Zebra: Keeping Its Stripes

In a recent initiative, President Clinton has set the goal to cut medical
errors by 50% over the next five years. True, there will be some
whiz-bang technologies to help out. But sometimes low-tech solutions can be
just as effective. A case in point is bar coding. This technology can be
used for such things as patient charts, wristbands, lab texts and x-rays.
A company that is a leader in the field is Zebra Technologies .

Zebra offers a comprehensive line of bar code printers. They range from
industrial to office use. Its latest printer is the Xi Series. The printer
provides for alerts for error notification, as well as Web-enabled
monitoring and configuration. You know the status of your printer –
anytime, anywhere. There are more than 1.5 million Zebra printers
installed.

Zebra also has software products. Bar-One is an easy-to-use graphical
program to help design bar code labels. With JetForm Central, you can then
transform ERP data into bar codes.

But Zebra has been continuing to innovate. One of the most promising areas
is wireless. In fact, Zebra recently purchased a privately-held company
called Comtec Information Systems. The company is a leader in the
development of wireless thermal printing solutions.

To further the innovation, Zebra entered a strategic alliance with Texas
Instruments to develop wireless applications for chain logistics
applications (that is, warehouse management). The companies will work on
such cutting-edge technologies as smart labels, high-powered readers and
advanced encoders.

In the past quarter, Zebra generated net sales of $128 million, which was up
from $97.3 million in the same period a year ago. Net income was an
impressive $21.5 million, which was up from $17.9 million. The company also
announced a buyback of 2 million shares.

So far, it looks like the purchase of Comtec has been a smart move. It has
added key technologies and has also been accretive to earnings. Expect
similar acquisitions.

Also, the wireless market should help to accelerate the growth-rate of
Zebra, as it develops the key standards with Texas Instruments. True, bar
coding is not sexy technology, but it is very profitable.

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