Barcode printers are the backbone of automatic data collection systems. If you can’t print quality labels, or your printers frequently break down, you could experience unnecessary and costly downtime. Keeping your barcode printers in good condition is imperative. Here are some key approaches to extending the life of your printers:
Choose the Appropriate Printer for your Application: The first step is selecting a printer that is durable enough to withstand your operating environment, and designed to handle the volume of printing you plan to do. With proper maintenance, industrial barcode printers can stay in service for a decade or more. Make sure you outline your operational needs clearly, so the vendor or reseller can help you pick the right printer up front.
Keep it Clean: This component of regular maintenance is easy to overlook, particularly in busy production environments, but your printer will run best if you clean the print head and platen roller each time you install a new ribbon in your thermal printer. For direct thermal printing, try to clean them after every two rolls of labels. Operating in a really dirty industrial environment? Then you might want to clean them every day.
Take Care of Your Print Heads: In addition to cleaning, do your best to protect the expensive print heads in your printers by using the right media (labels and ribbons), avoid tinkering with the darkness settings, and only use certified replacement parts. Some manufacturers also provide print head replacement programs that can provide discounted or even free print heads in some circumstances. Also, adhere to manufacturer cleaning and maintenance recommendations, and don’t’ touch the print head element surface.
Pick the Right Media: Find the right label and adhesive combination for your printer, which will help improve label quality and allow you to run a thermal printer at a lower energy setting. Cheap media can also cause dust or debris build up and damage the heating elements.
Monitor Print Head Pressure and Speed Settings: The manufacturer will provide darkness and pressure settings for the printer. Don’t increase those settings, or you could shorten the life of the print head. Also, don’t use the fastest print speeds unless they are necessary for your application. Lowering speed, contrast, and pressure settings to the lowest point possible (while still producing quality labels) can greatly extend the life of the print head.
Take Care When Changing Labels: Don’t use sharp objects to remove labels from the roller or ribbons from the spindle. You could accidentally cut the rubber on the platen roller, which will affect print quality and printer life.
Overall, try to reduce sources of friction and abrasion that can damage the print head (paper/dust buildup, too much pressure, or misuse of direct thermal media), environmental contamination, corrosion, and even static buildup from the labels or ribbon. If you properly maintain the printer, follow all the manufacturer recommendations for cleaning and changing media, and monitor print quality so that you can address problems before they become catastrophic, your barcode printer should provide years of service with minimal maintenance costs.