It has been a slow launch period for Zebra’s new OEM print engines, the ZE511, and ZE521.
Having to contend with Covid and the global logistics mess, has caused the launch to be delayed for quite a long time.
While the printers have been available (somewhat) to order for a while, public information on the new products was not released until more recently and actual availability is still an issue.
What is an OEM Print Engine?
While most Zebra printers are stand-alone units, the print engine line is intended to be built into a parent labeling machine. The customers for these products are machine builders like us – with our ID Technology and Panther brands.
When we build a print and apply labeling system, we build an OEM print engine into it and the completed product is sold as an integrated system.
Print engines are obviously an import item for us, so when one of the two main suppliers has a new product release, we are very interested.
So What’s New?
To be honest, the new print engine is to a large extent an evolution rather than a revolutionary change. Zebra’s big step was from the old PAX print engine to the ZE500 and this one is much more refining the design and enhancing the specs – ok, with one exception!
That exception is the new touch-screen interface!
To be honest, this is something that was really needed and the new interface is a cool upgrade.
It is much easier to use, and anyone that has had to click through Zebra’s old menu will appreciate the new one.
There are two versions of the new print engine – the 4 inches wide ZE511 and 6 inches wide ZE521. Both are available with RFID (only the 4 inch had the RFID option in the previous generation).
The 600 DPI option has returned for this generation (ZE511 only) which while not a large selling version, will be welcomed by some users.
One of the important attributes for print engines is the connectivity that is included and there are some changes here.
Firstly, the parallel port has switched from being a standard feature to an option. I don’t think this is a big deal, I don’t think many people are using parallel communications these days.
There is a big plus in the USB department though – the new print engines come with a pair of USB host ports, both located to the side of the new interface. These will be useful for transferring files and firmware and can also be used to provision printers.
Printers can also be configured using NFC and Zebra’s setup utilities app and the new models also now have Zebra’s Print DNA software (previously only available in tabletop printers) that allows remote set up and management.
Oh, the new printers also now include Bluetooth connectivity – this wasn’t available in the outgoing model.
I mentioned RFID already, but it is important to note that the new models incorporated the clever encoding system that was previously only available in Zebra tabletop printers. This is less reliant on tag location in the label and also allows the encoding of short pitch labels – something the previous generation print engine struggled with.
Operationally, maximum print speeds are faster, as you’d expect from the new generation, and maintenance time should be reduced with printheads and rollers being easier and quicker to replace. Scheduled maintenance can be planned using the new analytics feature.
Can I still Get the Old Version?
Yes, the ZE500 is still available as part of the Zebra product line. There has not been an End of Sale announcement as yet.
Bear in mind that both versions are subject to supply-chain difficulties at the moment.
Generally, the OEM print engines evolve at a slower price than tabletop printers and this update is no exception.
Zebra has clearly worked hard to enhance the printer, making it easier for operators (I especially like the new interface and menu), update the connectivity (the USB host ports are a nice addition), make maintenance easier, and to further increase the performance.
With there being more interest in RFID of late, having this feature on the 6-inch printer is a good thing and I know some customers will be happy with the ability to accurately encode smaller labels.
The ZE511/521 is certainly a welcome update to this product line.