Expert Advice on Assembly Line Printer Types and Their Uses

Assembly line setups vary in a number of factors. Influenced by the output level of the facility and the specific product(s) being created, lines can take on a variety of forms. Accordingly, there isn’t a single one-size-fits-all assembly line printer to fulfill all manufacturers’ needs. Instead, these requirements are fulfilled by different machines, including thermal inkjet printers (TIJ), continuous inkjet printers (CIJ), high-resolution case coding printers, and print and apply labelers. 

Of course, with this much diversity comes the question of which device is right for which situation. To clear up this confusion, this article will profile each of these printer types, detailing their specific uses and how they meet the application requirements posed by different businesses. 

Thermal Inkjet (TIJ) Printers

TIJ printers are compact, easy-to-use machines that are often chosen by smaller businesses for placing informative markings such as QR codes, best-by dates, packaging dates, and date numbers onto products and packaging. Utilizing disposable ink cartridges and intuitive computer interfaces, these devices offer mobility and maintenance-free operation at an affordable price point, making them perfect for their intended users. 

For the technically curious, TIJ printers use resistors to heat ink, causing it to bubble and expand toward the nozzle. As the bubble collapses, more ink is drawn towards the nozzle, at which point it is expelled onto the substrate surface to form the desired marking. This “drop ejection” process allows TIJ printers to create codes at 600 x 300 dots per inch (DPI)—a resolution high enough to ensure scannability.  

Where TIJ Printers Work Best

Due to their ability to take a variety of different inks, TIJ printers can tackle porous, semi-porous, and non-porous encoding tasks. This allows them to work well with substrates such as glass, rigid and flexible plastics, aluminum cans, and cardboard boxes. However, because of their smaller size, they aren’t able to deal with the higher-output needs of industrial operations, which are better suited with continuous inkjet printers.

Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) Printers

A type of assembly line printer designed to meet the pace of industrial enterprises, CIJ printers are larger and more powerful than their TIJ counterparts. Using ink-filled tanks rather than cartridges, CIJ printers electrify their ink with negative charges before expelling it through an oscillating print head. The ink forms the same types of codes listed in the TIJ section, however, they are encoded at a much faster speed (~1050 feet per minute with a DuraCode CIJ vs. ~394 feet per minute with an Anser U2 Pro-S TIJ). 

Where CIJ Printers Work Best

Because of their high-speed capabilities, CIJ printers work best with encoding primary packaging on quick-moving assembly lines. While TIJ printers’ mobility and disposable ink cartridges allow for convenience and mobility, the large size and ink-filled tank setup of CIJ machines make them optimal for day-in-day-out, 24/7 encoding. For a machine better outfitted to print on secondary packaging, let’s look at high-resolution case coding printers. 

High-Resolution Case Coding Printers

Case coding printers are a form of inkjet printer and operate with a similar system to TIJ printers; however, they utilize higher density ink than both TIJ and CIJ machines as well as an ink tank that can be refilled during operation. As a result, they are able to encode characters and barcodes with higher clarity than these other machines.

Where Case Coding Printers Work Best

With the ability to create very high-clarity codes, case coding printers are optimal for printing legible codes on porous substrates such as cardboard, wood, stone, metal, and concrete. Traditionally, these types of materials have proven challenging to print on due to their increased absorbency and darker coloring, leading to unscannable barcodes—a major problem when it comes to secondary packaging. Fortunately, case coders can reliably create high-contrast codes on these materials, making them perfect for both this assembly line task and for printing on tertiary packaging (e.g., pallets). 

For another option to tackle secondary and tertiary needs, let’s discuss how labelers might be the right choice. 

Print and Apply Labelers

While not necessarily a type of assembly line printer, print and apply labelers are worthy of mention due to how they fit the needs of secondary and tertiary packaging. Intuitive to use, these labelers are controlled by computer interfaces that allow the operator to input barcodes, best-by dates, batch numbers, product weight, and other useful information to be printed onto labels. The machine then prints these codes onto the label and the labeling part of the machine sticks them onto the desired surface, as shown in the photo. 

Where Print and Apply Labelers Work Best

These machines work best at the end of assembly lines to label secondary and tertiary packages. Because the codes are printed on white paper from the printer, the codes are easily scannable, helping to ensure that the packages remain traceable as they travel from origin to destination. 

Finding the Right Assembly Line Printer to Fit Your Operation

With all of the different printers on the market today, finding the right one for you can seem tricky. Thankfully, we’re here to help. At InkJet, Inc., our team can speak with you about the specifics of your operation to help you find the machine best suited for you. No matter whether you’re struggling to find a printer to fit your budget or you need a more reliable way to place bar codes on your shipping packages, we can guide you through the selection process to make sure you find the perfect fit. 

For more information on the different types of assembly line printers and their specific uses, contact InkJet, Inc. online or by phone at (800) 280-3245.