Trends in Barcoding – Outside the 4 Walls
For over 20 years the majority of barcode tracking systems have been used in warehouses and manufacturing facilities. In the past 5-10 years we have seem more applications that take the applications outside of those 4 walls into the field.
This could be a literal field where crates of fresh produce are labeled, to construction sites for equipment and tool tracking, to fishing docks where fish like tuna are tagged. The environments are very different from a dry, heat-controlled building, and have resulted in the development of barcode scanning and printing equipment that are more rugged.
Tough, Dirty and Cold Environments
Dusty, Dirty Places: Virtually all mobile barcode scanners are protected against excess dust or dirt. While the average scanner is sealed to prevent dust that will “interfere with satisfactory performance”, it is possible to get scanners that are completely sealed against dust. The Zebra Workabout Pro4 is a reasonably-priced, IP64 unit, fully sealed against particulates and able to withstand splashing water. It can also withstand rough handling and multiple drops to concrete.
Coolers and Freezers: The issue with using a piece of electronic equipment in a cooler or freezer is often condensation. This happens when the device is moved in and out of the cold room and water droplets form (similar to how glasses fog). If you are using your mobile scanner in a cooler and it never leaves, you won’t need a non-condensing unit – but check the temperature performance rating.
As far as temperature, we typically say if a person can work there so can a mobile scanner – however, freezers are especially cold. Zebra has an “Arctic” Omni XT15F and Honeywell has the Techton, both of which are specified to operate at -22 degrees F.
The Drop Test: The average mobile barcode scanner is rated for a 4-5 foot drop to concrete. If you are using the scanners at a level higher than that, and you are concerned that they could be dropped, look for a better rating or protect them with a rubber “boot”.
Non-incendiary Devices: There are some locations that produce highly flammable fumes. It’s important in these cases to use non-incendiary mobile devices. Intermec has a barcode scanner that fits this requirement.
Wet & Wash-Down Requirements
Wipe-Down or Wash-Down: There are several levels of protection against water. We provide mobile computers that can handle water dripping from a vertical angle. Others can be wiped down and still others can withstand water jet cleaning. Make sure to evaluate your use and determine if you need to actually wash the device with a hose or if it will be exposed to dripping or splashing water. The Zebra Workabout Pro4 can be fully wiped down; the Nautiz from Handheld can be immersed up to 1 meter.
Submersible: There are mobile devices that can be dropped in a water bucket and those that can be used underwater. The level of protection depends on the depth of immersion (more than 1 meter requires extreme protection). These are specialty devices, so be ready to spend some $$!
Barcode Printers in Tough Conditions
Mobile Printers: By nature, mobile barcode printers are designed for rougher treatment than desktop or tabletop printers. For example, the Zebra QLn series mobile printers have an environmental specification of multiple 5’ drops to concrete, and this isn’t the most rugged Zebra mobile printer. Desktop or Tabletop printers have no drop spec at all. Mobile printers are the printers of choice for “outside the 4 walls” use when on demand printing is required.
Lower-cost Protection: If you need higher volume label printing and there is a consistent, powered location to place the printer, the desktop or tabletop printers are best. If your location has regular splashing water – especially if it’s salt water – our recommendation is to cover the printer. The cover could be something as simple as a plastic bag. If that is not practical, the printer would require regular wipe-downs, which should happen regularly throughout each shift.
Enclosures: There are independent companies who make enclosures for printers. These will seal the printer in a cabinet and have a window which is lifted to access the labels once they are printed. These enclosures can be made of aluminum or stainless steel, are dust proteted and may be washed down.