Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Our First Laser Printer

We decided to purchase a laser printer so we could print bill of materials sheets for each job. I managed to find a used HP LaserJet cheap. This was the original LaserJet printer model and had only 128K of RAM. This was fine, except if you wanted to print graphics. You could not even draw a half page of black and white graphics with 128K. This also meant that there was very little room to load fonts into the printer. The saving grace was that there was a font cartridge slot. I bought one of those super font cartridges that had lots of fonts. It turns out that we really only needed one font. I don't remember which one we used, but it was a small monospaced font.

The printer had a serial port, not a Centronics printer port. Normally this would have been considered a limitation, but this was perfect for our shop floor control system which I was building around Arnet multiport RS-232 cards.

I needed to learn just a little bit of Hewlett Packard's PCL (printer control language) to make the LaserJet do its thing. I wrote some code in Smalltalk to drive the printer. Depending on how complex the board design was, these bills of materials sometimes had a lot of information on them. It was somehow very satisfying to produce software that would drive a printer elsewhere in the building. I had never done that before.

The printer was located up in the engineering department, and after they designed a circuitboard for an order they would fill in some fields into the shop floor control system and print out the bill of materials on the LaserJet.

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