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Plug and Play Printers?

I was reading a mailer the other day promoting the instantaneousness of upgrading to a particular brand of industrial printer, implying you could just take it out of the box and effectively ‘plug and play’ it, which got me thinking.

While it may be true for a few machines, it’s highly risky to assume that this will happen in every case, and particularly ill-advised if you’re talking about migrating a mission critical device in your warehouse. For example, when thermal printers reach the end of their working life, a number of obstacles stand in the way of chucking them out before plugging in the shiny new replacement. These machines often drive the mission critical processes within your business so any downtime could prove very expensive both in terms of lack of fulfilment capabilities and reputation.

Before making the transition we ask our customers to think about:

1.   When was the last time the firmware was refreshed? In our experience the frequency can range anything from 5 to 12 or more years, during which time vendors have often tightened up the operational way in which the print language is interpreted.

2.   What about print language compatibility? Today’s new printer emulations can be up to 100% compatible but that’s unlikely to be the case for the machine being replaced.

3.   How secure is your firewall? Some of the newer printers have certain features that need you to revisit and maybe upgrade your wireless security.

4.   What about licensing costs? Some new printers may require specific files to be added to make them compatible.

5.   How will you manage the transition? Staff need to familiarise themselves with new menu systems and operation to prevent business being interrupted or any damage occurring because they’ve not been trained properly.

6.   What consumables will be necessary? Checks need to be made on whether the media is the same, and if ribbons and labels wind off in the same direction.

7.   What about branding? Any personalised fonts, logos etc will need to be ported to new printers.

8.   Will print quality be the same? Strange as it seems, the way print heads are powered in new machines can affect the output on existing labels. So, you see, there are a number of factors to consider when migrating a new printer and we always advise that the earlier you identify potential issues, the less costly they end up being for your business.

We advocate that, as a minimum, you run a pilot project where you cover the following:

  • Test single labels and batch printing (replacement machines should be able to print 5000 labels as well, if not better, than their predecessors).
  • Test every label format/type possible; leave nothing to chance.
  • Dry-run the whole process, even how a support programme will workExploit any enhancements built in to the new devices to increase your operational efficiency.
  • Some of these industrial workhorses last for years and we know of many that are still working way beyond even their OEM’s life expectancy.
  • But when it comes to replacing them, think carefully about what will be required and how they’ll link with your WMS.
  • And remember, home printers don’t always work straight out of the box without downloading special drivers, and they’re not mission critical, unless you need to print off your kids’ homework for school tomorrow!
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