Clearmark celebrates eco ICE-age milestone

Clearmark’s launch date is forever etched in their memories. For the coding entrepreneurs embarking on their new venture during the week of 9/11, the sudden and drastic events which changed the world forever served to increase the company’s fortitude and sustainability ambitions which in just two short decades has seen them emerge as a pioneer and disrupter in the food and beverage labelling world.

Starting out with just three people, in just two decades Nottingham-based Clearmark now employs a team of 90 dedicated labelling professionals and has captured the attention of more than 100 retail partners and 2000 customers. Clearmark is recognised now as one of the fastest growing businesses in the Midlands. It’s been quite a journey for the fledgling start-up which began with simple goal: to shake up the customer view of coding equipment for ever.

Sustainability has been the one constant companion in this journey, with the heavy environmental and regulatory burden, retailer Codes of Practice (COP) and advances in new packaging substrates multiplying to force the pace of change.  As an innovative business, Clearmark has led the charge with its successful ICE (Interactive Coding Equipment) range. It all started with the ICE Zodiac thermal transfer printer and by 2003 the large character ICE Torus case coder was introduced to the market with a patented ink reclaim system.

Each ICE printer has subsequently delivered incremental and environmental enhancements, including reliability, ease of use, performance and better Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE).

Smart and sustainable

Citing the intelligence that now goes into supermarket shelf-life labels as a prime example of the technical coding advances, Chris expands: “Supermarkets and the issue of waste has forced the coding data pace. From the legibility of dates to automating a seemingly simple 10 day to expiry date requires coding machines to intelligently adapt to recognise public holidays or leap years. Resolving this in collaboration with several of the largest supermarkets was just one way in which Clearmark disrupted the status quo.”

Recognising the widespread date issue, its CLARiSUITE software adjusts to flexible date/time formats with automatic best before date calculation.

Food waste, states Chris, is now deemed as prominent a topic as single use packaging. Protecting the food and ensuring the best before and sell by dates are given as much visibility as the visual branding has been another project Clearmark collaborated with a major retailer on.

Despite the pressures, even now plastic is the main packaging material used by retailers and manufacturers to maintain food freshness for as long as possible. Given its popularity, thermal transfer overprinting is the ideal choice of coding and marking technology – allowing machines to print at extreme temperatures, speeds and under varied factory conditions without compromising on print quality.

However, recognising that new packaging combination materials, card and paper would rapidly become the norm, in 2010, Clearmark unveiled its maintenance-free ICE Viper thermal inkjet printer. Using fast-drying inks that are compatible with porous materials, Clearmark continued to show customers that the company was forever mindful and ready for the future packaging landscape.

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Success through sophistication

It was around the ICE Viper launch date that data-rich labels really started to gain traction highlights Chris. “This was all driven by quality control and being able to clearly demonstrate the provenance of products, improve safety and reduce waste through transparent supply chain tracking technology,” he explains. With the ICE Viper, manufacturers were presented with the option to seamlessly connect up to four printheads to create complex text, barcodes, 2D matrix codes and even logos.

Automating the printing and application of labels with the launch of the ICE Vulcan came next, saving time, labour, as well as eliminating 80 percent of wear parts. “Our Intelligent Motion drive is a simple measure that requires minimal maintenance as there are fewer moving parts, such as brakes and clutches,” explains Chris. With the recent launch of the Vector Pallet labelling System in the last month, Clearmark now has a coding solution for all three packaging types: primary, secondary and tertiary. Customers can benefit from buying their pallet labeller from the same company that supplied their case labeller and thermal transfer overprinter which operate using familiar interfaces and share common parts.

Noting how much retailer COPs have evolved in the last two decades, Chris proudly reports that the technical elegance of the archive structure in all ICE printers means that upgrades are easy to perform. He expands: “Since our inception the technical elegance has evolved. However, our intelligent software solutions and the fact that all our printers share a common platform, means that we can email files if a technology update is required. Frankly, it means that printer obsolescence is not really a factor that concerns any of our customers.”

Eyes to the sky

Seven years ago, Clearmark tackled another source of wasted energy by eliminating the use of compressed air on all its core printer products. As well as being a big win for carbon emissions, the precision delivered by the airless all-electric print head boosts line output by up to 25 percent, helps to reduce the printer’s total cost of ownership, and reduces operation and maintenance costs.

In another ‘ahead of its time’ eco-breakthrough, the R&D team zeroed in on ribbon waste with the launch of the ICE Zodiac Hawk. A longer length 1,200m ribbon and indexing technology to eliminate space between prints, now means fewer ribbon changeovers while continuing to drive down total cost of ownership.

Additionally, introducing the iAssure – a fully integrated print checking system – the ICE Zodiac Hawk addresses the time critical issue of spotting and resolving costly coding errors. Providing an early warning sign, if the iAssure system detects any coding errors, operators are alerted quickly and can stop production, avoiding wasted products.

“Our sustainability story is one of continual progress that ripples through our culture and is the foundation of our business,” Chris proudly reports stating that the company will continue to evaluate every operational aspect of the business to meet its legacy commitments. “The time for talking has passed. This next decade will be an era of sustainable actions. As testimony to our team commitment, we have installed electric vehicle charging points and by the end of 2021 will switch on our solar panels to capture as much source energy as possible to power our manufacturing site.” Our people, partners and customers are all aligned to this agenda, and we look forward to reporting on the next phase.”