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Special Report

Braille Standards Soon to Become Commonplace

by Staff

May-June, 2009
In 2001, the European Commission gave a directive that Braille must be a part of all pharmaceutical packaging. The directive became law in October of 2005 for newly approved medicinal products and all medicinal products have until October 2010 to comply with the Braille requirements. To address these new requirements for packaging, the European Carton Manufacturers Association (ECMA) worked very closely with several national carton associations in Europe to develop a standard and recommendations for the use of Braille on packaging.

The requirements in Europe are already spilling over to North America, taking hold in both the U.S. and Canada, and some large pharmaceutical companies have begun to incorporate Braille on their packaged products. With this knowledge, the International Association of Diecutting and Diemaking (IADD) formed a task force to review the European standard and develop a standard that can be used as a set of guidelines and recommendations for the use of Braille on packaging in North America.

Working in cooperation with the Braille Authority of North America (BANA), the IADD Braille Task Force has established the IADD Can-Am Braille standard. BANA’s mission is to ensure literacy for tactile readers through standardization of Braille and/or tactile graphics with the purpose to promote and to facilitate the use, teaching, and production of Braille. Essentially, the IADD task force combined the knowledge of Braille shared by BANA and its own knowledge of what is practical when applying Braille to paperboard substrates.

Although there is not any current North American legislation on the use of Braille in packaging, the writing is on the wall. Either it will become law or pharmaceutical companies and others that produce and market consumer products will begin to incorporate it on their own. Given these factors, the new standards provide a foundation for converters to have available when the application presents itself.

During the recent IADD·FSEA Odyssey in Atlanta, the new IADD Can-Am Braille standard was unveiled. A copy of the standard and the Odyssey presentation at is available through the IADD (www.iadd.org). The information includes a synopsis on the traditional Braille cells and Braille characters, standardization of the characters and the positioning of the Braille message, technical requirements for Braille embossing, the fabrication process in embossing the Braille, as well as a complete section on prepress and quality assurance. “We are very excited about the new Can-Am Braille Standards,” stated Task Force Chair Stephen Brighton, Die-X Ltd. “We believe this will be the base standard that folding carton companies and other converters can use as a guide as Braille applications continue to grow in the future.”

Some of the highlights of the new standard includes details on the balancing of strong deep Braille embossing while avoiding breaks in the carton surface that can make the cartons aesthetically unacceptable. It also discusses material selection and the wide range of carton boards in the marketplace. The standard also points out that it is simply not possible to prevent minimal variation in embossing heights on the same folding carton or in the same production batch, a very important point when educating the end user.

The fabrication section discusses the methods available for embossing the Braille and the recommendation of encompassing the embossing within the cutting tool or applying the Braille in-line in the folding/gluing process. It also outlines the correct positioning of the Braille embossing and the amount of text that can be incorporated on a specific carton.

How to Incorporate Braille
With the new standard in place and an increase in the demand for Braille instructions on pharmaceutical and other packaging right around the bend, choosing the best method to apply the embossed Braille becomes the challenge. The good news is that in most all cases, the Braille should be able to be incorporated into existing converting processes – either through a male/female embossing engraving that is incorporated into the steel rule die or through the use of a male/female embossing wheel attached to a folder-gluer that can emboss the Braille cells in-line prior to the folding/gluing process.

Embossing in-line with the diecutting process has become more popular over the past few years and foil and embossing die manufacturers have worked closely with the steel rule die manufacturers to solve many of the challenges with the process. With this, embossing the Braille in-line when the cartons are being creased and cut is a practical solution for many applications. In most cases, it may be the most economical solution and the best choice for shorter runs.

Another option for applying the embossed Braille is through the folding/gluing process. As stated above, with this application, a male/female embossing wheel, usually made of brass, is attached to the folder-gluer and the Braille patterns are applied in-line just prior to the folding and gluing of the carton. There are several advantages to this method, which makes it an excellent choice for larger run jobs. This method provides more control of the dot heights and placement, and adjustments can be made to the dot height and location on the fly. It also means a faster makeready, with only one tool to work with versus several tools on a multi-up sheet. In addition, the cartons run through the folder-gluer more consistently, where pre-embossed cartons can create jams and can sometimes stick to each other during the feeding process.

Although applying the Braille during the folding/gluing process may be preferred for many applications, both methods are an efficient way of embossing the Braille cells without creating an additional run through the press. The length of the run and the positioning of the Braille lettering will affect the final decision as to the best method for application. In addition, converters should keep in mind that when applying Braille in-line with either process, the opportunity is there to emboss other portions of the folding carton for decorating purposes. This may be a marketing point – embossing can be used to enhance the package design while also meeting the needs of the visually impaired with Braille instructions without adding any additional costs to the package.

With the new IADD Can-Am standard in place, phase two of the project is to perform minor testing, research, and data collection relative to the different methods of application. These would include male/female tool materials and specifications, types of machinery being used, substrate compositions, thickness, and more for the general knowledge of the IADD. In late 2009 or early 2010, the IADD Braille Task Force will be reviewing the research summaries from the ECMA Braille Working Group and its comprehensive legal standard that will be released in Europe in 2010. If paperboard converters are interested in assisting with the testing, research, data collection, or being involved with the review, please contact Stephen Brighton at (519) 451-1232 or at sbrighton@die-x.com.

Braille Male/Female Embossing Engravings (included within the steel rule die)
Universal Engraving, Inc. (UEI), (800) 221-9059, www.ueigroup.com

h+m USA, (888) 387-4226, www.hmusadies.com

Metal Magic, (800) 851-4120, www.metalmagic.com

Braille Systems for Folder-Gluers
American International Machinery, (414) 764-3223, www.aim-inc.net

Bobst Group North America, (888) 226-8800, www.bobstgroup.com

InsideFinishing would like to thank Stephen Brighton, technical services manager for Die-X Ltd., for his assistance with this article. Die-X Ltd. provides high-quality steel rule dies and associated products to the cosmetic, food, and pharmaceutical packaging industries. For more information on the IADD Braille Task Force and the IADD Can-Am standard, please contact Brighton at (519) 451-1232 or at sbrighton@die-x.com.