July 6, 2021 

When Is Time-Based Preventative Maintenance My Best Option?

Worker performing time-based preventative maintenance on coding and marking systems.

Time-based maintenance is the most common preventative care approach when it comes to industrial printing. Also referred to as “periodic maintenance,” time-based maintenance helps companies avoid hardware problems through regularly scheduled system upkeep. By performing routine maintenance at set time intervals, operations can ensure that their marking systems remain efficient and functional for maximum uptime. 

Despite the value and popularity of time-based maintenance, it is not the best approach for every company. Aspects like hardware specifics, environmental factors, and usage patterns all differ from operation to operation, with each factor influencing the effectiveness of time-based upkeep. 

Think of automotive maintenance, for example—although mechanics generally recommend semiannual oil changes, external factors often accelerate this timetable. If someone is driving more than a thousand miles within a matter of weeks, waiting six months for an oil change can lead to blown gaskets, warped engine parts, and other expensive hardware issues. The same principle applies to industrial marking hardware, as overwork and harsh conditions can damage printer parts and lead to pervasive coding mistakes

Is time-based preventative maintenance right for your coding and marking system? Here we will examine the situations where time-based upkeep is the best option, as well as instances where an alternative approach is preferable.

When Is Time-Based Preventative Maintenance Right for Me?

Generally, time-based preventative maintenance is common practice with most forms of industrial printing hardware. Continuous inkjet printers and high-resolution case coders require periodic ink and filter changes as well as regular system evaluations, and it’s important to ensure these hardware replacements and assessments are done in a timely manner to prolong the life of your printing consumables.

The Importance of Changing Printing Consumables

Both ink formulas and filters have limited lifespans. After their use-by dates, these consumables not only lose effectiveness but also cause larger issues throughout the entire printer. With time-based preventative maintenance, operators can ensure that their printer’s ink and filters are taken care of before they can cause any issues. 

When Expert Analysis Becomes Necessary

Beyond formula and filter changes, time-based preventative maintenance also provides opportunities for expert system evaluations. A certain amount of wear and tear occurs with daily printer operation—for example, old ink particles can accumulate over time in printheads and umbilical cords. If these particles are not periodically taken care of, they can cause blockages throughout the system, leading to overall failure and excessive downtime as a result. Regular maintenance appointments eliminate these problems by allowing experts to weigh in on whether certain components need to be cleaned, replaced, or if they should receive any additional treatment. 

To summarize, your printing system will benefit from time-based preventative maintenance if it:

  • Requires periodic ink and filter changes.
  • Contains parts that require regular cleaning (e.g. printheads, umbilical cords, ink cores, etc.).
  • Is liable to run into issues without routine inspections.

When Should I Look for an Alternative Maintenance Plan?

While time-based maintenance plans are largely standard in the industry, there are still many situations that benefit from either a more hands-on approach or a more reactive stance. These instances are largely dictated by hardware choice and environmental factors. Depending on specifics, these elements can affect whether a system can operate for years without receiving maintenance or if it should be examined regularly.

Maintenance-Free Hardware

A laser marking system engraving code onto a plastic pipe.

Above we touched on why CIJ printers and high-resolution case coders benefit from time-based maintenance plans—their systems require periodic ink/filter changes and expert evaluations. However, not all industrial marking hardware utilizes ink or filters, and therefore some systems can forego regular maintenance. 

The thermal inkjet (TIJ) printer is a great example of maintenance-free hardware. Like CIJ printers, TIJ machines are powered by removable ink cartridges. However, the construction of TIJ cartridges differs greatly from the cartridges used in CIJ printers. TIJ ink cartridges are very compact, easily removed, and act as the machine’s printhead. Accordingly, any time there is a printhead issue with a TIJ printer, the problem can be resolved by simply changing the ink cartridge. The construction of TIJ cartridges also eliminates the need for filters and umbilicals, enabling maintenance-free operation. 

Other marking systems with limited maintenance needs include:

  • Laser marking systems: Laser systems have fewer maintenance needs than many printers due to the absence of ink. While fume extraction filters should be inspected and changed periodically, laser systems overall can be maintained without a time-based maintenance plan. After approximately ten years, however, all lenses should be cleaned and tubes should be replaced.
  • Thermal transfer overprinters (TTO): TTO machines feature very basic inner construction. The lack of moving parts allows TTO machines to operate well for years without the need for professional intervention. Users simply need to clean or replace the rollers, check the drive belt for wear, and inspect the printhead every once in a while.

How Work Environments Impact Hardware Longevity

Simply put, the more extreme the work environment, the more attention printing hardware requires. Although many newer printer models feature impressive environmental resistance—the Anser X1 thermal inkjet printer, for example, offers water protection, complete dust particle protection, up to a 90 percent operating humidity range, and a temperature range of 32-104°F—every piece of equipment has its limits. 

Extreme temperatures, humidity, and dust exposure all increase how frequently marking hardware should receive preventative maintenance.

  • High temperatures automatically increase ink consumption, requiring more cleanup.
  • Low temperatures age ink at a faster rate, increasing the frequency of formula changes.
  • High humidity causes ink to thin, which can negatively impact printheads.
  • Low humidity thickens ink, potentially leading to the threat of system clogging.
  • Dust particles can enter printers, leading to hardware damages and ink problems.

In these scenarios, users should seek out expert help to determine the best maintenance approach and learn what daily steps they should take to prevent any problems that could potentially cause more downtime. Extreme environmental factors cannot be taken lightly and will likely require a more hands-on approach than time-based preventative maintenance plans allow for.

Keep Your Marking Hardware in Top Shape by Keeping Up with the Industry’s Best Practices

Time-based preventative maintenance is often the best way to keep marking hardware highly functional and effective. Although certain systems require less frequent maintenance and environmental factors can require a hands-on maintenance approach, time-based maintenance is a great way to secure maximum uptime for your operation. 

To learn more ways to increase operational efficiency, keep an eye on C&M Digest. With the latest news coverage, brand reviews, industry info, and solution discussion, C&M Digest is your go-to source for industrial coding and marking. 

Stay connected with C&M Digest by subscribing to our newsletter. With information on time-based preventative maintenance and other important marking topics, our newsletter will keep you updated on the latest industry developments. To get in touch with us about possible collaborations or ideas for coverage, contact us today.

C&M Digest Team

The C&M Digest Team is composed of experts from across the coding and marking world. Comprised of ink developers, hardware veterans, and engineers, our News Team delivers informed coverage that is always free from brand bias.

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