VAR's Wireless Printing Expertise Wins Bar Code Printer Upgrade
This printing solutions VAR addressed the challenge of a harsh steel manufacturing environment with 40 wireless-enabled label printers.
Irvine, CA-based VAR Royce Digital Systems, Inc. (RDSI) has enjoyed a six-year relationship with California Steel Industries (CSI). CSI, with 1,000 employees, has tripled its output and shipments of coil, sheet, and pipe products since 1984. It ships more than 1.8 million tons of steel products totaling more than $690 million in sales. Over the years, RDSI has worked with the steel company on a variety of print applications, including laser printers, impact printers, and label printers, according to Anthony Chiodini, RDSI's VP of sales. In 2002, RDSI provided CSI with 30 Printronix T5204e label printers for labeling the manufacturer's products. Earlier this year, the steel maker was ready to upgrade those printers as part of a plan to incorporate wireless technology throughout its sprawling 450-acre complex.
Standardize On Wireless-Enabled Label Printers
The harsh environment of the steel manufacturing plant was a primary consideration when it came to choosing upgraded printers for product labeling. RDSI's Glen Hitchens described CSI's environment as "beyond dirty." CSI boasts hot strip areas and grease pits, and, according to Hitchens, some areas of the plant open up to the desert floor. While many of the bar code printers are enclosed, many are not, due to their functionality.
Chiodini explains that the steel products are labeled with bar codes at various stages in the manufacturing process to track quality and progress. Prior to installation of the Printronix printers in 2002, the steel was labeled by hand. Handwritten labels were not uniform or reliable and did not stand up well in the hot conditions of the plant. When RDSI installed the Printronix printers, CSI also deployed printers from two other manufacturers as well. As time went by, however, the company became increasingly frustrated with the inconsistent performance of the label printers in its harsh manufacturing environment. Also, looking to the future, CSI wanted to use printers with both wireless and RFID (radio frequency identification) capabilities in place.
RDSI recommended that CSI standardize on Printronix printers based on their performance (particularly duty cycle), reliability, heavy-duty construction, and overall print quality. Chiodini adds that the Printronix T5204e models RDSI sold to CSI in 2002 reduced errors and helped streamline the manufacturing process. The ability to migrate printers to a wireless network was essential when it came to upgrades, since the 10 bar code printers used on the shop floor could not be upgraded to wireless and RFID. The size of the manufacturing plant and its dirty environment required the printers to have reliable wireless connectivity despite steel walls and multiple antennas. The VAR credits CSI with a well-planned infrastructure, easing the wireless installation.
CSI purchased 30 Printronix T5204r printers to replace the T5204e models and 10 T5204r models to replace bar code printers from other manufacturers. The T5204r printers feature a print speed of 10 images per second at 203 dots per inch (254 mm/sec), print on 4-inch labels, and are 11.7 inches wide by 20.5 inches long by 13 inches high. Chiodini points out that the T5204r models integrated seamlessly into the manufacturer's network. Remote management software allows CSI employees to see any printer problems via the network.
The sales cycle, from the decision to standardize to the decision to purchase the printers, took approximately 60 days. Chiodini notes that its successful previous Printronix installation at CSI was instrumental in winning the sale.
Train End Users To Install, Service Printers In Harsh Environments
While the decision to go with the new Printronix printers may not have been difficult, the installation process had its challenges. The CSI environment is hard on people, as well as printers. Says RDSI's Hitchens, "We had to wear hard hats and steel-toe shoes to do the install, and there are some places we were unable to go." As a result of safety concerns, RDSI used a "train the trainer" approach and trained CSI's IT staff, who have greater access to the plant, to perform much of the printer installation and troubleshooting when necessary.
To date, a total of 16 T5204e models have been replaced, and Chiodini foresees continuing his relationship with CSI as the steel manufacturer converts additional printers to wireless connectivity. He also plans to use his newfound hardhat experience to land future printer sales in harsh manufacturing environments.