Speed and flexibility
Customers need to be served quickly and simply at the post office counter, which is why Swiss Post already introduced the SCHAPO postal counter automation system some years ago. One of the central elements of the IT solution is a thermal printer that prints linerless, self-adhesive labels with barcodes and franking details, before cutting them to size using an integrated cutter. This linerless technology is extremely flexible because it allows labels of varying sizes to be printed without changing the paper. Using linerless paper avoids additional waste, in addition to which the post office employees are able to save time that they would otherwise need to peel off the adhesive labels. The advantages of this technology are plain to see, but place the highest of demands on the printer and consumables. "The old printers no longer met our requirements. They had exceeded their useful life: high failure rates, breakdowns, excessive maintenance and repair costs forced us to phase out the device," reports Wendelin Kessler, Head of the Swiss Post's LogistikPoint in Lucerne.
The consumables used had a rubber-based adhesive coating that may have scored top points in terms of its high initial adhesiveness, but was so sticky that residues accumulated on the blades during cutting. The printer's rotating cutting mechanism became gummed up and had to be repaired at regular intervals. Since a service technician either had to drive out to the affected branch or the device had to be sent in for repairs, the printers, which were very expensive to buy in the first place, caused high maintenance costs. Within the scope of a Europe-wide WTO tender, Swiss Post went in search of a solution to the problem and evaluated the various different barcode printer manufacturers and their products.
Comprehensive functional specifications
Swiss Post defined a comprehensive statement of requirements for the new thermal printers and the label material, in order to find a preferably lowmaintenance and reliable solution for the future. The key objectives included guaranteed simple operation, robustness and good equipment availability, high label printing quality, the use of state-of-the-art technology and good value for money. In addition, the system was not only supposed to support onedimensional barcodes, but also 2D ECC200 data matrix codes, that were earmarked for use in the future in the postage segment.
Furthermore, the bidder also had to satisfy numerous criteria, including systems engineering demands on the printers, for instance with regard to the printing process, resolution and print quality, speed, print span and paper width, interfaces, fonts, graphics capability or variable label sizes. The bidders were also required to provide details of their services with regards to infrastructure and operating environment aspects, the test and introductory phase, training and also in terms of operation, servicing and maintenance. Following receipt of the documentation, the Swiss Federal Institute of Material Research and Testing (Eidgenössische Materialprüfungsanstalt - EMPA) evaluated the data for five series-produced test devices from manufacturers who claimed to meet the formal criteria. After analysing all test data, the most convincing solution proved to be the joint package offered by Zebra Technologies, the reseller PC-Ware Information Technologies AG and the Swiss distribution partner Primelco System Device AG. Their concept is based on the Zebra desktop printer LP 3842, whose compact and patented doublewalled design made of shockproof ABS plastic made it ideally suited for continuous operation at the counter.