New Office Laser Printer Encodes Tags

By Andrew Price

Lexmark has introduced a laser printer able to print 8.5-by-11-inch paper and encode RFID tags.


By Mary Catherine O’Connor

March 28, 2007-Lexmark, a developer and manufacturer of laser printers for businesses and consumers, has introduced a new laser printer, the T640rn, that can print 8.5-by-11-inch paper and encode RFID tags.

Most printer-encoders use thermal printing technology and are designed to print only on label stock. However, says Rick Kallop, Lexmark’s senior industry consultant for the company’s RFID business development team, the T640rn is a general-use laser printer that also encodes EPC Gen 2 inlays embedded in label stock.

Lexmark’s T640rn general-use laser printer.

“A couple of our customers have already tested the T640rn, and we’re doing an installation next month,” says Kallop. “We’re targeting everyone from distribution centers that need to tag shipments for mandate compliance to small- and medium-sized businesses that might need to comply with mandates but could also use the printer for general office needs.”

Lexmark has worked with paper products manufacturer Pinnacle Label to create 8.5-by-11-inch paper that is half shipping label (with an adhesive backing that peels off a substrate) and half standard paper stock. With this product, a company can print and encode a shipping label while also printing a packing slip on a single piece of paper. The company can apply the shipping label to a case or pallet, detach the perforated packing slip and place it a plastic pouch attached to a shipment.

Kallop says the T640rn is the first laser printer to integrate an RFID encoder. “A lot of people said this could never be done,” he says, “because the rollers inside the printer would break the RFID inlay’s antenna, or the heat inside the machine would harm the silicon chip. But that doesn’t happen—the machine prints and encodes very well.” The printer uses ThingMagic’s Mercury 4e EPC Gen 2 UHF reader module, built into the body of the printer. Lexmark worked with SATO, a provider of EPC/RFID printing solutions, to devise a means of sending print and encoding commands to the printer.

The T640rn is the first laser printer to integrate an RFID encoder.

Kallop says the reader supports both the standard-protocol printer command language (PCL) and American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII). The T640rn can print at resolutions of up to 1200 by 1200 dots per inch, exceeding the resolutions of most thermal printers on the market. However, when printing shipping labels, most end users are more concerned with printing speed than high-print quality. Most thermal printers can print and encode smart labels at about 18 labels per minute, says Kallop, while the T640rn prints about 15 printed-encoded sheets (labels) per minute.

The label-and-paper stock that Pinnacle created for the Lexmark printer costs 25 cents per sheet, Kallop notes—roughly twice as expensive as fully converted Gen 2 shipping labels. What’s more, standard shipping labels can be applied through automated application systems, while the Lexmark labels need to be hand-applied.

Still, Kallop says, the T640rn is a good choice for companies that are starting small RFID deployments and want to use a printer-encoder for standard printing as well. The printer handles media ranging from 4 by 6 inches to 8.5 by 14 inches (legal-sized documents), and includes multiple media trays to print various-sized media without changing the stock.

Kallop says Pinnacle is currently developing standard paper stock with embedded RFID Gen 2 inlays. Thus, in the future, companies could print documents while also encoding the embedded inlay for authenticating and tracking individual documents.

Lexmark is also developing a print-encode module that its customers with existing Lexmark printers could use to upgrade the devices to print and encode, though Kallop does not yet have a release date for this. The T640rn is available now, with a suggested retail price of $4,495.