Thermal-Transfer Printed Badges


Identity crisis averted with thermal-transfer printed badges

Austin Travel goes the distance with SATO's proven CL412 printer for business conference badges

Austin Travel is a corporate travel agency that puts on large business conferences. That's simple enough. But when its client is a major producer of bar code scanners, print quality on ID badges is critical. So, the largest corporate travel agency on Long Island turned to SSE Technologies and the proven printing system from SATO America, to create quality conference ID badges.

During previous conferences of the scanner maker, Symbol Technologies laser-printed ID badges with the person's name, Symbol's logo and a bar code were not up to the print quality Austin Travel required. Adding to the dilemma, on-site registrants and those needing ID badge corrections sometimes had to wait 30 minutes for a newly printed ID badge. It was a situation for which Austin demanded a remedy.

"I'm not a bar code company, I'm a travel agency, but we wanted to show the client we can simplify these things," says Stuart Austin, senior vice president of information technology at the family-owned Austin Travel.

Austin Travel avoided a tailspin with a thermal-transfer printer from SATO America, one of the largest suppliers of thermal printers worldwide. The recommendation for the new system came from Elmont, NY-based system's integrator SSE Technologies. Now, Symbol can scan not only a linear bar code on attendee badges, but also scan its newer two-dimensional PDF417 bar code added to the ID badges for increased data storage.

Solutions to problems keep SSE Technologies on its proverbial toes. SSE Technologies assessed Austin's needs, recommended the SATO CL412, a 305 dpi printer, merged Symbol's attendee database into the SATO software and provided support for the technical software. The solution gave Austin Travel increased control over the printing process and real-time badge printing capability. It gave Symbol Technologies the ability to find out who attended conference sessions by scanning the bar codes encoding registrants first and last names.

"The bar-coded badges definitely help in many facets of the conference," says Joseph Spaccarelli, senior manager of event marketing. "It helps us determine which sessions attendees go to, tracks registration packets and promotional giveaways, lets us compare pre-registration with on-site registration and those names with absentees, helps exhibitors when conference participants come to their booth to keep inquiry records, and helps us do conference evaluation surveys afterward."

Before purchasing the CL412 SATO unit, SSE had Austin Travel test a smaller-sized SATO printer. "I know it's not the one you need, it's very small, but try it and see," SSE's Dave Murray urged. The trial was successful. "Dave was the one who put me to the right printer. He helped me choose a printer without paying $10,000 first," says Austin.

"We went with the heavy-duty CL412 SATO thermal printer to achieve a readable bar code. That made it easier to print the ID badges. We printed close to 2,000 badges at the last meeting; did all printing ahead of time; then shipped the printer on-site, at the registration area, for those last-minute changes," says Austin.

The new printer has made a world of difference in how the ID badges are assembled and on-site changes made. "A few years ago, we made badges for a 1,200-person meeting. To get the bar code onto the label, we had to do a manual macro (short software code) through Word for every attendee. It was not a good procedure," says Austin.

On-site changes, usually requested by 5% to 10% of attendees, are now easily and proudly accomplished.

"Normally we sat in a back room and you'd come to the front registration table with a badge showing wrong information," says Austin. "You filled out a new form, we ran it to the back room where the printer was located and entered the new information, printed it out, and ran it back to the registration table. By the time this was done and you were to get the badge, it got lost. Now we locate the SATO printer at the front table and it takes 30 seconds to hand you a corrected badge," says Austin.

"We feel comfortable (producing the label before an attendee) because we know you are going to get a clear label. Before that, it may have taken two to three tries. Also, there were six labels on a page and we had to wait for five other 'customers' or we had to waste five labels. We couldn't say, 'can you hold on while I wait for five more people?' just to conserve paper," says Austin.

The SATO printer made the job more streamlined: having a simple label printer at the front desk enabled Austin Travel to print each badge independently -- no wasted paper or time constraints "which are not fun."

In addition, the information is presented differently on the ID badges. Prior to using the SATO printer, Austin used color coding to indicate the various breakout sessions available at the conference. Sometimes this caused scanning issues. "Now we have text to indicate the different sessions.

A memory card was also added to the printer so that two bar codes could be accommodated on every badge. "You didn't run out of memory. If I had to use the laser printer, it would have cost $300/day because I'd need a larger printer with more memory to print both PDF417 and Code 128."

"We're hoping to work more closely with Symbol Technologies to make it still easier so that when you register we will swipe the bar codes into our database too," says Austin. "Symbol swipes it into their database so they know who went to which session, but we've never used it for our records."

Because of its success, the travel agency now uses the system for other corporate events as well. "Our goal is not to just print customer's ID labels with the SATO printer, but to use it internally. It is such a clean printer and the stock, purchased through SSE Technologies, is great. It can slip right into the badge holders. It's fast; it's easy."

Austin Travel has arranged corporate travel and business meetings for 46 years and expects to do about $125 million in sales this year. Larry Austin is now chairman and CEO; Jeffery is president and COO; Jamie is senior vice president for sales and account manager; and Stuart is senior vice president of information technology.

"This is exciting," Stuart Austin says of the new bar code label printing system. "It's a part of the information industry I would never touch it if wasn't part of Symbol. We're learning and hopefully will work more closely with Symbol for our own internal programs. Now more bar code scanning applications are opening up." All it required was the proven printing quality of a thermal-transfer printer from SATO America.



Stuart Austin, Senior VP of Information Technology,
Austin Travel, (516) 465-1069,

Joseph Spaccarelli, Sr. Manager Event Marketing,
Symbol Technologies, Inc., (631) 738-5582,

David L. Murray, Vice President,
SSE Technologies, Inc., (516) 872-9001,

SATO America, Inc.
10350A Nations Ford Road Charlotte, NC 28273
Phone: (704) 644-1650
Fax: (704) 644-1659