New high speed Domino Pharma Laser marks breakthrough in cartonboard compatibility


Optimised for performance with majority of leading boards; also delivers 25% faster marking with improved contrast

With the EU Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) set to come in to force in January 2019, Domino Printing Sciences has significantly bolstered its laser marking proposition with the launch of the new Pharma Laser, engineered for maximum compatibility with the most popular boards used in primary pharmaceutical packaging.

Laser is one of the preferred marking technologies in pharma due to its speed, legibility and durability – all key considerations for item-level serialisation. The FMD and other serialisation schemes around the world state that a Data Matrix code must be printed on every carton as the product is packed and must remain legible through the supply chain to the point at which the carton is sold or dispensed.

The success of any coding operation is affected to some degree by the material to be marked; this is particularly so in the case of laser, which works by removing (‘ablating’) a surface layer of ink, typically to produce a white code on a dark background. The composition of the mineral coating on the board is therefore critical, a fact acknowledged by Domino back in 2011 when it introduced the industry’s first board specification for laser marking. At the time and indeed until the introduction of the Pharma Laser, manufacturers had a fairly limited range of cartonboards from which to choose.

'Our primary consideration in developing the new Pharma Laser was to widen this scope, recognising that manufacturers may wish to use several board types to reduce cost and complexity in their operations,' explains Bart Vansteenkiste, Global Life Sciences Sector Manager at Domino. 'Having to factor in specific suitability requirements for laser coding is somewhat at odds with that desire.'

To that end, Domino researched the most commonly used boards in the industry, coming up with a ‘Top 20’ featuring different costs and a cross-section of manufacturers. Ahead of the development of the Pharma Laser, Domino was prepared to guarantee optimum laser coding performance on a handful of these.

Results achieved with the new laser were spectacularly different, however, with 14 of the boards tested achieving an ‘excellent’ rating and five of the remainder qualifying as ‘good’.

'This is great news for manufacturers, since several of the boards tested are less expensive and already approved for use with other coding technologies, such as thermal ink jet,' says Vansteenkiste. 'This allows streamlining from a cost/complexity perspective and at an aesthetic level, offers brand managers the potential for more standardisation in pack appearance.'

Production managers, too, will be attracted by the capabilities of the Pharma Laser. With higher power concentration and a new beam deflection unit, it delivers a 25% speed boost in like-for-like applications. For an FMD-compliant code, including five lines of alphanumeric text and a 26 x 26 Data Matrix code, this translates to a marking time of just 213 ms – as opposed to 278 ms previously.

Increased power also produces more consistent ablation, in turn delivering a whiter code with higher contrast against its background. According to Vansteenkiste, this will optimise read rates in complex applications. 'China’s SFDA code, for example, can prove challenging for laser marking since one of its components is a linear Code 128 bar code: this requires a "quiet zone" to be marked either side of the code to trigger verification of the code by bar code readers,' he explains. 'The enhanced performance of the Pharma Laser facilitates production of a homogenous white, high-contrast quiet zone that ensures reliable reading throughout the supply chain.'

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The Pharma Laser joins Domino’s suite of coding and marking technologies that addresses serialisation and aggregation requirements at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. As a response to the Falsified Medicines Directive, Domino is also offering customer support through its Partner Programme which certifies compatibility of Original Equipment Manufacturers’ equipment with Domino’s FMD-compliant i-Tech range. The programme offers pragmatic advice on steps required to achieve compliance ahead of the 2019 deadline.