In order to compete with other courier companies, in February 1994 Securicor’s courier service Omega started to equip its larger customers with PC based systems and thermal label printers to allow customers to become directly linked to Securicor’s tracking system.

To use the tracking system, customers load all the information concerning the number of packages to be sent that day on to a PC. The customer can then print its own bar coded parcel labels as required. The bar coded labels enable Securicor to instantly locate any parcel, because as the parcel arrives at each depot on its journey the bar code is swiped, information is logged into a computer and thus its where-about can be determined.

However the tracking system is PC based, and this prevented Securicor from installing the system with many clients who use IBM AS/400 Mini Systems. The problem for AS/400 users is that their software programmes print using an IBM print driver which does not exist for thermal label printers, and therefore Securicor’s tracking software cannot print labels.

In AS/400 environments, for users to print the parcel labels they would have to download all of the information to a PC at the beginning of the day and print labels in batches. Additionally they have to update the system at the end of the day to keep tabs on which parcels have been despatched. Essentially this would mean having a person and terminal specifically for the purpose of overseeing the printing of parcel labels. Not surprisingly most companies were not prepared to do this.

Securicor was losing potential customers because its system was not able to print from mainframes, and so it turned to About Face Solutions, an AFP reseller, to develop a solution.

Based around AFP’s PrinterFace product, About Face created the Label-Ez system to solve the problem. PrinterFace is a stand-alone printer attachment developed to produce personalised business forms using a laser printer. Ordinarily PrinterFace operates with FormsManager/2 software, also developed by AFP. About Face took the PrinterFace hardware and programmed it, enabling it to connect between an IBM AS/400 and a thermal label printer. Label-Ez allows the IBM system programmer to control the thermal label printer with text commands rather than printer escape codes which are not compatible with an IBM environment. Thus labels can be printed as required directly from the AS/400.

Label-Ez is designed for a specific market, based on PrinterFace. With Label-Ez Securicor’s tracking system is now equally effective for customers in PC and AS/400 environments. Label-Ez will connect between virtually any mainframe and a thermal printer to allow the user to print labels on demand.

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