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Intermec PM43 Printer Review

Intermec's new PM43 Label Printer

Introduction.

It had seemed to me that Intermec was getting tired of the barcode printer business. Despite a large customer base of the legacy printer models, there has not been a great deal to get excited about for some time. I got the impression that the company was way more focused on their mobile computing business – probably rightly.

The good news is that there seems to be a change – a new PC23 model was launched a while ago and more recently the new PM43.

The PM43 is a mid-range industrial printer and is in the same market sector as two of my favorites, the Datamax M-Class and Zebra ZM400. The folks at Intermec kindly sent me over a printer to check out.

The printer that arrived is a 400 DPI model and is the larger of the two models – the PM43C is slightly smaller and would have been my preferred version. I don’t believe there are many of the C version around yet though.

Intermec PM43 DisplayTaking the new printer out of the box, it is plain to see that it has evolved from the PM4i model – it continues Intermec’s battleship grey industrial colour. The new styling is a little bit squarer, but still cool.

On the front of the printer, the most obvious change is the addition of a colour touch-screen display (huge improvement over the rather poor quality little display on the previous models) and keypad. Below the keypad is a huge blue label feed button.

When starting the printer for the first time, the user is prompted to choose between Intermec’s Fingerprint, IPL systems or Zebra emulation. I went with IPL.

So how does everything work out?

ConnectivityIntermec PM43 Connectivity

Our PM43 is well equipped with ports to work in just about any environment. It has the usual serial/parallel/USB options as well as an Ethernet port. There is also USB host provided to allow other devices such as keyboards and barcode scanners to be connected.

According to the specs though, only the serial and Ethernet are standard, the others being optional, along with wireless.

Media Loading

Loading labels is simple – it can be done from the side, rather than having to feed all the way through. Loading the thermal ribbon is easy as well. Intermec has retained the concept of using an empty core to fix the new ribbon onto on the take up spool. Personally, I prefer to not have to do this, but others on our team prefer the Intermec way.

The printhead opening lever is easy to see and to use. I like the way the printhead is pivoted to keep consistent pressure on the label and also am pleased that the printhead itself is simple and fast to remove and install. This part of the printer is nicely thought out and a better design than the printhead mounting on the ZM400 and the M-Class.

Datamax M-Class, Intermec PM43, Zebra ZM400

L-R M-Class, PM43, ZM400

Using the Printer

I have to admit, I ran into some issues that I hadn’t expected when testing the PM43 on some of our labels. To be fair to Intermec, this unit is a Business Development machine and might not be to quite the latest specs.

Connecting to my laptop proved to be a painful process. I use BarTender as my label software so my first step was to download the latest Seagull drivers for Intermec. Oh dear – there is no PM43 driver included. Since I was using USB and the Windows “Found New Hardware” thingy, I came to a quick stop.

OK, a quick call to Intermec Tech Support will get me going, right? Wrong. The tech support guy told me that he’d give me a case number and send me an email when the driver is ready. Hmm…

Anyway, I was able to get going by changing over to Ethernet connectivity and using an old PM4i driver – not ideal, but at least I was able to print.

For setting up the machine, the touch screen interface works pretty well. A few of the screen are slow to respond, but overall the menus are well organized and (even I) was able to navigate easily to the tasks I needed.

The only problem was with setting the print speed. The default value was 4 – I assume 4 inches per second – but the printer gave me an error every time I tried to enter any other value. One of my friends at Intermec suggested I might have to enter a metric value (ie 50 for 2 inches per second) but I had already shipped the printer back by then.

I found that I couldn’t change the print speed in BarTender either – luckily 4 inches per second worked pretty well on the labels I printed, but it would have been nice to be able to change if needed.

Other than these issues, the printer worked nicely – just as you’d expect from a modern thermal transfer printer.

Conclusions

No question, the PM43 is an improvement over the previous PM4i printer. It is great to see Intermec coming out with new printer models and they are including some cool features.

One thing I didn’t get to try was Intermec’s RFID setting tool. This is intended to allow a number of printers to be set up to the pre-set configuration, using an RFID reader. Hope to check this out at a later time.

What I liked…

  • The clean industrial design
  • Touch-screen interface
  • Simple to load labels and ribbons
  • Quick and easy printhead changes
  • Accurate label indexing
  • Finally a proper replacement for the prehistoric Intermec 3240!

What I didn’t like…

  • Not made in USA. Personally, I’m always way more excited to sell an American made product than anything made overseas.
  • Lack of 600 DPI. A lot of our clients need to print very small labels and barcodes which rules out the PM43 and all Intermec printers.
  • The driver issues – not too concerned with this, I’m sure a proper driver will be available soon.

What I want to see…

For me, the Compact PM43C printer, built in the United States with 600 DPI would be a fantastic printer model.

What do you think? Are you an Intermec printer user? Of the Intermec PM43, Zebra ZM400 and Datamax M-Class, which would you prefer? Me? I’m not sure at the moment.

Thinking of new label printers for your operation? Give me a call at 603-598-1553 x237 – we’d love to help!

Update

Well here we are in early January 2013 and I have to say that our experience with the PM43 has been frustrating so far.

Intermec PM43 finally prints Maxicode

Finally Maxicode!

The main reason for this has been that Intermec released the machine without the IPL implementation being available and even with an update that included IPL a number of issues (such as not being able to print Maxicode – used in UPS labels – in IPL. There were also compatibility issues with label files that were designed in IPL for other Intermec models. We had to replace the first PM43s that we sold with PX4i printers to get the functionality correct.

I was excited to see that another new firmware version has just been released so I made a point of downloading from Intermec and installing into the printer.

First thing I did was to create a label with a Maxicode and it prints – great news!

There are still some issues though:

  • Still no PM43 IPL driver in the driver set from the Intermec site. I’ve been using the PM4i Seagull driver when printing labels to the PM43 from BarTender.
  • All the settings are metric and I can find a way to switch to Imperial US. Not a problem for me as I grew up with the metric system, but here in the US, not everyone is going to know that 100 mm/sec is close to 4 inches per second.
  • Talking about the 100 mm/sec, I still can’t get the printer to run at any other print speed. Typing any other value into the nice touch screen of the printer gives me an “Invalid Value” error and if I try to change the value using the printer’s website in my browser, it just defaults back to 100 mm/sec. Intermec must really like this value!

I didn’t get the chance to test the printer with our clients actual IPL files to see if the compatibility issues are fixed.

Hopefully there will be (yet) another firmware update that address the remaining issues. I still think that from a mechanical point of view the PM43 is a really well designed machine – just a shame the firmware side is lagging behind.

Update 2

February 19, 2013 – Well, I noticed that the latest update to the set of Intermec drivers from Seagull does include a PM43 IPL driver. I would guess that 90% or more of the Intermecs installed here in the US are using IPL so this idea of releasing the most important driver last seems crazy to me and has made the install for the PM43’s we’ve sold very confusing to the customers (and to us!).

Unfortunately, I’ve returned the demo printer to Intermec so didn’t have the chance to see how the new driver actually works. The Seagull drivers are usually very reliable so I’d be very surprised if there are any problems.

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