Built by Barcode

It’s 90 degrees on a late June day as Edward L. “Ed” Kaplan (ME ’65) bounds into IIT Tower dressed in navy walking shorts, a navy plaid polo shirt, and fluorescent yellow athletic shoes. While his chronological age may be 75, his spirit and enthusiasm appear to be no less diminished than when he was a 26-year-old entrepreneur who, along with the late Gerhard “Gary” Cless, began to fabricate the machines and processes that would eventually form Zebra Technologies Corporation, a pioneering asset-identification company that earned $3.72 billion in revenue during fiscal year 2017.

Too hyped up to even take a seat inside the cool conference room where we meet, Kaplan stands and provides a quick object lesson on a 500-milliliter plastic bottle of purified drinking water. He turns the bottle on its side and points to the black-and-white strip of lines and numbers—the barcode—that, in a sense, comprises the cornerstone of the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship.

“We had an entry product that was better, in some ways, than other printers that were in the marketplace,” recalls Kaplan about the duo’s first barcode printer, the MODUPRINT. “But we didn’t stop there. We went into what was called thermal transfer and a revolutionary printing technology that moved Zebra Technologies into the industry leader position. The MODUPRINT could print this,” Kaplan says, gesturing to the bottle’s barcode. “But it couldn’t print it as well or as fast or for the same price as the Z-130,” he adds, acknowledging the thermal transfer device that moved the company into the top tier.

This story was featured in the fall 2018 issue of Illinois Tech Magazine. You can read the full story on the Illinois Tech Magazine website