Coder Eases Device Tracking

A system for printing information on medical device packaging can handle a wide range of substrates and materials.

To effectively track its products throughout healthcare distribution, Smith & Nephew Medical Ltd. (S&N; Hull, England), a manufacturer of wound dressings and casting and support devices, decided to buy a coding system. But because it used a continuous motion packaging line within a clean manufacturing environment, it needed a unit that could maintain line efficiency while generating little particulate. The printed code also needed to withstand sterilization methods such as gamma irradiation and EtO.

The SmartDate 2c coder can print at speeds up to 600 mm/sec.

S&N wanted to install the coder directly onto its continuous four-side-seal machine, which produces pouches made of machine-glazed medical-grade paper and puts the dressings into the pouches. After trying a number of coders, S&N's packaging manager, Jim Pullen, found the SmartDate 2c coder from Markem Corp. (Keene, NH). "Only the SmartDate coder could work with our continuous motion lines," says Pullen. The SmartDate, which can attain a maximum print speed of 600 mm/sec at a resolution of 300 dpi, was able to meet S&N's needs for a high-speed system. Such a rate is three times that of conventional thermal printers.

Other features such as real-time coding and automatic updating allow S&N to trace the manufacturing history of each product. Such tracking is essential to the investigation of any device failures. Also, its digital-to-print technology increases productivity by eliminating changeover time and the need to set type by hand, which is common with hot stampers and other mechanical contact coders.

Pullen installed the SmartDate 2c coder onto the packaging machine, where it prints lot numbers, sterilization references, and expiration dates directly onto the pouches in a print area of only 12 x 50 mm. Immediately after packaging and coding, the pouches are sent for EtO or gamma sterilization. Pullen anticipates that use of the SmartDate system will help S&N increase uptime and lower costs. "We expect the SmartDate coders to show a significant cost savings when compared to our previous systems, which caused increased downtime and maintenance issues," Pullen says. To date, S&N has installed three SmartDate coders as part of a rollout program.

The SmartDate 2c coder also enables S&N to produce bar codes and graphics on a variety of surfaces, including bags, labels, wrappers, and cartons. It can also handle lacquered labels, which are widely used in the pharmaceutical industry but traditionally difficult to overprint.

Markem Corp. also provides other in-plant printing systems and supplies for product marking in the medical, pharmaceutical, and other industries.

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