Thermal Puts Automated Parking in the Preferred Slot
As automation of parking receipts, payment and citations continues to pick up speed, especially in environments such as hotels and campuses, the right printing component is becoming more and more critical.
Proven reliability is absolutely crucial, as this equipment is typically used in remote, unattended situations operating 24/7. Plus, the less the equipment needs to be maintained and the paper replenished, the more efficient your parking operation will be.
What's the Difference Between Direct Thermal and Impact?
Advances in design and materials have made direct thermal technology the option of choice in many applications for several reasons.
The ink-based ribbon approach of thermal transfer and impact (dot matrix) printing has two significant drawbacks. As the ribbon wears, the quality of the imprint decreases until no image is produced. And there is the ongoing expense of buying ribbons as a consumable item. Because direct thermal printing uses heat on specially treated paper, these issues do not arise.
Direct thermal printers use few moving parts, so they require next to no maintenance and are highly reliable. Resolution of direct thermal printing is high, with some printers delivering 300 dpi, which is particularly important for bar coding. Direct thermal printers also operate on low power levels to save energy, and they are quieter than ribbon-based systems.
Are There Choices in Printer Configurations?
Three basic types of thermal printers -- mechanisms, subassemblies and portables -- offer different advantages in the hotel and campus parking arenas.
When space is tight or a custom design is required, printer mechanisms provide a high degree of flexibility. Other components such as a paper holder and controller board can be placed virtually anywhere. Mechanisms are being used in small-footprint parking kiosks just 12 inches deep and 24 inches high.
Another option is a compact, value-added subassembly, which includes the mechanism, controller board, paper cutter, paper holder and cabling all in one self-contained unit ready for installation. For example, the Seiko Instruments Inc. KPU Series accommodates a large 9-inch paper roll to minimize the time spent reloading paper.
Portable printers offer the ultimate in flexibility. They are being used along with a handheld PDA by campus and hotel parking attendants or regulators for complete mobility. Manufacturers now offer wireless printers with infrared (IR) as well as Bluetooth and IEEE 802.11 RF capabilities.
Additional aspects of evaluating printer solutions include the method and reliability of components such as paper cutters and presenters, as these have a direct effect on patron satisfaction and equipment uptime.
Some Practical Considerations
The following are some aspects of printing for parking that should not be overlooked to ensure that an automated parking solution fits the bill:
Space: With parking real estate at a premium, space is a major factor. Depending on the type of printer chosen, kiosk space can take up as little as a 2-by-3-foot area.
Operating environment: Too much heat can inadvertently cause an image to appear on the paper. Too much cold hinders the imaging process. In addition, humidity can cause corrosion, decrease paper shelf life and cause paper to expand. Although often under a shelter, parking kiosks are exposed to ambient air conditions. Make sure the manufacturer has thoroughly tested its products under your type of conditions.
Ease of use: For portable applications, consider ease of loading and changing paper. Also, match the volume of paper a printer holds to your staffing levels. Other issues are battery life and shoulder straps or belt clips for hands-free operation.
Software support: While some manufacturers provide printer software support to clients, many do not. Be sure to choose a manufacturer that provides a library of printer drivers that are compatible with a variety of operating systems. Also, look for a manufacturer that has the expertise to handle custom programming for requirements such as print managers.
Paper: Selecting the right paper stock is absolutely essential. Users often complain to the printer manufacturer about legibility when, in reality, a second-rate paper stock is the culprit. Make sure the paper supplier you select is reputable and proven.
Choosing the Right Printer
Once these basic criteria have been established, you can determine which type of output device best suits your needs and select the automated parking solution that will keep your patrons happy and coming back. Equally important, it will make your life as a parking administrator a whole lot easier.
Bob Falco is Director and Division Manager of Seiko Instruments Inc., Micro Printer Division.