Magazine Article | October 1, 2001

Bar Code Printers Let You Watch

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Web-enabled bar code printers pull up the shades on printing performance across networked environments.

Integrated Solutions, October 2001

You don't have to be anal retentive to suffer momentary panic attacks about items on your mental "to do" list. Everyone has them. You're driving home from work, reviewing the events of the day, and suddenly you're mistrusting your memory. "Okay, I put that contract in the express mail bin . . . or did I?" Whether you pull out your PDA or turn around and head back to the office, the impulse is the same: you need visual confirmation to put your mind at ease.

Visual confirmation also reduces the anxieties of staff charged with monitoring bar code printing operations. Fortunately, with the advanced tools now available for managing multiple, remote printers, no one has to suffer panic-inducing thoughts such as "I wonder if we should have changed the ribbon in the second loading dock printer?" Particularly in LAN (local area network) and WAN (wide area network) environments, the ability to monitor all hardware from an administrative center ensures reliable, efficient bar code printing across the enterprise.

A Line Of Sight Into Enterprise-Wide Printing
Terry Pruett, director of thermal products for Printronix (Irvine, CA), notes that companies are demanding greater visibility into every mission-critical application, including bar code printing for the supply chain. "Large enterprises want to understand where they have their printers and how they're configured, whether they're performing properly, and what level of quality is in the output," Pruett said. "That's why, in the last year and a half, we're seeing an explosion in thermal printing supported by Web-based printer management."

Mike Fowler, president of SATO America, Inc. (Sunnyvale, CA), sees printer manufacturers responding to the needs of users in distributed printing environments. "The latest pushes in technology are high-speed interfaces for network connections. So, more and more printers are having Web servers built into them," Fowler said. "Via the Web, you can poll any printer on the network and find out whether or not it requires user intervention, such as a ribbon change or paper reload. The printer can quickly communicate performance information back to the system administrator."

In making use of Web-based printer management tools, users can choose between two system setups, according to Pruett. In the basic setup, each printer has its own Web page. System administrators can use the Web server to look at a particular printer's configuration information, make changes, and receive error reports. "That's a useful system if you're managing a small amount of printers in a tightly contained area," Pruett said. In the advanced, global setup, administrators can monitor and manage any number of networked printers simultaneously - from one to all. "By having large numbers of printers configured the same way, you can broadcast configuration changes, firmware updates, compliance updates, and embedded label formats," Pruett said. "This is really useful when you're doing diagnostics, support, basic maintenance, and usage checks."

A Lot More Printer Bang For 1,500 Bucks
In addition to increasingly sophisticated management tools, today's printers are hitting top speeds in terms of throughput. "The processing power of printers is much better. TrueType fonts and graphics used to slow printers way down," Fowler said. "The time between sending a print job and having the bar code labels coming out of the printer is almost immeasurable now."

As bar code printers get faster, they're also getting cheaper. Consequently, customers should be able to afford to add printers to their networks for specialized applications. "Printers that were priced at around $2,500 two years ago are now around $1,500," Pruett said. "It used to be that, for $1,500 the printer would have to be plastic. It was going to print at only 6 ips (inches per second), and it wouldn't have much memory. All connectivity options would be just that - optional. Now you're seeing $1,500 printers in die-cast metal cases delivering print speeds of 8 ips, as well as solid amounts of memory for producing logos and graphics while maintaining fast throughput."

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