Brailling for a Better World
Multiple code applications benefit packagers and end-users.
“We the blind are as indebted to Louis Braille as mankind is to Gutenberg.” — Helen Keller
Louis Braille revolutionized written communication for the blind when he introduced his raised-dot alphabet code in 1824. But there’s still work to be done. Only 3% of information is available in Braille, audio, or electronic text, limiting the literacy and independence of blind and visually impaired persons.
Every seven minutes, a person in the United States loses his or her sight, according to the American Foundation for the Blind. Without the ability to read labels or interpret warning colors, blind persons must rely on caregivers, or produce their own means of identification, which puts their safety at risk.
In 1995, the European Union released a directive for applying Braille to pharmaceutical packaging for the visually impaired. The Medicines Directive 2001/83/EC, which has been amended to Directive 2004/27/ EC, came into effect on July 11, 2005.
Braille coding on packaging has also spread to other products. French skincare and fragrance company L’Occitane en Provence has been using Braille on its products since 1998, after company founder Olivier Baussan saw the difficulty a blind customer experienced in a Paris L’Occitane shop.
So why haven’t more companies followed L’Occitane’s lead? According to “L’Occitane Leading the Blind” in Business 2.0 Magazine, embossing Braille onto its packaging costs L’Occitane 4–6 cents per package.
Fortunately, new, more-cost-effective technologies for applying Braille will open the world of packaging to the visually impaired.
Embossing—forming raised dots on a substrate—is the traditional method of forming Braille characters on packaging. It is still used for most folding carton applications.
Embossing can be performed by installing embossing dies in the die-cutting process during the carton’s formation or can be done using rotary in-line embossing dies while the carton is being processed on a folder-gluer machine.
- Embossing plates can be expensive and time-consuming to produce.
- Embossing limits information placed on the carton.
- Copy changes require new dies.
- Most plates can produce 0.12- to 0.3-mm-high dots without breaking through the substrate.
- Plate alignment, wear, and stability need constant monitoring.
- Dots embossed on too-thin material can burst.
- On coated board stock, clay or wax can build up on the dies, causing dots to become too wide and unreadable.
- Embossing does not affect line speed or interrupt the carton-making process.
- Using long fiber-card material and high humidity can improve embossing characteristics.
- Applying a lacquer or finish on the carton can help maintain dots from wear as well.
Rotary embossing is the newest method of applying Braille to cartons and eliminates conventional embossing setup and maintenance issues. Unfortunately, it still has the same dot height restrictions, information inflexibility, and dot integrity issues as die plates do, in addition to the expense associated with maintaining the unique die wheel.
Rotary screen printing, a continuous, stepless image-transfer method, can apply UV-cured ink. The geometry of the screen and the position of the squeegee within the screen combine to provide screen-flooding and image-transfer functions in a single smooth operation that repeats with every revolution of the screen.
- Screen printers run at slower speeds (30–60 m/min) than embossing folder-gluer systems.
- Because screens are cut for specific information (i.e., product name and dosage), flexible information such as expiration dates are unsuitable for this technology.
- Rotary printing creates a slightly better height than paperboard embossing, usually below 0.5 mm.
- Screens are less expensive and have shorter delivery times than embossing plates.
- UV-cured ink creates hard, durable Braille dots.
Jetting adhesive dots onto packaging also achieves Braille code application. A three-module, high-speed, electrically activated adhesive dispensing gun receives information from a pattern controller, then takes the information and converts it to the Braille code pattern. The dispensing valve opens and closes to dispense the same volume of adhesive to form each dot.
- Hot-melt adhesive minidots require dry-time to set.
- Hot-melt adhesive must strongly adhere to the substrate, but not be sticky to the touch, and withstand temperature swings from freezing to near boiling.
- The dots can be as high as 0.5 mm.
- Adhesive can be applied at the end of the packaging process, where line speeds are slower and processes more manageable.
- The current pattern control allows up to 15 Braille characters per line.
- Changeable information, such as expiration dates, can be added to the packaging on a separate line, providing added value.
- Adhesive coding will not alter the appearance of clear boxes and plastic containers.
With all three, verification is crucial. Packages can be automatically or manually pulled from lots and visually inspected, or more-costly, speed-limiting camera and vision systems can examine each package and confirm that the Braille pattern is correct.
The Human Element
Why go through all this expense? Open your medicine cabinet, close your eyes, and grab a bottle. Try to determine which medicine you are holding. It’s easy to take your own sight for granted. Small changes to packaging impact the daily lives of the blind and partially sighted.
The human element makes this all worthwhile. As demonstrated by successful companies like L’Occitane, the human element can also help sell your product.