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Don’t Overlook the Printer

barcode printerWhen it comes to electronic documents supporting the supply chain, the Advance Ship Notice or 856 is just as important to the order to delivery process as the purchase order itself. While it is a robust document, its main purpose is to communicate back to the buying party what is shipping and when, as well as where it is going.

Not only does this document allow for distribution center planning on the receiving dock, when coupled with UCC128 labels it provides another level of efficiency as it allows the receivers to merely scan the barcode on each case to identify what is in the box.  It is for this reason that ensuring that you are 100% compliant on all elements of the ASN and UCC128 labels that support the document are of paramount importance to the flow of the supply chain.

All too often I have run into vendors that are inexperienced in the ASN process take the printing of the UCC128 labels lightly only to find a substantial non-compliance chargeback on their next payment. This invariably causes strife in the relationship and with the proper planning and upfront investment could be completely avoided. That being said, over my next two posts I would like to discuss label printers and label stock to convey some important considerations I have found helpful in reducing label print quality issues.

First, let me state that all printers are not created for the same job.  While laser printers do a wonderful job with our document needs, they are not the best choice for printing industrial labels.  We rarely have the need to scrutinize our memos, spreadsheets, or presentations for minor printing imperfections, but that can cause a major issue when printing a compliant UCC128. Scanners that are used to read these barcodes may have issues decoding the label making it unusable at the receiving dock, and this infraction is sure to result in a deduction on your next payment.

Instead of using a normal laser printer, it is most advantageous to invest a little more up front and purchase a printer especially made to print these labels. There are several name brands on the market each with their own features, which like any purchase needs the proper due diligence to make the best decision for your application. The two categories of these that are pretty standard are direct thermal and thermal transfer, again each with their own pro’s and con’s.  Basically, thermal transfer printers allow you to print crisp images in color as well as black, but require a ribbon which can crinkle and cause print quality issues.

On the other hand direct thermal printers only print in black and white, but do so without the aid of a ribbon.  The major drawback on direct thermal comes with making sure the print head is properly cleaned and maintained to avoid those quality issues. Either choice will generate quality labels that will keep you compliant, but with either choice I would recommend considering a verifier add on to the printer. It may cost a bit more up front, but scans each label as it is printed and rejects/reprints any that can’t be scanned.

While printers are not cutting edge conversation, it is very important not to overlook their importance and application.  In the coming weeks, I will discuss important label stock considerations. While still not at the forefront of everyone’s priority list, it is no less important to understand what a bad stock can do to your bottom line.        

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