I just got off the phone with yet another panicked customer. The story is always the same: their focus in the design of their self-service system is on the exterior appearance, on the screen size, on the housing color and on the many outer options that they have to select.
It's not until the last minute that they remember the largely hidden printer.
"It's just a module we can drop in to our beautiful cabinet, right?"
The panic begins when they realize how wrong they are.
Due to my position with HECON/Hengstler and my long association with the printer industry, my perspective is clearly from the printer point of view. However, I've spoken to other suppliers of the internal kiosk elements, and they have the same problem. Designers too often assume that the printer, bill or coin acceptor, card reader, bar code scanner, etc., can be easily added as an afterthought. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case.
Since I'm a printer guy, I'll use a printer application to make my point, but please remember that this applies to every technical component in the kiosk.
First, to begin selecting the printer we have to determine some basics, and the fastest way to do that is to ask about the application. What does the customer want to print? Maps? Receipts? Bridal registry listings? Vouchers that can be exchanged for cash? Web pages?
These answers help us to focus on the paper width that must be printed. Web pages and bridal registry output is usually letter-sized (8½ inches wide). Maps might be 8½ inches, or might be narrower. Vouchers and receipts are usually narrow, typically falling into the 2-3/8 inches (60 mm) or 3¼ inches (80-82.5 mm) paper width ranges.
Also, maps and Web pages may require color; then again, with the increased operating costs, they may not. Receipts and vouchers are usually black and white.
So we've determined the technology that's needed (laser for color and thermal for black and white) and the paper width. Both these choices impact the basic kiosk design, as space must be allowed for the printer and special attention must be paid to cooling if a laser printer is used.
But this is just the first step. Let's assume that we've settled on a 60 mm receipt printer in thermal technology. HECON/Hengstler eXtendo series thermal printers are ideal for such an application. This new line of printers has a very wide feature set, so the customer has a lot of choices that will allow him to minimize his costs while still buying the features he needs.
The next question is, "How much printing is going to be done?" In other words:
How long is the average receipt?
How many receipts will be printed on an average day?
How frequently are you willing to replace the paper?
These three questions together determine the size of the paper roll, one of the issues frequently overlooked by kiosk designers. Say you'll print an average of 100 six-inch receipts a day, and that a technician visits the kiosk once a month.
100 receipts x 6 inches/receipt x 1/12 foot/inch x 30 days = 1500 feet.
Assuming a one-inch diameter core and 60 g/m² thermal paper, that's a roll diameter of approximately 7.8 inches. This means that the kiosk enclosure itself must allow enough room for both the printer and a paper roll almost 8 inches in diameter. That's something that would certainly be useful to know while you were designing the enclosure!
How fast do we need to print?
Let me guess…you're thinking, "As fast as possible, stupid!"
Not necessarily. The size (and therefore the cost) of the power supply operating the kiosk and the printer is dependent upon print speed. The faster you print, the more current you need. If this forces the designer to move to the next larger power supply, then you've increased your costs, perhaps unnecessarily. In some applications, a very fast print speed is critical. For example, if people are queued up to board a train, and you are printing tickets, you may want to allow only a few seconds per passenger in order to get them on board quickly. But in most cases, print speed is not that critical.
Let's take our example. A six-inch receipt printing at 250 mm/second will take 0.61 seconds to print. The same receipt at 125 mm/second (half the original speed) takes 1.22 seconds. Is it worth the extra cost to save your customer 0.61 seconds waiting for his receipt?
With the subject of print speed we are really talking about output speed. This assumes that we can get the data into the printer faster than the printer can print it. To ensure this, we must select an interface that will transfer data quickly enough. The options include USB, parallel and serial. The option you choose depends upon the type of printing you do (either using a driver, which prints everything as though it were graphics, or using the internal character set of the printer.)
We still haven't addressed many issues that have to be considered. Is a cutter needed? How about a presenter? If there is no presenter, how will you prevent vandalism? You can drop the receipt into a chute, but that must be part of the enclosure design. How many USB ports do you have available? Serial ports? Is your operating system Windows, Linux, or something else?
Hopefully you're getting my point. The manufacturers and suppliers of the components in your kiosk are a valuable resource to help you make the best decisions in your design. Involving the suppliers of all the kiosk components early on in the deployment ensures the most cost-effective, timely design effort…and keeps you out of panic mode!