Industrial worker working on machine in factory

The Manufacturer’s Buying Guide to Dedicated Thermal Printers

by Jennifer Sampson on April 17, 2019

Want to succeed as a manufacturer and grow your business?

You need to optimize profit and reduce waste. Deliver exceptional product and service to your customers. Eliminate errors. Reduce waste and increase efficiency in every process.

One way to meet every one of those goals is by selecting the right tool for the job. You can’t increase efficiency by using a hammer to measure a pipe.

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The same goes for your thermal printers. If you are using the wrong thermal printer for the job, you are decreasing efficiency and increasing cost for every job.

The Importance of Dedicated Thermal Printers

Today, business runs on data and automation.

For asset and inventory management, manufacturers are leveraging tools like barcode or QR labels and tags and a reader (scanner or imager) to collect data automatically. This eliminates a time-consuming manual process – collecting and recording the data – and eliminates the need for human data entry and the errors that occur when you manually manage data. The labels or tags are often applied and attached directly to the product for identification and traceability.

In an effort to be more efficient, many companies are printing the labels and tags themselves. This can save time and money, but if you aren’t using the right printer, handling the job correctly, you are trading one set of problems for another.

Selecting and Purchasing a Dedicated Thermal Printer

Not every printer is the same. Printers have different strengths and functions, and it is important to use the right printer for a job.

Depending on the industry and requirements, sometimes one printer model will work for every label and tag that needs to be printed. More often, a better option is to integrate dedicated printers for each printing job. 

Identify the Thermal Printing Requirements

For example, many companies are printing labels and tags of different sizes and materials for the multiple segments within their business. This could include:

  • Receiving inventory – a barcode label is printed and applied before putting the product into inventory.
  • WIP – a label or tag is used to track the product through the production or assembly process.
  • Product labeling – a barcode label identifies the product and/or the finished item, connecting it to a digital production history.
  • Shipping – a pallet and/or shipping label can accelerate fulfillment.

Each label function will have a different requirement. Your shipping labels may be a different size than your product label, which may have a different material requirement than your WIP labeling.

Let’s take a look at a few other items to consider when selecting a dedicated thermal printer:

  • Label size – for labels and tags that require a certain size, for example a label used on a circuit board, you’ll want a printer that can handle the job.
  • Label material – new label and tag materials are constantly being added that revolutionize production, and you’ll need a printer that can handle the new materials.
  • Image output – depending on the requirement, your label may have graphics or additional information beyond just a barcode.
  • Volume of printing – high volume printing can be optimized with the right printer.

You’ll also want to consider not just the initial printer cost and its ability to do the job but also the expected lifespan and long term cost of maintenance. A less expensive printer may end up costing you more over its lifespan than a costlier printer with a longer lifespan and less maintenance. Costs skyrocket if production relies on the printer and it goes down.

Understanding the requirements is the first step in identifying the right thermal printer for your needs.

Optimizing Efficiency and Reducing Costs with a Dedicated Thermal Printer

When choosing the printer, start by reviewing printers that can handle the largest and widest labels as well as the smallest tag or label. Next, consider the best or optimal printer for each label or tag to be printed. Take time to understand your options.

For example, let’s say you have a 4” x 2” label that is printed in Receiving. You also have a 2” x 2” label for WIP and a 6” x 4” label in Shipping. In this example, you could purchase three or more printers that can handle the larger 6” wide label. This way, every printer can handle all 3 sizes.

Printing is interchangeable, but it is also significantly more expensive.

The larger printer is more expensive. The ribbons, spare parts and the wider print heads are also more expensive on the larger printer.

The other option is to select the right printer for the job – a dedicated thermal printer. You can purchase three dedicated printers appropriate for the requirements in each area. 

This will reduce your overall costs.  The ribbon width size can be smaller, and less expensive for the 4" and 2" label. Print heads are expensive. Using a 6" wide printer for a 2" label is wasteful. The print head degrades with every print and the replacement cost could be double for larger print heads.

Looking at the added costs and inherent efficiencies will help you make the best long-term choice for your company.

A Final Word on Dedicated Thermal Printers

There are a range of functionality and options when it comes to selecting and purchasing a thermal printer.

With the right printer in place, you can increase efficiency. The wrong printer can leave your team struggling to overcome inefficiencies while fighting against rising costs.

With so many options, it can be difficult to select the right printer. When you’re ready, talk to the experts. They’ll work with you to match your requirements to a printer, helping you reduce expenses with every job and ensuring you have the right printer – one that delivers reliable and dependable performance for many years to come.

Topics: MATERIAL ID, Industrial Manufacturing, Shipping labels