Are you overlooking this key source of safety and security in your warehouse?

By Jeff Schmitz, Chief Marketing Officer at Zebra Technologies.

You may use a number of different technologies to help improve the safety and security of your warehousing operations:

Mobile computers equipped with augmented reality and navigation tools to help safely guide workers through picking and put away actions in busy warehouses and distribution centres. 

Sensors, the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain technologies to monitor time- and temperature-sensitive inventory as it moves through the supply chain.
A host of data security measures taken to defend against IT system breaches.

Yet, many warehouse and distribution center (DC) operators forget about how powerful their printers can be in proactive security and safety efforts and that needs to change. Especially with management tools like PrintSecure, companies can encrypt connections, allow only permitted access and regularly update their printers to address new threats. 

Smart Cards (and Card Printers) Help to Improve Worker Safety and Data Security

Controlling access to your facility is the first step to keeping workers and data physically safe. 

Shift workers, seasonal workers, transporters, inspectors, customers, supply chain partners and many others are constantly coming and going. Gate guards aren’t going to recognise every face, and not every warehouse has security officers and video cameras at all entry points or covering every square inch of its facility. On top of that, you may have restricted access areas within your four walls that require additional security clearances, such as areas where expensive equipment, goods, tools or hazardous materials are stored.

In these cases, card-based access control system can prove very valuable. However, you must be sure to mitigate the risks of stolen, shared or fake ID cards being used. 

That requires you to use a very specific type of PVC or smart card technology and a very specific type of card printer to ensure the cards you issue can sync with back-end security clearance systems to flag anomalies.

For example, your printer should be capable of producing smart cards featuring highly detailed, rich colour images, crisp barcodes and other smart security features that are critical to facilitating fast, accurate ID and access verification. An ambiguous photo can make it challenging to spot an impersonator with a stolen badge. 

Ideally, you should select an enterprise-grade card printer that can also be used to print cards for other purposes, such as forklift training verification, time clock systems and more. Beyond offering edge-to-edge printing customisation options, these types of card printers feature several integrated encoding options, meaning you can print contact, contactless, proximity or magnetic stripe cards right out of the box. This gives you flexibility in the type of access control system you deploy, and it allows the card to become multi use, helping you to:

  • Keep unauthorised parties out of your facility, specifically those who could be potentially hostile (which helps improve worker safety) and potential thieves (which helps protect your assets)
  • Know when authorized parties enter and exit your facility in case of an accident, theft or other occurrence in which further investigation is needed
  • Lockdown your data by giving workers an easier way to secure computing devices such as tablets and laptops when not in use

RFID Printers and Label Printers: The Secret ‘One-Two Punch’ for Improved Warehouse Safety and Security

While the card printer can be a triple threat technology – or triple threat preventer – for your warehouse, there’s even more you can do to improve safety and security if you also have the right labelprinter and labellling technology on hand. For example, you can:

  • Better monitor time- and temperature-sensitive products, which helps to improve product safety in the supply chain
  • Track and trace inventory movements to identify and, ideally, mitigate potential losses
  • Confirm whether a missing item is actually stolen or just misplaced and then aid with locating and recovering the item
  • Improve worker compliance with supply chain safety standards related to proper materials handling, storage and transport of all items, including hazardous materials

Look for enterprise-grade thermal printers capable of producing barcoded labels and/or labels with RFID tags depending on the type of asset your trying to track. You may also want to consider investing in a high-resolution micro-label printer, especially if you produce or store extremely small but highly valuable electronics such as circuit boards or chips. The proper labelling can deter theft of this type of inventory and provide track-and-trace assistance should they go missing, as this white paper explains in more detail.

No matter what type of label you need to print, just ensure that both the thermal printer and labels themselves are designed to combat ink fading, tampering and even normal wear and tear through human and machine processing methods. The label needs to be readable at all times, whether by a barcode scanner, overhead RFID reader or a worker trying to determine if a shipment contains hazardous materials. It’s also hard to maintain a first-in-first-out rotation for perishable items if the date isn’t clearly printed on the plastic, cardboard, aluminium or glass packaging.

Just Don’t Forget to Prioritize Printer Security

Every single connected device in your warehouse or DC needs to be locked down – printers included. They contain a great deal of operational intelligence and can be targets just like your mobile computing devices and servers. 

That’s actually why Zebra introduced PrintSecure and why we’ve built our Printer Profile Manager Enterprise to enable IT staff to maintain the most up-to-date security on Zebra printers. 

Being able to remotely manage, troubleshoot and configure fleets of thermal printers from a single location are among a few of the nine measures you can take to increase device and data security, as is encrypting all of your printer connections and rotating credentials

I also recommend that you invest in a printer that has security capabilities built into its operating system, as it will make it easier to configure printers to use secure connections, block unwanted access and ensure that data and infrastructure are protected.

This blog from Zebra’s Mike Millman provides more detailed guidance on what you should do to lockdown your printers now that you know that they, along with every other connected technology used within your warehousing operation, are a potential point of vulnerability. 

In Summary

Take a close, hard look at the card, RFID and label printers in your warehouse. Are they able to produce the type of cards and labels you need to improve your warehouse safety and security with tools like PrintSecure? Do they offer the enterprise-grade IT security controls you need to prevent unauthorised access to your entire Industrial IoT (IIoT) architecture? If not, you may want to upgrade your printers sooner than later.

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