The Zebra ZQ511 and ZQ521 rugged mobile printers
By Keith LeFebvre | July 09, 2020

Does Your Business Need a Mobile RFID Printing Solution? This is How You’ll Know.

Sometimes, mobile technology is the only way that workers can stay put where they are (and stay productive without constant interruption).

For years, we’ve talked about how important it is to equip employees who work outside the four walls – in the field and travel industry, for example – with mobile technologies that empower them to stay productive while on the move. We also advocate for mobilizing warehouse workers, retail store associates and clinicians who tend to cover a lot of ground inside the four walls of a facility each day.

Yet, many workers who spend their days moving about on foot or four wheels actually need tools that enable them to complete any task on the spot, without leaving the spot they’re in at that moment.

That leads me to the topic of the day: why any company with asset tagging workflows needs to seriously consider investing in mobile printing solutions that can print and encode RAIN RFID labels on demand from anywhere, whether that’s 50 feet up a utility pole or 50 steps away from the nearest desktop label printer.

How Smaller RFID Printers Equate to a Bigger ROI for Many of Your RFID Labeling Workflows

RFID tagging is growing in popularity across many sectors as organizations seek ways to better track and trace inventory and assets. High-value goods such as industrial equipment, IT assets, retail apparel, footwear, returnable containers, pallets, packages, food, patient wristbands and even airline passenger baggage can be better monitored and more easily located with an RFID tag than a barcode-only label, as can pallets and even individual items on store shelves.

Yet, most RFID label printers are stationary printers that sit on top of a desk inside the four walls of a facility. That means that field-based workers must either batch print labels prior to heading out on their route (assuming they know which assets need to be tagged that day) or they must frequently travel to and from a printer workstation to print labels when needed. Even in workplaces such as retail stores, warehouses, hospitals or factories where the RFID label printer may be “nearby” – meaning technically accessible by foot – workers still have to stop what they’re doing to walk over there. Such movements are very disruptive to workflows and productivity.

Plus, giving workers a way to print an RFID tag and immediately affix it to an asset helps to mitigate the risk of mis-tagging, which is quite a common occurrence. Whenever workers have to walk away from the point of application to retrieve an RFID tag off a shared desktop/industrial printer, the odds increase that they will either grab the wrong tag off the printer, go back and tag the wrong item or become distracted and – since they didn’t have the RFID tag in hand that very moment – forget to actually retrieve it from the shared desktop printer and/or go back to affix it to the asset.

Therefore, workers who need to print RFID labels to do their job and do not have constant arms-length-type access to a desktop RFID printer really should be given a lightweight mobile RFID printer to carry with them everywhere they go. These include, but are not limited to, workers responsible for:

Here’s the catch: there aren’t a lot of mobile RFID printers available on the market today. In fact, Zebra is the only manufacturer that currently offers mobile printers with on-demand RAIN RFID printing and encoding capabilities. And until recently, we only offered fully rugged RFID printing solutions upon special request as a highly customized SKU as part of our ZQ500 Series. (Though the popular Zebra ZQ630 RFID mobile printer can be used for many warehousing, retail, transportation and manufacturing applications, it’s not inherently as rugged to withstand constant exposure to harsh outdoor elements such as dust or rain.)

However, we know how important it is to help all mobile workers stay put as much as possible. You can’t afford the time lost due to their frequent, and sometimes long distance, trips to the printer. So, we have re-engineered the most rugged mobile printers in Zebra’s portfolio to bring additional RFID label printing capabilities directly to the point of labeling, whether that is on the loading dock, in the middle of a store or in front of a residence, no matter the weather!

Meet the New Zebra ZQ511 and ZQ521 Fully Rugged Mobile RFID Printers!

The Zebra ZQ511 and ZQ521 rugged mobile RFID printers

Thanks to a little innovation and a lot of smart engineering, Zebra’s fully rugged ZQ500 Series rugged mobile printer models can be used for RAIN RFID label printing and encoding in the field or the four walls of your facilities when needed. We also introduced a smaller 3-inch form factor (ZQ511) into the lineup and integrated all of the below features into both the new ZQ511 and the standard 4-inch mobile printer design (ZQ521):

  • Better radios that have intelligent sleep mode with instant wake over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (so your printer can stay on all shift long) and fast 802.11r roaming connections for seamless connectivity while on the move
  • New and improved Asian character sets
  • New Power Smart Print Technology, printheads and print mechanisms which helps the printer to adapt darkness and speed depending on temperature condition

Did I mention that both the new ZQ511 and ZQ521 RFID mobile printers are also…

  • Designed and certified to meet MIL-STD 810G for drop and shock
  • Tumble tested per the IEC68-2-32 spec to handle 1300 tumbles from 3.3 ft/1M?
  • Protected from solid and liquid ingress with an IP54 rating right out of the box – without the need for a protective case – and upgradeable to an optional exoskeleton case that increases the drop rating from 6.6 ft to 10 ft and improves the IP rating to IP65?

That’s right, we now offer both 3-inch (ZQ511) and 4-inch (ZQ521) fully rugged mobile printers that are able to generate all kinds of different product, item, asset, case and pallet RFID tags in practically any environment for hours on end!

The Zebra ZQ511 rugged mobile printer in the open position

Excited yet?!

We are. Mainly because we know our hard work is going to make it so much easier for your workers to do their jobs, particularly when those jobs involve low volume RFID tagging that simply doesn’t warrant as many trips to the printer as they’re having to make today. The engineering agility that went into making this mobile RFID printer ready for countless printing applications – and ensuring the right supplies were available to support these applications – is going to give your workers the agility to generate high-quality RFID labels on the fly without moving an inch. That could equate to quite significant efficiency and financial gains.

Not Sure If Your Workers Really Need a Fully Rugged Mobile RFID Printing Solution – or a Mobile RFID Printer at All?

Now that you know you have options, let’s talk about the things to consider when deciding which type of mobile printer is best suited for your RFID tagging workflows. It is critical that you ensure the printer and supplies you buy can support all of your labeling and printing workflows, reliably work in all potential use environments and meet all of your company’s unique IT requirements. You’ll want to consider:

  • The types of assets you plan to track using RFID and the type of media required to create the proper labels/tags.
  • The average number of RFID labels/tags you anticipate your workforce will need to produce each day.
  • Whether or not the workers responsible for printing RFID tags/labels will be arms-length away from a desktop/industrial RFID printer all day long or if they will have to “travel” at all from their normal work sites to a printer every time they need tags/labels.
  • If any of your RFID labeling applications are time sensitive. (i.e. An RFID tag must be affixed to every item coming off the production line or every pallet leaving your warehouse.)
  • If your RFID labeling (or other potential mobile printing) applications require special media. If they do, you should confirm if either genuine or certified supplies are available from the printer manufacturer for mobile printing devices specifically. 
  • Your connectivity options. Do you need a Wi-Fi-enabled solution or will an ethernet cradle be required? Should the printer have Bluetooth® connectivity to a Zebra mobile computer for workflow continuity?

From there, you’ll be able to determine if a mobile RFID printing solution will help you increase the efficiency of certain labeling and printing applications and decrease the costs associated with each.

If a mobile RFID printing solution is warranted, then answering the following questions will help you decide whether you’ll be better served by the Zebra ZQ630 mobile RFID printer or one of the fully rugged ZQ511 or ZQ521 mobile RFID printers:

  • What other types of applications do you need the mobile printer to support beyond RFID label printing and encoding? For example, should the printer also be able to generate e-citations, parking violation tickets, airline/bus/rail/cruise passenger tickets, baggage claim tickets, shelf-edge labels, drive-through receipts or arena/concert venue/theme park receipts? (You really don’t want your workers to have to travel to a printer for any reason.)
  • Is there a chance the printer will be dropped and bumped? Will it be used in extreme temperatures, such as triple-digit summer heat or freezing winter snowstorms? Will it be used in a dusty environment? And will it work in the rain or survive the accidental coffee spill? (The answer is likely yes to all of these things, so selecting a mobile printer with proven physical durability and a 1- or 2-year warranty is a must.)

Of course, there are many other factors that must be taken into account when selecting the right printer for any labeling application, including the availability of high-quality certified supplies, as was detailed extensively in this discussion.

For example, you need a label that will stay adhered and readable, as well as one that features an inlay that offers the optimal performance for the application. It’s critical that, as you start evaluating your RFID printing solution options, you work with a solution provider that has expertise in thermal materials, thermal converting, printer encoding and RFID.

(Since Zebra designed the ZQ500 Series mobile RFID printer and encoder, our supplies team knows the optimal material for each type of surface along with the environmental conditions that may be experienced during the tagged item’s life. We also understand the importance of inlay positioning on the label to ensure precise encoding and follow an ISO9001 procedure to ensure the printing solution – hardware and media – deliver the performance you demand.)

It is also important to consider your specific battery management remote management and enterprise-grade security requirements. Even printers are vulnerable to attacks, so it’s critical that you can protect both your network and sensitive data from attack, as my boss Mike Millman explained in this blog post and our Chief Security Officer Mike Zachman further elaborated on in this interview. And this blog post explains why you should take advantage of tools and services that help you monitor battery health, extend the life of the battery and, when needed, replace the battery to extend the device’s life.

The Takeaway

You must think holistically about mobile printers’ potential value when selecting the right model configuration and media. Can you fully support mobile workers’ labeling tasks by giving them a fully rugged linerless mobile printer (without RFID capabilities)? And is it possible that a non-rugged mobile RFID printer is more than sufficient for certain indoor-only environments and applications? It is definitely possible. Then again, it is also possible that they will find it challenging to do their jobs – and efficiently – if they don’t have a fully rugged mobile RFID printer on their hips or in their vehicles (arms-length away) at all times.

If you need help determining which type of mobile printing hardware and media is best suited for your specific labeling and printing applications, please reach out to my team to set up a call. We want to maximize the ROI of your RFID labeling solution. We also want to ensure you have a mobile RFID printer that will work optimally in normal use environments, whether that’s a refrigerated warehousing unit, in an air-conditioned retail store or on daily delivery runs where rain, dust and device bumps/drops are common.


Editor’s Note:

We invite you to visit our website to learn more about the enhancements made to the ZQ500 Series mobile printers and how mobile RFID printing and encoding can help you expand your on-demand labeling capabilities both in the field and within the four walls of your facilities.

Related Resources:

Innovative Ideas, Inside Zebra Nation, Healthcare, Field Operations, Public Sector, Energy and Utilities, Retail, Manufacturing, Transportation and Logistics, Warehouse and Distribution,
Keith LeFebvre
Keith LeFebvre

Keith is currently the Vice President of SPG Product & Solutions Management where he is responsible for Zebra's thermal barcode printer business. Keith has been with Zebra since 2010 and has more than 30 years of experience within the computer industry and has led several successful technology transitions and business transformations. 

Previously, he served in a variety of roles at Hewlett Packard over a 21-year span where he rose through the ranks and was Vice President and General Manager of Commercial Desktop and Commercial Notebook PC Regional Business units.  Keith holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from the University of Massachusetts as well as an MBA from Rivier University.  

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