Mobile printing from SAP

Mobile printing has always been difficult for software developers and Value Added Resellers-like us. Printers do not have simple ways to print or use common operating systems like Windows CE or Android. Each printer model has its own proprietary operating system. Then on top of custom operating systems, the actual printing language is proprietary; you’ve got your ZPL, ZPL II, EPL, ZBI just to name a popular few.

The proprietary operating systems on mobile printers in all cases limited what device hardware could be used. Each manufacturer had special software API (programmer interface) and SDK (development kits) that needed to be used when printing to mobile printer. This limited options to our customers and require a single brand only solution.

Now you have to connect to a device that commands the printer. You can use a cable. Otherwise there is the more complex “cable-less”. With cable-less you add the complexity of Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth pairing. The point here is mobile printing is messy because of the lack of standards. However, over time smart folks have developed standards. Even better applied existing standards to mobile printing. A great example is the Zebra QLn220. 

Recently we at Supply Chain Services had a requirement for mobile printing that had to meet the following needs:

  • Cable-less mobile printing
  • Multiple user devices to share and print to 1 mobile printer
  • Device use SAP HTML web page

For all the reasons I’ve already described, this is a complicated requirement to meet. Bluetooth is out, because that is 1 to 1. So the printers have to be Wi-Fi enabled, and on the network, just like the office printer. The new Zebra QLn220 has an interesting feature. It can be a “web server”. Once it is on the wireless network, you can browse to it with a web browser like Chrome. Now the web page returned won’t be that interesting, however it is the use of this existing standard for communication that is most important.

When you open your web browser and visit a web site, say Facebook.com. You are sending a command to Facebook that says “send me a web page”. Behind the scenes you send other commands “Upload this image” and “Show correct spelling”. If we apply this to the Zebra QLn220 we can send web browser type commands like “print this ZPL file” or “send me battery state”. 

It is easy for developers to use this method because it is a standard they are used to. No differently that you speak the same English language whether you are on a land line, cell phone, or walkie-talkie. The way those devices work is different, but the messages send across is standard, spoken English. You don’t change how you speak just because you are on a cell phone, wireless headset, or a land line. 

Using the Zebra QLn220, we can now meet the original customer requirements:

  • Cable-less mobile printing = Put printer on Wi-Fi network with an IP address
  • Multiple devices to 1 printer = Printer is networked and can be reached by devices on same network
  • SAP HTML web page. = Send ZPL print commands via HTTP post from the web page on the device

The best part about this standard is it does not need any proprietary software. Older mobile Zebra printers and printers from other manufacturers all needed specific software installed on the device to print. “Enterprise Browser” and it’s forefather “Pocket Browser” was a requirement for web page mobile printing. Now with web service printing, this software is not needed AND you can mix and match devices. Say a MC92N with Android or a CK71 with Windows Mobile can both print to a Zebra QLn printer with Web Service printing.

Mobile printing is becoming easier to implement because the manufacturers are moving towards standards that are cross platform. SAP and other web based Enterprise software can take advantage of this web service protocol. For more information about how Supply Chain Services can use techniques like these to streamline your processes Contact us today!

Written by: Andy Berry, IT Director at Supply Chain Services

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