Datamax-O’Neil Performance Series Meets the Challenge of Small Text and Copious Data on Cryogenic Labels

Posted March 13, 2015

Datamax-O'Neil p1120n Near-Edge Thermal Barcode Label PrinterFor a leading ISO 13485:2003-certified OEM manufacturer of enzymes, meeting the rigorous demands of commercial entities engaged in the development, manufacture, and distribution of platforms dedicated to nucleic-acid identification is a daily challenge. Enzymes are critical to the performance of these applications, and the industry’s relentless pursuit of higher performance emphasizes the need for analytical-reagent purity and absolute production consistency. Operating from the perspective that they are “a manufacturing division of their customer,” the company consistently delivers the highest quality and value enzymes, leveraging them to drive customer success via a business partnership model. Part of that consistent delivery means labeling goods so that they are easily and accurately identified when they arrive in the lab.


When enzymes are manufactured, they start in batches of 50-gallon vats, and then are broken down into small vials as part of a kit sold to research and testing facilities. These vials must be labeled individually; the labels include a great deal of data, two-dimensional barcodes, and very small type. Because of the temperatures at which they need to be maintained, cryogenic polypropylene labels are used.

“With the printers they had installed, they were having problems with registration and print quality, primarily due to the small size of the labels,” says Dana Ritchie, principal at PaladinID LLC, a Laconia, N.H.-based specialist in barcode labeling. “It was a label and ribbon issue, a clarity and quality issue.”

Along with registration issues, the legacy printers were having problems with label drift. Further, consistency of printhead pressure was problematic: operators had to make a judgment regarding how much head pressure to apply; consequently, the manual setting could easily vary from operator to operator. This could very well affect consistency of print.


Ritchie recommended a switch to the Datamax-O’Neil Performance Series 1120n Near-Edge printer, which he describes as “designed for this kind of challenging application.” The first of printer was installed in August 2011. Three more have been purchased subsequently; and as the company phases out the balance of its legacy printers, it’s committed to replacing them with the 1120n.

“Because the 1120n is a near-edge printer, it does a fantastic job on the polypropylene labels,” says Ritchie. “It was designed for thicker and hard-to-image materials.” The 1120n’s near-edge printhead increases reliability and provides clean, crisp graphics and ladder barcodes, which results in a higher scan rating. Further, it has a one-million inch or one-year printhead warranty—twice that of most printhead warranties on the market today.

Other key benefits also made the 1120n a compelling choice:

  • Auto-loading – The auto-loading feature of the 1120n represented a key step forward. On the legacy printers, two to three feet of label stock would get kicked out to calibrate the labels properly; the 1120n calibrates with one label. Because cryogenic labels are expensive, this enabled significant savings in material cost.
  • Automatic control of printhead pressure – As noted above, manual control of printhead pressure was a potential source of quality issues. With the 1120n, printhead pressure is electronically controlled; it is set once and followed automatically. It’s exact.
  • Gear-driven performance – The 1120n eliminates the belts and pulleys used in most common label printer designs. Instead, it uses motor-driven gears that offer increased reliability and better label print registration.
  • Die-cast construction; center-biased printhead – The 1120n is designed to last and is built with a solid aluminum die-cast frame that resists bending or rusting. Unlike frames that can bend or warp, the printhead mechanism mounts on the bottom of the frame and is center-biased so it is always balanced.


Since its implementation, the 1120n has been kicking out perfect labels for the biotech concern—hundreds of thousands annually. There hasn’t been a single maintenance issue over that time.

“They’ve bought an applicator since we first installed, so now they’re doing much larger runs,” says Ritchie. The printer accepts a 600-meter roll of labels, so the company can put in a large roll and go.

From an operational perspective, the benefits have been outstanding:

  • Faster, smoother labeling operations—no lost time due to poor quality
  • Easier set up and operation through faster calibration and automatic control of printhead pressure
  • Material-cost savings
  • Labor savings—no maintenance required in over two years of operation

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