The ultimate Swiss Army knife of the print market, the multifunction printer (MFP), settles in nicely in high-volume office environments—such as finance, banking, insurance, and legal sectors—as well in commercial print settings. As print service providers (PSPs) realize the importance of short runs and variable data, they look at new equipment to fill the gap between runs in the tens to the ten thousands. MFP manufacturers, such as Ricoh and Sharp, typically target office workgroups, but are making strides in the production space.
"The production class MFP is evolving into a tool for departments or service providers to output short run documents extremely efficiently and quickly," says Sam Yoshida, VP/GM, Enterprise System division, Canon U.S.A., Inc. "These devices facilitate the ability to offer distributed print closer to the delivery of communication. The capabilities of these solutions, including quality, paper handling, and productivity, allow these devices to play a greater role in day-to-day business communication," he adds.
As with any equipment purchase, it is important to consider the needs of the organization before implementing an MFP. Many manufacturers make this decision easier by offering consulting programs.
"Through programs such as the Professional Print Room Program, Océ helps customers assess their current situation and construct the most efficient strategy of hardware, software, and services implementation to meet their specific needs," says Tim O’Neill, director product marketing, Océ North America Document Printing Systems.
MFPs help commercial printers, quick printers, and sign shops handle projects too small for an offset run, or jobs that don’t need the speed and color quality of a digital production press. Since MFPs offer production-level speeds in both monochrome and color, and offer a digital front end option, MFPs complement any print environment.
For high-volume needs, enhanced scanning capabilities are key to improving or accentuating the technologically evolved office. MFPs negate the need for a separate high-volume scanner. Security features are also a consideration, depending on the sensitivity of an organization’s documents. Corporate marketers should consider the benefits of color and finishing capabilities. They decrease outsourcing costs for marketing collateral such as brochures, booklets, and media kits.
"Sometimes it is a better business decision to go with a product that handles higher volumes than what you are currently producing," says Leah Quesada, director, product marketing, Xerox Office Group. "This will prevent you from having to upgrade or add an additional machine a couple of months or a year down the road."
For each print/copy need there is an MFP. Depending on the manufacturer, various sales channels are available. With many MFP manufacturers selling through dealers, cost-per-page is difficult to factor and is, "not something that a manufacturer controls," says Kent J. Villarreal, senior product manager, production, Sharp Electronics Corp. He adds that cost is usually determined by the dealer and is based on how many color copies versus B&W pages are produced per month, competitive region, and what type of service contract the customer requires.
Manufacturers agree with this sentiment, adding that price per page varies based on the price plan and volume commitments, not page coverage.
Before purchasing an MFP, it is important to consider and discuss long-term costs with a vendor or dealer. Service contracts, maintenance fees, toner cost, and life expectancy all add up. Many dealers offer side by side comparisons of devices to aid prospective buyers. Find out if the machine only accepts specific paper brands, weight, and size. Research compatible third party ink or toner, and replacement parts. How will it affect the warranty if used?
To bolster security and keep expenses low, many manufacturers offer—either as a standard feature or as an option—tracking and authentication systems. These solutions allow administrators to track, and even turn off, color printing/copying access to select users in a network. This is beneficial for a number of reasons, it helps determine how many prints/copies an organization makes, calculates cost, and offers administrative control.
The Importance of Color
Color is more important now than ever. There’s no question about how it enhances printed output, and more print buyers require it. "Digital color is—beyond a doubt—the fastest growing production area our customers have at this time," explains Greg Cholmondeley, segment marketing manager, Ricoh Americas Corporation.
O’Neill adds that since color is now accessible through a wide variety of sources, Océ’s goal is to enhance productivity and raise efficiency while reducing customers’ total cost of ownership. MFPs eliminate the need for separate single function devices—copiers, printers, scanners, and fax machines. "All of this can be accomplished without compromising color quality or operating costs," he notes.
Villarreal shares that his customers feel color is very important, however they are always sensitive to cost. Sharp helps users address these costs with security features that allow administrators to track and restrict color. Sharp MFPs include the ability to restrict color usage for up to 1,000 users by an administrator. Additionally, Sharp OSA applications allow companies with existing card access systems to log into the MFP by simply swiping their company proximity card.
Kevin Kern, VP, marketing and product planning, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc. says the fact that operating costs of color dropped dramatically over the past five years, leads to elevated use of color in an organization. "Even organizations that don’t need color have several color printers," he says.
Yoshida says color is the natural choice for all communications. "The cost of color may be a concern for some, but it has not hindered the adoption of color MFPs." He continues to say that this is an indication that the benefits of color outweigh the costs.
Cholmondeley adds that when speaking of color, the interesting topic is not price compared to offset, but what digital offers that offset cannot. "Applications like personalization, variable data print (VDP), integrated marketing campaigns, forms elimination, and others provide value returns to both printers and their clients that are much greater than click costs." He says that effective purchase decisions for color printers often involve considerations of front-end solutions, new business strategies, and shifts towards value-based pricing.
Next Generation Feature Sets
The majority of MFPs offer similar feature sets and are competitively priced. So, when choosing new equipment, it is important to consider emerging trends in addition to common functionality such as duplex printing, reversing automatic document feeder, reduction, enlargement, and network connectivity.
Looking into the future, expect to see MFPs with more integration into content and document management systems, VDP capabilities, Web-to-print functionality, advanced finishing options, enhanced scanning functionality, and heightened security features.
"Features that can directly benefit the users of the MFP should be learned and taken advantage of," advises Yoshida. He suggests considering scanning capabilities and the ability to utilize information on paper. "The new MFP should not only replace the old one, but actually contribute to the work performance of its users and ultimately the whole company and its customers," he adds.
Quesada says the market is expanding to include feature sets for smaller print operations and providers entering the digital market to capitalize on "high-volume, revenue-generating applications that have historically required the use of production-level machines."
Sharp sees the market heading towards more personalized information, targeting the individual. "Our compatibility with Objectif Lune showcases this," states Villarreal. Objectif Lune is a variable data output software provider for transactional, TransPromo, and VDP needs. Sharp devices combined with Objectif Lune’s PlantPress and PrintShop Mail applications work together to offer an efficient way to design and distribute transactional/variable content in documents via print, email, fax, and archive.
Cholmondeley says customers are mostly looking for reliability, service responsiveness, productivity, and media flexibility when it comes to production environments. "Most features such as imposition, pagination, binding, and so forth, tend to be better accomplished upstream in prepress steps or post processing finishing steps," he notes. "The notable exceptions to this are in CRDs and smaller print shops where features like inline finishing, basic imposition, and scanning become very important."
The Finishing Touch
Optional capabilities such as advanced finishing are also important considerations for MFPs producing marketing collateral, booklets, and other output. Capabilities such as additional paper feeds, stapling, hole punching, and folding are easily added inline, offline, or near-line to select hardware.
"A rich inline finishing feature set of an MFP allows users to produce printed material in a booklet or a perfect bound book form without any manual intervention," explains Yoshida. "The ability of the device to also three-hole punch, Z-fold, or C-fold are big timesavers and will give customers flexibility and speed in producing professionally finished output."
Ricoh Americas Corporation’s newly released Aficio MP 6000 SP/MP 7000 SP/MP 8000 SP series offers integration with advanced external finishing options such as a cover interposer, a 100-sheet stapling finisher, the Ricoh BK5010 Production Booklet Maker, and a Z-fold unit that cuts down oversized documents to a more convenient size. Also available are two or three-hole punch units and a more advanced system that uses the inline GBC III StreamPunch unit with interchangeable die set to accommodate nine types of hole punching.
Currently, Sharp has a relationship with finishing equipment manufacturer, GBC, offering the GBC SreamPunch on its code name Hercules line of monochrome products—also known as the MX-M850/M950/M1100. Villarreal says the company is now pursuing additional finishing options for this line to further enhance this award-winning product. In addition to the GBC StreamPunch, the Hercules devices currently offer 100-sheet stapling, Z-fold, saddle-stitching, and post process insertion. An optional EFI Fiery print controller is also available which offers users more advanced workflow tools for production environments.
The "Green" Consideration
Environmental concerns and growing regulations attest to the fact that green is not simply a trend, but a real concern in the print industry. Although the U.S. has yet to finalize its green standards, the commercial print industry finding ways to reduce energy consumption and increase recyclability on their own.
ENERGY STAR is a joint program between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy designed to save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices. In 2007 ENERGY STAR raised its criteria for office and imaging equipment, making it more difficult for MFPs to earn the certification. Even with these stringent requirements, many MFPs tout the ENERGY STAR logo; check for this symbol when looking for an energy-efficient printing solution.
Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc. is already embracing environmental initiatives such as the Reduction of Haz-ardous Substances compliance, a directive restricting the use of materials such as lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and two types of polybromic fire retardants.
Canon is another vendor focusing its attention on the environment. "In manufacturing, Canon strives to eliminate and reduce harmful chemical substances used the process," says Yoshida.
Canon works hard to observe and respect international environmental programs, including recommendations of the ENERGY STAR program.
Digital printing technology already helps reduce environmental impact, such as the amount of ink and paper wasted through the process of eliminating makeready. Cost-effective short runs allow for reduced warehousing and out-of-date prints that would most likely end up in the trash bin. MFPs with enhanced scanning functionality and integration into content and document management systems offer more ways to archive documents and decrease the amount of output.
Associated Grocers, Inc.
Associated Grocers Inc. offers its organization of retailers a decreased cost of goods through associated buying power. Founded in 1950, the association also offers over 240 members a full line of services including accounting, advertising, equipment and design services, marketing, retail technology, and procurement and merchandising. With this extensive support service, all 17 of the associations benefit from digital technology.
Tammy E. Walker, printing services manager, Associated Grocers, turned to Applied Business Concepts, a Sharp dealer based out of Baton Rouge, LA, to help sooth frustrations with current print operations. Applied Business Concepts first sold Associated Grocers a Duplo DP-63P digital duplicator, then expanded the relationship by suggesting Sharp MFPs. Jeff Ragusa of Applied Business Concepts recalls Associated Grocers’ unique purchasing experience, they traveled to Sharp headquarters in NJ where they received hands-on time with machines in the competitor lab. "We wanted the best opportunity for evaluations," says Ragusa.
Today, Associated Grocers utilizes a variety of digital print and finishing equipment, including a Sharp MX-M950, Sharp MX-6201N, a Xerox DocuPrint 115, Canon’s ImageRunner 8500, and the aforementioned Duplo digital duplicator. Walker is still looking to add to that list. Ragusa says their operation could easily utilize at least two new Sharp B&W MFPs.
Associated Grocers’ high volume sets them apart.Using their Sharp MFPs, the company produces a monthly volume of a quarter of a million pages.
To attest to the ease-of-use and satisfaction provided by Sharp production-class MFPs, Robyn R. White, director of corporate communications and publications, Associated Grocers, Inc. gives an example. "I recently had a project late on a Friday evening that needed to get out to retail that day. I decided I could do it myself on the new color copier," recalls White. She had no training on the machine, but was able to finish the project in time with great results.
A perfect example of MFPs going beyond office copying and toward light production, Associated Grocers’ print service division uses its Sharp devices to produce monthly full-color merchandising books. Depending on the issue layout, 25 to 30 pages are full color, which are inserted with 25 to 30 pages B&W. The books consist of the best price and item on grocery deals along with surveys for early bookings at promotional cost.
The Next Step
You need an MFP but it’s not as easy as picking one up at Staples or Office Max. So, what is the next step to purchasing the right MFP? There are two main channels for obtaining MFPs—direct sales from the manufacturer and dealers. The manufacturer determines these channels.
Most often, manufacturers want dealers or direct sales offices in key geographical locations to provide their customers with service technicians that are close by. We asked key vendors to give us an idea of how they sell their brands.
Ricoh’s Production Print Business Group (PPBG) products are sold through direct sales for PPBG, Ricoh Business Solutions, and dealer channels.
Sharp sells its complete line of MFPs and printers via a network of dealers throughout the U.S. The company directs interested customers to their Web site to find an authorized dealer in the area.
About 55 percent of Toshiba America Business Solutions’ business is generated from the independent dealer channel (BTA), 35 percent from Toshiba Business Solutions, and the remaining ten percent from the mega-dealer channel.
Xerox sells its segment five and six—70+ pages per minute—products through Xerox Direct Sales, authorized Xerox agents, authorized IT Advantage resellers, and Global Imaging Systems—a company that sells and services document management systems acquired by Xerox in 2007.
Manufacturers may choose to sell their products through a combination of any of these sales channels, but the most important factor for the customer to consider is service and maintenance. These machines are built to last—with proper care—so it is beneficial to have a comfortable relationship with your dealer and/or manufacturer.
One Device for All Your Needs
With production-class features, MFPs are not confined to the office. These workhorses generate high volumes of output daily to complement a PSP’s existing operations. In an office setting, they offer a strong and reliable gateway into in-house independence. The MFP is working to fill the void between office printers and high-speed digital production presses. dps