The pros and cons of setting up a remote print station during ‘testing’ times

Oliver StocktonWritten by Oliver Stockton, Managing Director, CILS

 

 

In this blog we will discuss the positives and negatives of printing labels at multiple test locations.

Setting up a label printing facility may not be economical if there are hundreds of test locations involved, however, for more remote situations where receiving preprinted labels is a logistical challenge, setting up remote print stations may be the ideal solution. This is how we worked with UCL for Aids testing in Africa and could be a good model to copy for COVID-19.

What will I need?

You will need a Laptop, Thermal Transfer printer, software, ribbons, and labels.

Printing on-site will provide the flexibility needed to produce labels in batches sufficient for each day or one at a time as each test is carried out. Single labels or sets of labels can be printed.

A master template is usually created and distributed to the various sites so there is a common format across all locations and the software is set up for the end-user to add whatever variable data is required, usually a unique rolling serial number and barcode.

What are the benefits of remote labelling at numerous sites?

Positives:

  • Immediate daily printed label supply
  • Less waste
  • Quick throughput
  • Good print quality with readable barcodes
  • Ideally suited for locations with ad hoc volumes
  • Labels can have a perforation between them for easy tearing if duplicate sets are required
  • Optional cutter could cut at specified intervals (i.e. no perforation is required)
  • Faster label lead times because they are blank
  • Total control per centre
  • 12v cigarette lighter power pack available if no power is available.

Negatives

  • Cost per location and total project cost
  • Not ‘plug and play’ like an office laser printer
  • Thermal transfer printers need ribbons (see below)
  • Cutter options are more expensive and could delay printer availability if needed in a hurry
  • You will be relying on one printer per site so if it breaks down you will need a contingency
  • Somebody would need to be made available to print the labels at each site
  • The centres would need to make sure they print the correct sequence.

What type of software can I use?

Basic labelling software such as NiceLabel Designer Express

Positives (appropriate to this case study):

  • Immediately available for download if needed in a hurry
  • Could be loaded onto an existing laptop
  • Cost-effective
  • Will provide barcode printing which can increment to a determined number of sets
  • Once a template is set up it can be saved and retrieved
  • Once the print file is created you can send the file to each location to use.
  • Label template can be set up with a user prompt to enter the first number and can then increment automatically.

Negatives (appropriate to this case study)

  • Laptop or PC required
  • End-users would have to maintain a record of where the previous print sequence ended to know where to start the next time.

Advanced software such as NiceLabel Designer pro

Positives (appropriate to this case study)

  • As above
  • The software will remember the last number printed to start at the correct number next time
  • Generally, a more intuitive platform
  • Quick and easy set-up and print process
  • No risk of human error in terms of number duplication.

Negatives (appropriate to this case study)

  • More costly compared to the basic software option
  • A laptop is required

To find out more about NiceLabel software or for a link to a free trial, click here.

How many Thermal Transfer ribbons will I need?

You will need ribbons for thermal transfer printing which are usually 300m long for intermediate-sized printers. Divide the length of the ribbon by the vertical repeat of the label and then multiply the answer by the number of labels across the web and this will calculate how many labels each ribbon will print. There is a way of printing without a ribbon – see note below*

Negatives

  • Can be costly
  • Fiddly to load for the inexperienced.

So which labels should I use?

This very much depends on the application. A test such as those conducted for Coronavirus testing is most likely to be basic labels requiring very little durability and will be quickly disposed of, however, if the type of test requires a sample to be transported at -80°C or stored at -196°C the label will need to be significantly more durable. Please see our e-Book for a more detailed explanation.

*To reduce costs you could use ‘direct thermal’ labels, these are paper labels that activate when they pass through the printer to create the black printed image rather than use ribbons. These labels do not feature in our world because they have no durability but may be ok for ambient, fast diagnosis environments.

What else should I think about?

End-users may need to be trained on basic printer maintenance - troubleshooting, changing of label rolls and printer ribbons, etc. A good idea is to nominate and train a ‘super-user’ from within one of the test locations who can help the other sites with support to overcome daily use issues. That ‘superuser’ could have direct support from the printer/label supplier.

Spare printers or print heads should be considered at each site in the event of any printer faults, or perhaps at a convenient hub local to the test locations to minimise inventory and cost per site.

How much would it cost to set up a print station at each location?

  • NiceLabel software options: Basic is £260 each or advanced software is £525 each.
  • CAB EOS 2 Thermal Transfer Printers: £685 each or £998.25 each with a cutter.**
  • Printer ribbons: start from under £10 to over £100 each depending on the durability required.
  • Label prices: download our e-Book and request a price.

**(Prices approximate at April 2020 based on an intermediate Thermal Transfer printer for heavy use at each location. Other lower and higher cost alternatives and printer brands are available and would be suitable)

How can we help?

Contact us if you need help to set up remote labelling stations or with any questions you may have.