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Sydney tobacco plant using lasers to make cigarettes traceable

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Traceability is vital to cigarette manufacturer British American Tobacco Australia (BATA) which has chosen lasers for coding its cigarette packs, placing one of the largest orders for lasers in a single plant for its Sydney cigarette factory.

The company, whose Australian operations are based in Sydney, is part of a global operation that sells brands into 180 markets.

Electrical engineer Peter Dowswell says BATA’s vision is to be Australia’s number-one tobacco company.

“BATA has the market share, and our aim is to continue supplying a quality product, consistently, to our customers.” One way it meets that aim is through strict traceability.

Earlier this year, BATA upgraded its coding equipment, installing 10 CO2 Solaris lasers and a Solaris YAG laser, supplied by Matthews Intelligent Identification.

Dowswell said BATA had conducted in-depth trials with four laser suppliers, including Matthews and experimented with different types of technology.

Matthews had secured the business over strong competition on a very demanding application.

“Apart from the fact that this was the only technology that could cut it, we found Matthews to be highly professional and accommodating and they did their best to make sure they were successful,” Dowswell said.

“BATA has very good traceability on products, both individual packaging and final cases, but improving the level of internal traceability was the main reason for the installation.

“On packets, we put a best-before date as well as some machine-specific production information including the date, time and machine.. The lasers mark all this information in two lines, one of 14 characters, one of 10.

“This gives us traceability, but also ensures that our customer ensures they get a quality product.”

Previously, this coding had been embossed, which, along with its position near the seal, could be difficult to read.

“The embossing, while including all the necessary information, is difficult to read for a consumer picking up the product to check the date. Using lasers has also made it easier for our trade-marketing people to quickly identify product via a higher quality, more legible mark, when they’re monitoring and rotating stock.”

The Solaris laser delivered the best print quality for this very high speed application, he said.

The CO2 lasers were positioned on conveyors on high-speed packaging equipment, and were used to mark both the packet and carton stock. Packet lines ran at 450 to 500 a minute, while cartoning application speed was one-eighth that (eight packets fit into a carton).

Dowswell says: “While not all the applications needed the same type of equipment, we bought 10 machines of the highest standard to give us flexibility on the factory floor. This technology standardisation also means that if we wanted to put all the lasers in the most technically demanding application, we could.”

Future plans for the CO2 lasers were to just code cigarette packets, a demanding application. Dowswell said cigarette packets were most recently coded with inkjet printers, which BATA shifted to fulfil slower applications after the CO2 lasers were fully commissioned.

“We trialled the equipment on an overhead conveyor at a line speed of 107m a minute. It was very demanding and they worked well.”

Operator response had been positive, particularly regarding the machines’ ease of use.

And although it was still early days for the CO2 lasers, Dowswell said BATA was expecting positive impacts on efficiencies and productivity, particularly as a result of minimising downtime.

He said another benefit of the CO2 laser technology was a lack consumable costs for inks or solvents. Matthews Intelligent Identification. (1800 333 074).

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