DuPont Imaging Technologies, Sun Chemical and Praxair have formed a marketing alliance to “act as the catalyst for a complete change in supermarket retailing”.

Currently, supermarket checkouts have to be manually operated, as the lasers that scan the bar codes to identify product pricing can only work if a product is specifically aligned under the reader. New ‘laser tunnel’ technology, designed to automate the process, already exists but only works if the bar code is printed absolutely accurately.

“Packaging printers have always had to take great care in printing bar codes,” states Wilfried Schumacher, DuPont’s marketing manager for Cyrel FAST. “Our digital plate making technology has made this easier, but with an automated checkout system every single product bar code has to be perfect or the system will fail.”

“A standard for the accuracy of bar code printing already exists,” adds Erik von zur Mühlen, sales director for Liquid Inks at Sun Chemical. “But the problem is not just about exact reproduction. With the new systems, the contrast and evenness of print will be equally important.”

Initial tests with the new system by a German high street retail chain have shown the contrast requirement of the bar codes causes problems on flexible substrates. To ensure a clean, even background, printers would need to print the white twice to ensure 100 per cent readability by the laser tunnel. This is an unnecessary cost burden for packaging printers.

The solution being developed by the alliance uses digital flexo plates from DuPont, combined with specially formulated inks from Sun Chemical and new anilox technology from Praxair. It is currently being trialled at a flexo printer of food packaging in Austria.

“The beta tests have been extremely encouraging,” reveals Wilfried Schumacher. “This solution will enable a revolution in supermarket retailing. But it will also produce major savings for current flexible packaging printing, where ‘double hitting’ the white can sometimes be the norm.”

The alliance partners are now looking for other packaging printing companies to further trial the new printing system across a wide range of substrates, so that it can be perfected and developed into the standard for flexo bar code printing.

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