Wireless printing is the next logical step in extending the benefits of wireless networks. Not only does it support the mobility of workers and improve their productivity, but it also enhances the flexibility of facilities so that they can adapt quickly to new requirements or opportunities in a highly competitive business landscape.
The versatility of these printers and the growth in wireless networks and in wireless standards are laying the groundwork for network printing at the point of need without cables. Companies can save considerable time and money by placing printers where they are needed to complete work efficiently without having to pay the cost of running network cables. Wireless printers can go virtually anywhere there is an electrical outlet.
A growing number of the new wireless local area network (WLANs) are based on the 802.11b IEEE Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) standard. But there is more than one wireless printing technology choice today. Anyone who wants to implement wireless printing has essentially three choices: 802.11b Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and infrared (or IrDA for Infrared Data Association). Each of these choices has its place in the supply chain.
Whatever your application, there are four things you should know about wireless printing.
1. Printer application requirements
The wireless printing solution you choose should match your needs. What type of printing do you need to do and where does it need to be done? Do you need to print bar code labels at a sortation hub or receipts at point of delivery?
In a large facility, it can cost up to several times the purchase price of a printer to run network cabling to a remote location. Because of this, printers are sometimes placed across the room from the workstation that needs the printed labels, hindering performance and efficiency. Wireless technology removes distance limitations and permits printers to be placed anywhere in the facility and immediately to be connected to the network. You may also need to be able to relocate the printer frequently to serve multiple locations within the same area, in which case a battery and cart configuration can be used to provide even further flexibility.
You may want to consider requesting a professional site survey from a wireless printing supplier someone who knows the printers and their capabilities very well and can accurately determine wireless coverage in your specific environment.
- Wireless print options
Wireless printing options have evolved to work with certain applications.
Implementing wireless printing using the 11Mbps 802.11b Wi-Fi standard is ideal for industrial applications. This industry standard offers several advantages to the growing number of companies that are installing WLANs. In such industrial settings, the 300 foot plus range of 802.11b is ideal for permitting wireless printers to reside just about anywhere that power is available, or even on mobile carts.
For mobile workforces out in the field who need to print invoices or receipts far away from the local area network, the short-range (up to 30 feet) Bluetooth wireless connectivity technology can provide a convenient option.
Bluetooth is an RF technology and does not depend on line of sight between the computing device and the wireless printer to work. It communicates at speeds less than one megabit per second.
Schwans Sales Enterprises Inc. of Marshall, Minnesota, a leading distributor of fine frozen foods, recently selected mobile computers and portable receipt printers to access customer data, record orders and provide customer receipts. Schwans route representatives use the Bluetooth wirelessly-enabled printers to print receipts at the customers door, without having to go back to the truck. Such technology enhancements improve customer service as well as the customer experience.
Bluetooth connectivity is also an option for portable label printers. For example, a worker equipped with a mobile computer and portable label printer can print labels virtually anywhere within a warehouse, sortation hub or in the field.
Another option is infrared printing. Some industrial hand-held computers have built in infrared ports. The limited range of infrared technology, usually about 3 to 10 feet, may make it a less appealing option, depending on your application. Nevertheless, infrared offers a good price compromise for connecting wirelessly with portable printers.
- Setup and configuration
Since Bluetooth and infrared wireless links are normally self-contained within both the printer and the mobile transmitter, the configuration is fairly straightforward.
On 802.11b wireless networks, look for printers that can be set up on the local area network or through a connection with a laptop running a wireless administration utility. This can be done either via wireless peer-to-peer or by modem cable connecting the laptop to the printer.
- Network security
If you are choosing an IEEE 802.11 radio, look for security products that are compliant with the IEEE 802.1x security standard, providing WEP 128 dynamic key rotation to encrypt data transmissions, as well as EAP/TLS and EAP/TTLS authentication standards. This provides a high level of security for wireless LANs running on any platform.
Bluetooth is a secure wireless technology because it uses multiple layers of data encryption, as well as authentication measures. It also employs 128-bit WEP encryption. Bluetooth transmits using frequency hopping spread spectrum techniques, so it is not just using one frequency in the 2.4GHz band but portions of many other frequencies. Only other receivers that are synchronised to the transmitter can access the wireless data.
Infrared uses invisible light waves to transfer data. Its security relies primarily on the short range of the transmission and the fact that the infrared beam is very directional. The infrared ports must be carefully lined up for the signal to get through to the printer.
A wireless future
The future of wireless printing looks bright, especially in the industrial and field service environments where wireless security has already been addressed. Eliminating cables is a goal in many workplaces because of the hazards the cables represent to workers and equipment. Thats especially important if you can eliminate an Ethernet cable that might cost hundreds of euros to install, or if you can locate a printer where you need it without regard to wired network restrictions.
Wireless printing can work for you if you take these four simple considerations into account and choose a supplier who will take the time to walk you through them for your applications.
Used with secure protocols to maintain data integrity and confidentiality, wireless printing is set to increase the flexibility with which automatic data capture can be applied in the transport and logistics sector. The trend towards wireless is likely to grow as technologies continue to develop and wireless LAN infrastructures become more widespread. This will further extend the range of potential applications for automatic data capture.
Only Intermec can provide a comprehensive range of wireless printing solutions whether fixed, van mounted or fully portable and a choice of print media to meet every application.