Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Zebra ZXP8 Contact Station

[update: See later blog post for more on this fiasco]

I am very disappointed with Zebra. We ordered one of their ZXP8 card printers. It is, overall, a good printer, and one of the few that can cope with printing on SIM cards.

Most printers try to print directly on the card. This works with a smooth blank plastic card, but not well on the rougher surface of a SIM card. The ZXP8 prints, instead, on a transfer ribbon, and then does a pressure/heat transfer on to the card. This allows it to print right to the edge of the card and cope with the cut outs and contacts found on a SIM. It is not perfect, but very good for the job.

Like most commercial card printers it has encoding options which are add-ons at extra cost that allow you to encode the card in some way. The main options you would expect are magnetic encoding (the mag stripe on the back), contact encoding (like chip and PIN cards, or SIM cards), and contactless encoding (like Oyster cards).

The ZXP8 offers three encoding options which (a) magnetic (b) contact station, and (c) contact and contactless (mifare) encoding.

As we only needed contact cards for SIMs I ordered the "contact station". FYI, they also list the interfaces on the unit as Ethernet and USB only.

When we got the printer we could not figure out how to use the contact station. The applications said contact station installed but in other places said "encoder: none", so it was confusing. It also had no serial number in the config, or serial number for the print head, and various other obvious omissions, so we assumed it was an error.

It has taken 5 months of various emails back and forth, and us installing some windows software and running tests and all sorts to finally get the answer that the "contact station" does not actually talk to the card at all.

No, the contact station is simply the contacts to connect the card, that are run to a 9 way D-type on the back. No electronics at all. A 9 way D-type is not one of the listed "interfaces" in the spec. But they knew this from the serial/model number and could have told us on the very first email we sent. 5 months to tell us is crazy.

Now they want nearly £500 for the upgrade kit, and the reseller was prepared to send that to us. We have the service manual we found on-line and it is simple enough. But guess what, they won't sell us the upgrade kit. We have to pay another £500 and send it back to them (for weeks?) to have it fitted.

The answer? Well, a 9 way D-type we found in the build room; one of the cherry keyboards with card reader from the skip (had coffee tipped over the keyboard but card reader worked still); a soldering iron; a raspberry PI. And now we have a card reader attached to the printer. Probably under £100 of parts even if bought new. But it works, and we can buy the parts again if we need. Just so annoying. MacGyver would have been proud.

In short I feel let down by Zebra
  1. The advertising is misleading - if you only want contact cards you would naturally assume the "contact station" is the option you want
  2. They took 5 months to tell me, and even internally their staff did not know that the contact station was so pointless. Nobody said [waves hand] "These aren't the encoding options you are looking for".
  3. They won't sell the upgrade kit.
Not the way to do business really.

P.S. Yes, as this bodge is likely to be permanent now, I will 3D print a case.

Update: Zebra have said, on this occasion, they will send someone to install the upgrade for free, if we buy the upgrade itself, having agreed it was very misleading. So some progress.

11 comments:

  1. One of those "now they tell us" bits of spec... really annoying. Often like the tantalising "dummy buttons" on things that imply there's a better version of the same thing. Often there is, but sometimes there isn't. Finding out who knows about it is not always easy. Did the "contact station" option cost a lot?

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  2. I think I mentioned this before on a previous thread about your Zebra ZXP8…

    We’ve had no end of problems with our Zebra ZXP3 printer drivers. It does work fine on our one and only PC running windows 7 32bit, however the rest of our machines are 64bit, which is where we are having the issues.

    The most common issue is the printer hanging after we’ve printed our 1st card, a reboot of the computer trying to print will allow another print, not good!

    We’ve also tried installing it on our SBS server and sharing it out over the network, not a great move! It continually crashes the print spooler, taking the rest of our printer’s offline!

    Tried contacting Zebra support, nothing they can do, they’re a third party call centre! They will however pass on our findings!

    We’ve given up any hope of having it resolved (we’ve had it for a couple of years now). Suffice to say, we won't be purchasing any further Zebra products!

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  3. But have you costed the time you and your staff spent on doing this?

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    Replies
    1. Did it myself in half an hour or so.

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  4. I wonder how they'd react if you tried to return the 5 month old, used printer, for a full refund since it didn't do what was advertised...

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  5. As I read the options you described, I was naturally suspicious that the "contact station" was just that, a set of contacts that would enable you to interface with the card. The contact & contactless encoding would suggest some electronics that enabled encoding, but the contact station did not. I'd have gotten clarification that the encoding required could have been performed personally.

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  6. Out of interest how are you personalising the SIM cards? Are you setting up your own Authentication Centre and setting the ICCID, IMSI, Ki yourselves on each card and then making a UK wide roaming agreement or are you getting them with core info preprogrammed and just changing minimal info?

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    Replies
    1. The SIMs are pre-loaded, and roaming is via multiple identities. We are customising by an OTA update to set operator name.

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    2. Do they behave sensibly on iThings (displaying A&A for operator, permitting tethering etc), or does that require additional magic and funny handshakes with Apple to enable? Lack of tethering was an irritating shortcoming of Giffgaff's service: apparently, the fact "their" SIMs were actually O2 ones confused things.

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    3. The iPhones ignore the settings to display operator logo not network, shame. It shows burried in a menu. I am asking about setting tethering.

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  7. I've had serious grief with "strange" printers. I won't mention the firm, but I worked on a label printer whose job was to produce labels one at a time for labelling food boxes off the production line. I discovered that some of the features in the manual just didn't work as described. Some didn't work at all!
    So I wrote the software to work according what the printer I had could do. The person I was working for then took the software (tested by me, and working) and installed it at a client's, and it turned out *their* printer (same make/model) didn't work the same way! He blamed me for writing software that didn't work, we fell out over it and I haven't worked for him since.

    I lost a lot of money on that as I didn't get paid for all the time I'd spent, so in henceforth I won't touch printers that aren't mass-produced ones!

    Cheers,
    Howard

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