Rotech, designer and manufacturer of offline advanced sleeve feeding systems, will unveil its new and unique RF-Lite sleeve coding system at Foodex 2016, stand S311. The RF-Lite has been designed to address key technical challenges presented by the drive to minimise the environmental impact of food packaging while maintaining its on-shelf impact.

In line with Rotech’s right code, right place, right price philosophy, the RF-Lite is an ideal entry-level solution for artisan food producers and other small food companies looking to automate their offline date marking process for the first time. It also suits larger operators who are looking to install multiple date marking systems to cater for multiple products and short production runs.

Chris Baker, director at Rotech comments “Both British food manufacturers and retailers are making a concerted effort to minimise the environmental impact of packaging. One practical step to achieve this has been to use thinner sleeve materials and a variety of narrower, ‘watchstrap’-style cardboard sleeves around chilled products in tubs and trays, such as dips and ready meals”. Chris continues “Although sleeves may be getting smaller, companies in this highly competitive market typically cannot afford to eliminate them altogether, since sleeves are often crucial in lending on-shelf impact and a premium look to products.”

However, this development presents a technical challenge, since the growing variety of sleeve shapes and sizes makes it tricky to print the date code so that it’s positioned correctly when the sleeve is wrapped around the finished product. In addition, the trend towards ever-larger product ranges and smaller batches only exacerbates the problem. Date marking must be legible, indelible and conspicuous, since it is an offence for retailers to sell food after the use-by date.

The RF-Lite takes flat cardboard sleeves from a hopper, feeds them through an inkjet printer so they can be date-coded and stacks them again ready for use. The use of thinner, lighter sleeve materials is not a problem for the RF-Lite. The sleeves are stacked vertically in a hopper, where friction wheels separate them and feed them one by one to the inkjet printer. This would not be possible using a conventional ‘push’ or shuttle feed mechanism, which only works with thick, stiff materials. The RF-Lite can handle a variety of sleeve shapes and sizes and only takes seconds to swap between sizes without special tools or training. The RF-Lite’s linear speed is 60m/s, which means it can handle just under 200, 300mm sleeves per minute or around 250 sleeves at 200mm.

The RF-Lite will appeal primarily to Foodex visitors from the chilled food sector, who currently manufacture over 12,000 products for British retail shelves and generate around £11 billion1.

1 The Chilled Food Association.