A short guide to some of the most important considerations in selecting an ink jet coding and printing system.

Industrial ink jet printing today is no more similar to ink jet from the late ´70s as today’s Chevrolet is to your father’s! From an applications perspective, you can still find the old reliable valve jet drop-on-demand systems just like you can find the old reliable Chevy. But is that what you want to drive today?

Industrial ink jet printing has reached 600 dpi (dots per inch) capability and speeds of over 200 products per minute (those capabilities are mutually exclusive). But do you need it? Do you want to pay for it? How do you match your needs with the right resolution and speed? What else is important to you: TCO (total cost of ownership), maintenance time, uptime, reliability? Here are some of the most common considerations:

Resolution. Most color home or office printing is done at a macro resolution (effective image resolution) of 150 dpi or less, and it looks pretty good. More than 150 dpi will probably do just fine with any industrial printer for most applications, and 200 to 300 dpi will meet many bar code requirements.

Throughput. Most food and beverage packaging lines run at 70 to 120 products per minute, with some going up to 150 and a few running as low as 30. High-speed applications need printers that can generate more dpi, thus taking away from frequency response or throughput (frequency response is how fast dots must be printed to cover an area, say one square inch).

Maintenance. How often do you need to replace ink? Can you continue to print while changing bottles or cartridges? Does the system give you adequate warning before you start getting blank boxes in the warehouse? Do you have to clean the head? This all means downtime. Some new technology has these maintenance functions built in, such as cleaning the orifices during lunch breaks or after hours. Ink supplies can be changed without interruption, and warning signals are programmable and available well in advance of running out of ink. That means never having a blank box in the warehouse. Today these are all features that are standard in a few products. Don’t get tricked into paying more or having to do without them.

Uptime and reliability. Does your vendor keep data on uptime for continuous improvement? Does he share this data with you and make improvement recommendations? This is a sign of the quality of your vendor. Ask for the data, and if they can’t provide it, ask why.

Bottom line, all of the above add up to TCO. What does it really cost you versus what efficiency improvements you gain? Are you in the black or red?

For more information