How to Select Barcode Printers to Maximize Uptime and Output
Barcodes drive many production and distribution processes, so barcode printing problems have the power to stop them. But there are steps you can take — beginning in the printer evaluation process and continuing through their day-to-day usage — to improve the efficiency and output of your printers and their users, and thereby increase operational productivity.
Because of their critical role in shipping and manufacturing operations, barcode printers have a direct impact on productivity. Chosen correctly, an advanced printer solution can provide benefits beyond the reliable printing of barcode labels, driving operational benefits that can help manufacturers remain competitive in a rapidly evolving economy. Choosing wisely requires understanding how printer features relate to real-world usage conditions, which isn’t always apparent.
Barcode printers should be, first and foremost, easy to deploy. Printers that support common network communication protocols reduce required installation time by allowing IT staff to easily add them to the network. Wireless printers streamline this process even more by eliminating the need to pull new cable for the printer.
Printers & Process Improvement
Printers can also contribute to productivity by fitting easily into existing work spaces and processes. For repetitive, highvolume tasks such as applying labels, saving just seconds per operation can translate into meaningful efficiency gains. Wireless printers give organizations a lot of flexibility on where printers can be positioned. A wide range of wireless industrial printers support 802.11 wireless LAN connectivity and security standards, and can be installed wherever labels are needed, not just where Ethernet is available.
Support for your existing network interface protocols is an important factor in printer selection, because it will speed the deployment process. Barcode printers that support standardized wireless LAN communications (i.e., 802.11b/g connectivity, 802.1x security, etc.) can be easily integrated into an existing network, providing greater flexibility in printer placement throughout a facility. This eliminates the need for cabling, reduces the burden on the IT staff and cuts the time it takes to install a new printer, without compromising network security.
When a printer does need maintenance, it is important that these issues can be addressed as quickly as possible. For example, if media or printheads can’t be easily replaced on the fly by the employees nearest to the printer, crucial minutes or even hours could be lost waiting for technical staff to fix the problem. In the meantime, packages or parts pile up while the printer is serviced, causing costly delays.
Companies gauge their operational effectiveness, in part, by their ability to meet their customer’s shipping deadlines. “On-time shipping” is the most widely used measure of warehouse performance, according to the annual WERC survey of manufacturing and distribution professionals. Failure to meet on-time shipment targets is also the leading reason companies aren’t able to attain “perfect order” execution. There is a direct relationship between shipping label printer performance and the ability to get shipments out on time. Ontime performance and other productivity measures are dragged down by printers that are too slow to keep up with shipment labeling needs, or sit idle because they are out of label media, frequently jam, or are difficult to troubleshoot and repair.
Tech Support Considerations
Some industrial label printers are much more IT friendly than others. Because smart printers are capable of bi-directional communication, they can actually reduce their own downtime by re-aligning the barcode if a dot is misfiring, sending e-mail alerts to IT or operations staff when labels or ribbon are about to run out, or if there is a hardware problem. These factors are becoming more important for the many facilities that are being forced to support more systems and aging equipment with less people — 43 percent of senior IT managers in North America and Europe cut their overall IT budgets in 2008, and another 24 percent put discretionary spending on hold, according to Forrester Research. In the U.S. specifically, 49 percent of companies are cutting their IT budgets. These trends can be amplified in a slow economy, making uptime and service efficiency even more important.
Barcode printers impact worker and plant productivity, and this impact should be assessed when evaluating printer options. With careful evaluation and planning, the right barcode printer selection with the proper media selection can improve productivity by making workers more efficient, reducing costly equipment downtime, and reducing the need for technical support staff.