Now that mobile devices have trained everyone to expect constant communication and information access, the next logical step is to demand mobile printing. Like its mobile device predecessors, field workers equipped with mobile printers can be more productive and provide better customer service.
Of course, selecting a rugged mobile printer that reliably provides quality print outs takes some thought. This isn't what we mean by printers in the field. The right mobile printers make everyone's life better, but there are a number of critical factors to consider so you make the right choice.
Where will the mobile printer be used?
There are rugged mobile printers and semi-rugged because not all fields are the same. A utility or warehouse worker, or truck driver, work in fields far more demanding than a home healthcare provider or sales agent. Mobile printers get different ratings that indicate the level of protection they provide. For example, an IP54 rating means the printer's design protects it from dust and liquids.
So it's necessary to consider all the environmental challenges where the mobile printer will be used. This includes temperature extremes, vibrations (e.g. from moving equipment), exposure to water and other elements that could get into the printer. What sort of lighting will the user have?
What does it need to print?
Not all mobile printers will be configured or designed to print out any type of output. Common mobile printer outputs include bar code labels, schematics, pick-and-return tickets and other pre-fabricated forms, as well as full page print outs like end-of-day service reports and invoices.
Look at what types of inputs (custom designed forms and/or sized paper) your users need and what the needed outputs are, such as bar codes, rather than standard typing to verify that a mobile printer can handle them.
Also consider the volume of printing done in one field trip. How much paper does the worker need to carry around? A rugged mobile printer than handles fanfold paper is a better option for workers who have high-volume printing needs.
How will the field worker be using it?
A big part of the mobile printer's user interface is the environment around them, not just the options on the screen. Warehouse workers may need it attached to their belts to carry it around with them all day. Truckers and warehouse lift drivers may have it attached to machinery that must print out while moving. Utility workers and claims auditors may have to walk with it a fair distance.
There's also a question of what other information inputs the mobile printer must handle. Police officers using mobile printers require them to be able to read driver's licenses, while field sales reps need them to read credit cards. A field tech may require capturing a handwritten signature that work has been done.
What's the workflow requiring the mobile printer?
How long is the user away from a potential power source?
What sort of battery life is required (not wanted) to keep this user productive in the field?
Last, how fast does it need to print? Printing five inches per second is fast, but is that speed necessary? If high-volume printing is required, or there's a customer or vendor waiting for that print out to close a transaction, speed can be very important. The rugged mobile printer's memory capacity will also impact speed, especially if there are specialty formats, branded content, images, or heavy fonts that will be printed.
What is the mobile printer connecting back to?
What is its compatibility with the full range of operating systems and connectivity options? What physical and wireless connections does it work with? Does it work with Bluetooth and WiFi? Do you need it to? How does it integrate with your back-end systems?
How easy is it to learn and use?
Field conditions are hard on the users, not just the printers. The best rugged mobile printers do exactly – and only – what the workers need them to do. Any mobile printer that boasts all sorts of bells and whistles is probably a mobile printer that's too heavy and too involved to meet the environmental needs of someone working in the field.
The right rugged mobile printer has one-button functionality, with only a few buttons to choose from. They cover the key functions and perhaps one or two can be customized if your workers' have a special requirement. The buttons are large enough that gloved fingers can easily activate them.
It should take a worker less than five minutes to figure out how to print something out.
What is the mobile printer's manageability and expected lifespan?
Nobody wants hardware that will be obsolete before it depreciates. Look for a mobile printer that's scalable and customizable, so it can adapt to changing workflows. IT staff should be able to push out software and driver updates as needed. Bar code technology and formats change, but warehouses shouldn't need to buy new printers when they do.
IT staff should also be able to troubleshoot printer issues while the printer is still in field. There shouldn't be any reason to pull the pull it out of circulation and slow the workers down.
The logistics of managing a well-oiled field team are challenging enough. Their tools should make their jobs easier, not be another obstacle for them to navigate. Selecting the rugged mobile printer with a low learning curve and high reliability that fits your team's work environment and workflows takes some research and planning. Contact us today and we can help you define your team's specific mobile printing requirements.