In today’s office, most computer systems and equipment are usually expected to perform a variety of functions and services. Notebook computers, for example, function as teleconferencing systems when used with the appropriate software. Storage products can be shared across a network and even help boost network access speeds when used with optimization and prioritization software. Built-in wireless technologies and cellular routers have also been enhanced and expanded to provide collaborative “hot spots” and shared connections to the Internet.
Printers are no exception to this multi-tasking productivity approach. Standalone fax, copier and print products have given way to multi-tasking devices that do it all and at speeds and capacities far times greater than isolated technology islands.
In order to be classified as a multifunction printer (MFP), a device must be able to perform at least two of the following functions: Printing, scanning, copying and faxing. The conventional definition usually calls for these systems to have a base function as well. For example, a digital copy machine might also include a fax and binding capability, while a fax machine might also connect to a PC for printing, scanning and copying duties.
MFPs designed for heavy demands
However, the latest crop of high-performance MFPs feature high-resolution output, extended paper capacities, such built-in functions as electronic sorting and stacking, and in many cases wireless and network-ready capabilities. They can also be very compact, taking up very little desk and office space The Dell 1135n, for instance, is a sleek four-in-one device that can print, scan, copy and fax. It includes its own processor and memory (128MB, offers a print speed of 23 pages/min (ppm), and is Ethernet-compatible (so it can easily be hardwire-connected to an office network).
Canon USA is also heavily focused on the business MFP market, in particular with its ImageRunner ADVANCE Series. These printers provide high output speeds (up to 105 ppm with the imageRUNNER ADVANCE 8105 model), extra-large paper trays (with a maximum capacity of up to 7,700 sheets), and they can print in both black-and-white and color. They also feature single-pass duplex scanning technology, which allows capture of both sides of a two-sided original in a single pass, a definite plus when it comes to improved workflow and productivity.
Canon, Xerox and HP were recently cited by Gartner as “leaders” in its Magic Quadrant for developing effective MFPs and printing solutions and services to the business market.
Since many MFPs are network-ready and designed to handle heavy demands, they can definitely help boost productivity in the office by functioning as a centralized print and document management station. The benefits include a significant cost savings in paper reduction and ink costs (since personal printers are eliminated) and a simplified workflow (documents can be printed and collated by some of the more advanced systems).
Printing without wires
Wireless is an attractive feature in MFPs, and with technology products in general. Over the next five years, the number of Wi-Fi-enabled devices is expected to increase from over 500 million in 2009 to almost 2 billion in 2014, according to market researcher In-Stat. Most of these devices will be digital televisions, Blu-ray layers and eReaders, although printers, multifunction peripherals, digital cameras, mobile PCs and smartphones are also in the mix, notes In-Stat.
Wireless may not be a deal breaker when it comes to selecting the right MFP for your office application. A lot of companies may decide to pass on wireless in favor of hardwired Ethernet to avoid any potential security risks, and separate an office print station from a wireless network that may be offered to visitors as a convenience. Wireless may also involve a separate investment in routers and gateways, as well as additional layers of security, support and user management (authentication, prioritization, etc.).
There are, however, a number of things you should keep I mind when looking for the right MFP for your office, according to the folks at Xerox which is among the top three MFP makers.
- Understand your requirements. What exactly do you expect from your MFP beyond just printing and copying? How many users will be using it, and do you have a need for color as well as black and white printing?
- How critical is workflow management and maintaining costs? While most other printers are designed to be commodities, MFPs are designed to be centralized print stations, so it is important o analyze and understand the costs beyond the initial price of the system. In the business world, this means taking a hard look at the total cost of ownership (TCO), which includes the cost of ink and other supplies. There are also support costs to be considered, especially if you find out the system you bought is unreliable or lacks the features you really wanted in the first place.
- Understand your network requirements. If workers can’t easily connect and communicate with the MFP then it pretty much defeats the whole purpose of having a centralized print station. Connectivity seems simple enough, but there may be deployment issues lurking that involve your individual network and authorization schemes. Also, does the printer come with software or wizards that help guide you through installation, troubleshooting, and upgrading?
- Does the device truly multi-task, or is it stuck in a sequential world where only one function works at a time and the potential for bottlenecks are great? If you have a lot of users trying to do different things at the same time, then a true MFP print station should be able to juggle and queue these tasks. MFPs should not be confused with “all-in-one” printers, which offer printing, scanning and faxing, but can only do these one at a time.
- Does the printer offer bi-directional printing capabilities? Being able to communicate with an MFP in real time is critical to improving and maintaining a positive workflow. You should be able to get status reports on your desktop, notebook and even your handheld if you are working in a wireless environment. Ideally, you should also be able to view al pending print jobs across the network to see where yours is sitting, and perhaps bump it up a bit if your priority and pay scale are a little higher than others in line.
The full list of tips on selecting the right multifunction printer for your applications is available at the Xerox small business printing Web site.