacks them again ready for use.

For example, the use of thinner, lighter sleeve materials is not a problem for the RF-Lite. The sleeves are stacked vertically in a hopper, where friction wheels separate them and feed them one by one to the inkjet printer. This would not be possible using a conventional ‘push’ or shuttle feed mechanism, which only works with thick, stiff materials.

The RF-Lite can also handle sleeve shapes and sizes ranging anywhere from 40x70mm to 300x200mm. It only takes a few seconds to swap between sizes by adjusting the size of the hopper. This involves loosening a screw, making the adjustment and tightening it back up – all without the need for any special tools or training.

The RF-Lite’s linear speed is 60m/s, which means it can handle just under 200, 300mm sleeves per minute or around 250 sleeves at 200mm.

In addition, the RF-Lite is easy to buy, easy to set-up and easy to use, bringing the benefits of auto-mated date marking within the reach of many food manufacturers for the first time.  

It’s easy to buy thanks to its low upfront cost. Supplied complete with an inkjet printer, the entire stack-to-stack system comes in at under £5000. The investment is also very low-risk thanks to Ro-tech’s money-back guarantee and replacement service. Rotech undertakes to give a full refund if the system does not meet reasonable customer expectations for any reason. What’s more, Rotech can also ship a replacement unit to any customer in case of a breakdown so they can be up and running again the next business day. This is free for one-year under the Rotech warranty as standard, with the option to extend coverage after that.

The RF-Lite is easy to set up out-of-the-box. It’s supplied with a short introductory video that clearly explains how to set up and adjust the simple system. Its tiny 500x500mm footprint enables users to fit the RF-Lite easily into tight spaces. This ease of use continues in service, with no specialist skills and no special tools required to keep the RF-Lite working optimally.

Rotech is demonstrating this unique RF-Lite system for the first time at Foodex 2016 on Stand Stand S311. Running from 18th -20th April at the NEC in Birmingham, Foodex aims to attract visitors looking for solutions to their processing, packaging and logistics challenges. The RF-Lite will appeal primarily to visitors from the chilled food sector, who currently manufacture over 12,000 products for British retail shelves and generate around £11 billion [2].

1 The second interim report of the Courtauld Commitment 3, 28 October 2015.
2 The Chilled Food Association.


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