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Sato America Unveils Printer-Encoders for Unconverted RFID Inlays

By eliminating the need to use EPC Gen 2 inlays that have been converted to labels, the new devices could potentially save companies 5 cents per tag.
By Beth Bacheldor
May 11, 2009Charlotte, N.C.-based SATO America, a provider of bar-code printing, labeling and RFID solutions, plans next month to unveil a new standalone printer and a new print engine for the North American market that can encode and print on adhesive EPC Gen 2 RFID inlays. This, the company indicates, will eliminate the need for—and cost of—inlays that have been converted to RFID labels.

According to Gary Krause, Sato America's director of marketing, the M8485Se print engine and the CL408e printer are designed to encode and print an RFID tag's Electronic Product Code (EPC) number in human-readable text, at high speed, onto inlays on a short pitch (the distance between the inlays). "With direct inlay printing, companies can save about 5 cents per RFID tag," he says. "Typically, it costs about 12 cents for an RFID label, but using an inlay with our printer, it costs only about 7 cents."

Both devices utilize thermal transfer printing technology and have built-in network interfaces, like other thermal or laser printers, so they can be connected to a company's network. Once installed, the printer or print engine can receive EPC number data from back-end systems, then use that information to encode the inlay. After encoding is completed, the printer checks to make sure the inlay was correctly encoded and works properly, then prints the EPC number, in human-readable text, onto the inlay.

The devices can work with inlays in a variety of sizes, including those measuring 1 inch by 1 inch, one-half inch by 4 inches, or 3 inches by 3 inches. "This is for high-speed, item-level applications," Krause states, "and other applications that do not require much printing area and have limited space for a label or tag."

The M8485Se is a print engine designed to be integrated into third-party applicators, which can automatically affix adhesive labels or inlays onto goods as they move down conveyor lines. Typically installed above or on the side of a conveyor, applicators employ a variety of mechanisms to dispense the labels, including mechanical arms that hold labels via vacuum suction until the arms tamp them onto the pallets or cases, wiper mechanisms that roll labels onto goods, and systems that use air to blow the labels onto those items.

The M8485Se can encode and print 12 inches of inlays per second, and there are almost 2 inlays in an inch. "That is more than fast enough to keep up with the production rates of today's supply chains," Krause says.

The CL408e is an industrial, standalone printer designed for less intensive applications, that can encode and print 6 inches of inlays per second. The standalone printer is ideal for applications in which manually applying labels by hand is acceptable.

Both the M8485Se and the CL408e have been certified for use in Europe, where they have been available for several months. According to Sato America, there was a more immediate need in Europe for the direct inlay printers, which is why the company had the printers certified for the European market first. In the United States, pricing for the M8485Se and the CL408e is expected to be the same as that of Sato America's similar RFID printers (which print on adhesive labels with inlays embedded in them). The CL408e UHF RFID printer, for instance, will list for $3,995, the company reports.
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