Mobile Printing in Enterprise Mobility Applications
When developing a project for your remote workers one consideration is how to incorporate mobile printing in enterprise mobility applications in the first place. Is there a need to print a receipt or report for the customer contact on site? There is a big choice of rugged mobile printers all of which provide different features and most importantly can print the correct label receipt or report you require.
Most people new to the enterprise mobile apps tend to think of having to carry a huge heavy printer. In fact mobile printers can be very small like the Zebra P4T clipping onto a belt or on a shoulder strap. They can also be very large printer fixed to the inside door of a van. It all depends on the size of label receipt you want to print.
One big question to ask is does a receipt or report need to be printed on site? For this scenario think of a civil enforcement officers Fixed Penalty Notice application when the vehicle or person in question must be issued a ticket on the spot. Otherwise if you have the customers email details why not just email a .PDF. In some cases a print at the point of service is not a definite requirement such as for parcel delivery companies who handle all documentation via email or online.
Two main types of Wireless Mobile Printer Technology
1. Thermal transfer has two main components. It uses a carbon ribbon, using heat to “transfer” the carbon onto the media (the receipt or label). The results on the printout are much crisper than the Direct Thermal but it does mean costs a greater as you’ll need to buy new ribbons and new media.
2. Direct Thermal printer uses carbon coated receipts/labels, again using heat, but this time to score an image into the media. There is only one major cost for this – buying media. The heated print head does wear out eventually as you’d expect, but it can last the life of the printer is most uses.
Both have their advantages and disadvantages. If labels/receipts are required to be hard wearing, scratch resistant, print high quality images i.e. 2D bar codes, long shelf life or in direct sunlight then Thermal Transfer is the best option. If basic layouts need to be printed, stored in plastic wallets or out of sunlight, only required for short periods, then Direct Thermal is the way to go.
Mobile Printing Media
“It all starts with the label…. “There are numerous types of media available – ranging from the very glossy, very hard wearing to the basic till receipts you get at most stores. They are available in almost every size you can think of and can be provided with pre-printed text on one side. Very useful for store return policies or payment details for a parking fine.
Wireless Mobile Printers for Direct Store Delivery and Van Sales
Impact printing is not used a great deal in many enterprise mobility projects other than route accounting or direct store delivery as it is called in some markets. Here the requirement is to print a full page receipt in some cases with multi part paper. Most of the above considerations still ring true – but what to use? An office printer would not be rugged enough. As far as we know Intermec are still building the 6822 a behemoth of a printer but very well suited to this environment.
Communicating with mobile printers is done in one of three ways; Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Direct Cable.
- Bluetooth. Ideal for ad-hoc connections in the field, does not rely on anything else, can limited by distance and not considered the most stable connection. But this is the most popular choice for mobile printers.
- Wi-Fi. Fast, stable, but does require the device and printer both to be in Wi-Fi signal range.
- Cable connection. A direct cable connection from device to printer. This is the most reliable option but also the must inconvenient if you need to disconnect from time to time, and means something else to carry.
But defining communication medium is only half of it. The next part of the challenge is to get the printer to print the label exactly how you want it with all images/bar codes etc. For a device to talk with a printer it has to do so via the printer interface. Each manufacture has their own printer language at this point. Zebra uses ZPL (Zebra Printer Language), Intermec Printers use IPL (Intermec Printer Language), and so on.
Print commands in each of these languages can be a bit of a challenge. Most printers also have a line print option, and depending on the software can essentially print a complete printer layout that resides on the PDA device. Whatever option the device must have the drivers locally installed to communicate with the printer.
New printers on the market can now accept .csv files and similar file via print management software tool, or can print directly from notepad. In some cases new printers can call and receive from a web service meaning a device may not even be required. Obviously this has very limited operations.
Finally if carrying an extra piece of kit is a big issue maybe a mobile printer is not required. Alternatives are IP printing back to a printer in to office, PDF generation and email, back office staff printing and posting documents, or online access only for customers.
Mobile Printing in Enterprise Mobility Applications 4 Things to Think About
- Start with the application. Does the customer need a printed “something” at the point of service?
- Media. What sort of material does the receipt or label need to be made of to suit the enviroment?
- Hardware. What sort of wireless mobile printer will suit the process?
- Mobile Application Development. How can you make your rugged handheld or rugged tablet pc generate the right label at the right time containing the correct information? On our platform the built in print layout designer takes a lot of the hassle out of cutting code.