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Scan-Tech 94 was held in the East Hall at McCormick Place in Chicago November 1-3, 1994. The following are my choice of the Top Ten New Products for Scan-Tech 1994. My choice is, in the end, subjective, however I do use some criteria. Products that show breakthrough technologies get the highest marks. Next, I look for products which establish a trend in the market. Finally, I look for products that offer a great price for their performance. I do include prototype products in the list if a working model is shown, and a projected production date is given. With this in mind, here is the Adams' Top Ten New Products for Scan-Tech 94.
Number One - SWIRL
The most significant product at the show was SWIRL from Media Solutions and IIMAK. SWIRL is so simple that it makes you say "why didn't someone else think of that", yet so clever you say "why didn't I think of that!" Now comes the hard part - explaining SWIRL in words. You really have to see it. Picture a roll of thermal transfer ribbon. Now picture label stock stuck to the non-printing side of the ribbon. Now picture pealing away the ribbon from the end of the label stock, and curling the ribbon around the roll and back over the label being peaked off the roll. The ribbon is positioned over the label, ready to print. In other words, the thermal transfer ribbon acts as a release liner for the label material until just before printing. SWIRL offers the advantage of a liner-free label, yet it can be made out of standard label stock and be handled like liner-fed labels. That means, for example, that SWIRL label stock can be run through an offset printer - something liner-free labels can't do. SWIRL is intended to be used in printers that can handle liner-free labels. That's because the label is peeled away from the ribbon/liner prior to printing. Also because of the geometry of SWIRL, the ribbon is slightly longer than the label stock. That means that the printer must compensate for the difference to prevent the ribbon from wrinkling. There is no question about it. SWIRL will help liner-free label printing enter new applications.
Number Two - Tiny Scanner
Number two goes to the Ultra Scan Pen and the Nano Scanner from Monarch Technologies, Inc. (not to be confused with Monarch Marking). Monarch Technologies showed an entire line of ultra-miniature laser bar code scanners based on the company's breakthrough Axial Scan technology. This technology allowed the Company to develop a laser scan engine small enough to be placed in a standard contact wand, the Ultra Scan Pen. The Nano Scanner is a fixed mount non-decoding scanner that makes use of the laser scan engine to produce a rugged package just 5/8 inch in diameter by 1-5/8 inches in length. The engine is available in an OEM version that measures .95 inches by .85 inches by .53 inches with a weight of .4 ounces. These scan engines are destined to open up entirely new applications for bar codes.
Number Three - 2D Scanner
Coming in at number three is the J7010 Hand-Held Imager from Intermec. The J7010 is the first non-contact CCD scanner capable of reading 2D matrix symbols at a distance. The unit has a 4 inch depth of field and can read a wide variety of 2D symbols. In fact, the unit has autodiscrimination of 2D symbologies, but it was shown with the feature turned off because it slowed down decoding. In a practical application, autodiscrimination is not very important, since most 2D applications will be limited to a single symbology. Some have expressed doubt about the J7010 being a real product, but Intermec representatives told me that the unit has gone into beta testing and is a real product. It sure looked like a real product to me. What makes this product number three is its distinction of being the first real hand-held CCD scanner to read a variety of 2D symbologies at a distance. There is no question that CCD will be the preferred way to read 2D symbologies and the J7010 pushes the Industry closer to that understanding.
Number Four - Mobile Enterprise
Number four goes to LXE's Mobile Enterprise. The Mobile Enterprise is not a product but a philosophy. The Company announced a line of wireless solutions tied together by a team of strategic business partners which will provide a seamless communications system for the user. LXE has been a leader in wireless LAN systems for industrial and warehouse applications. This new approach will provide users with a wireless system that will not be bounded by the factory or warehouse. Mobile Enterprise will give the user wireless access to LANs, public WANs, and satellite communications without user intervention.
The partners include the Electromagnetic Sciences, Inc. family of companies (EMS Technologies, LXE Inc., and CAL Corporation), American Mobile Satellite Corporation, General Programming, Inc., and Proxim Corporation. This is the first time a wireless terminal producer, a communication service providers, an application software producer, and several wireless hardware producers have teamed up in the data collection industry. It marks the beginning of a new world of wireless data collection - the use of public communications service providers and local wireless systems with the equipment deciding which communications path makes sense for a given transaction.
Number Five - PCMCIA Wireless Modem
Number five goes to the Ericsson M2190 OEM Wireless Modem. It is the first PCMCIA Type III form-factor internal wireless modem to connect to Mobitex, the mobile public data network available throughout the U.S. and Canada offered by RAM Mobile Data. Concurrent with the announcement, Norand announced that the Pen*Key family of products will be the first to offer the M2190. However, The M2190 can be used with any device that has a PCMCIA type-III slot. The M2190 allows many products to use public wireless data links, and that's significant.
Number Six - GEOscan
Number six goes to GEOscan from Sensis (now Mecco). This product took first place in the "New Product Showcase" at Scan-Tech. GEOscan uses both a laser and a CCD to read embossed bar code that have no contrast between the bars and the spaces. In the demonstration I saw, GEOscan was able to read a symbol made up of white bars and white spaces. Really amazing! The trick is accomplished by using laser light focused to form a horizontal line without scanning the beam. A 2-dimensional CCD camera is aimed at a critical angle to the line of laser light. The technology used in GEOscan was originally developed for the military and is a product of the Peace Dividend. While the scanner has limited applications, the fact that it can read an embossed bar code with no contrast makes it a significant new product.
Number Seven - QualaBar
Coming in a number seven is the QualaBar from RJS (now owned by Printronix). The models 440 and 450, both thermal transfer printers, have a built-in laser scanner-based label verifier. If the bar code is found to be out of specification or non-readable, the internal verifier will reject the label and reprint it. Previous printer/verifiers would shut down the printer when an out-of-specification label was detected. The combination of a non-contact verifier which is internal to printer and performs a reject/reprint operation rather than reject/stop qualifies the QualaBar for number seven.
Number Eight - Low Cost Thermal Label Printer
Number eight goes to the TLP-2242 thermal transfer printer from Eltron International. This product came in number three in Scan-Tech's "New Product Showcase". So what qualifies this product for so much attention? Speed? At 2 inches-per-second it hardly qualifies as a screamer. Resolution? No, it's 203 dpi is certainly not the highest for thermal transfer printers. What qualifies this product for honors is its price - the first thermal transfer printer available for under $1000. The package even includes Eltron's Create-A-Label software.
Number Nine - Sundance
Number Nine goes to Astro-Med's Sundance one-pass four color thermal transfer printer. This printer's 32-bit RISC processor produces 300 dpi resolution at 5 inches per second. While the printer is limited to spot-color at the moment, the Company says that a process color version will be available early in 1995. The printer is also able to print on two sides, but two-sided printing is limited to two colors for each side. Color has taken general business computing by storm. Color is destined to be demanded in many label printing applications. Sundance's speed and color forethought definitely rates a nine.
Number Ten - Bar Code Value Pack
Number Ten is the CoStar Corporation's Bar Code Value Pack, the first all-in-one bar code solution. The pack includes Label View software for designing and printing labels, a LabelWriter XL Plus direct thermal printer, a TrueScan bar code wand with a built-in keyboard wedge, and the David Collins book "Using Bar Code." The list price is under $800.