What do architectural engineering and construction companies, municipalities, fine art studios, museums, and manufacturers of precision aircraft and geographic information systems have in common? Like any business—they all face the challenge of managing documents in an increasingly digital world. More specifically, they need to manage, archive, and protect large, often valuable, one-of-a-kind documents.
The use of large format scanners is on the rise and with good reason—modern large-format scanners enable users in all types of environments to transform legacy paper documents into accessible digital archives. Once digitized, they can be integrated readily into a digital workflow for enhanced security, convenience, emergency access, customer service, productivity, document reproduction, distribution, and control.
Today’s scanners have come a long way—the large format scanning market is evolving as users look for effective ways to scan monochrome and color documents; easily clean up scanned files; and integrate them with print, copy, and digital archiving systems.
"Scanners now offer richer functionality than ever," comments Robert A. Gonzales, Marketing Manager for the Americas, Contex Scanning Technology. "They’re wider, faster, deliver higher resolution, better color capture and accuracy, can scan rigid materials up to .6 inches thick, and come with easy-to-use copy and scanning software. Because we’re introducing them at lower price points, more companies can bring the technology in-house."
"Over the past five years, large format scanning has become an integral part of the general office environment. What used to be a centralized function that took place behind closed doors with a single device, a dedicated operator, and special tools and software can now be performed on a walk-up basis," says Francis Fay, Director of Product Marketing for Océ North America’s Wide Format Printing Systems Division.
He adds, "There’s a tremendous increase in the use of large format scanners to distribute documents digitally. Digitized documents can be posted on online plan room sites, placed on CDs, or scanned to FTP sites to speed the delivery of information-without the costs of printing and shipping hard copies."
Sandy Gramley, Hewlett-Packard (HP) DesignJet Product Manager, agrees, "Our DesignJet 4200 scanner is used as an add-on that transforms an HP DesignJet printer into a multi-functional device. This solution integrates smoothly into the networked office workflow and handles a mix of office scanning, printing, copying, and archiving applications."
A Changing Market
For years, CAD applications in the manufacturing, architectural, engineering, and construction industries have been the mainstay of the large format scanning market. While they still account for the majority of applications, the market is evolving. "We see four basic markets," says Gonzales, "Geographic Information Systems (GIS) includes aerial maps, photography, and 3D models. If you’re mapping out a war zone, you want a GIS scanner that gives you fine detail and excellent optical resolution. The Architectural Engineering and Construction (AEC) market includes blueprints, engineering, and construction documents. The Reprographics market includes copy shops and service bureaus that are profiting by offering large format scanning and copying services."
"Major applications include GIS, EDM, raster-to-vector conversion services, proofing, CAD, archival, re-touching, sign production, newsprint clipping, textile scanning, graphics arts, quick print copying," says Steve Blanken, Sales Manager for North America, Vidar Systems Corporation.
According to Haddon Stevens, VP of Sales and Product Management, Aztek Inc., "Most corporations use wide format scanners to digitize maps, engineering, and construction drawings; and archive large images from ads, posters, or original materials that are no longer available. However, the new crop of users are color-critical and want accurate reproductions of original materials."
With these new users, large format scanning is turning up in some unexpected places—in graphic arts studios, fine art galleries, catalog production environments, NASA, the Pentagon, in airports, utilities, and government agencies for infrastructure information access—even in the Beethoven Museum and the Vatican.
Fay remarks, "Scanners used for engineering drawings have different algorithms than those used for graphics. Manufacturers, insurance companies, and AEC users need easy-to-use scanners that enable them to clean up old, battered drawings; eliminate unwanted background images and strengthen fine or weak lines without losing important information like light pencil marks. Océ TDS and TCS scanners are designed for that. In contrast, graphic and fine arts studios want to capture everything that’s on the original as faithfully as possible. Océ CS4000 scanners are great for these types of applications."
Photography studios use table scanners for reproduction, archival, and retouching, while art studios use them to reproduce and archive paintings, posters, point-of-purchase, and signage. Contex’s Gonzales notes, "For design firms, it’s more efficient to scan and vectorize an existing detail than it is to completely re-create the image from scratch. Many CAD programs support hybrid documents that include both vectored and scanned raster information."
Cruse Digital Equipment, Inc. serves a niche market. With conventional devices, documents are fed into the scanner and rollers draw the document over an optical path to generate an image. With the Cruse scanner, documents are placed on a table and a giant planetary camera mounted on a stand above the table photographs the document. These scanners are ideal for thick, mounted, delicate, or three-dimensional originals that can’t be fed through a scanner with rollers. Cruse product manager, Mike Lind notes, "Architects use them to convert art boards into prints because they’re easier to carry than art boards with stone, brick, and carpet samples. We have a customer in the aircraft industry that’s digitizing 40,000 drawings of old handmade parts in sizes up to five feet by ten feet. And décor is one of our hottest markets—companies like Pergo scan natural products like wood and stone to create faux wood and stone flooring. Our scanners also are used to scan circuit boards, forensic evidence, rare documents and books, presidential memorabilia, and to create original pieces of art."
Archiving is a primary driver of growth in large format scanning. Lind reports, "Large format scanning is probably the best method for scanning old, fragile, irreplaceable plans and drawings. The Vatican secret archive in Rome uses one of our scanners to archive documents that are one to two thousand years old."
Digital archiving can enable tremendous cost and efficiency benefits. Atlas Copco Comptec, a manufacturer of multi-stage centrifugal air compressors cut document retrieval time by 75 percent when the company scanned 75,000 technical documents into a digital archive. The DuPage County Recorder’s Office reduced plat retrieval time from 30 minutes to less than a minute, and the Chicago Transit Authority reduced costs and improved efficiency by scanning 400,000 drawings into a Web-connected digital archive.
"Most cities have gone to digital creation of documents. However, every city still has paper documents rolled up in a warehouse," Gonzales elaborates, "We have a municipal customer in Canada that’s scanning a warehouse full of documents on water and gas lines to archive and retrieve these documents digitally."
Scanning and Disaster Recovery
As for disaster recovery, catastrophes come in all shapes and sizes, and can strike at any time—from hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes to building structural failures or terrorist attacks. The inability to locate critical infrastructure documents and facility plans can turn an emergency into a disaster.
According to a Cyon Research white paper, even if plans are accessible, the logistics of getting to them and finding the right document can cause dangerous delays for emergency response teams. When documents are scanned, the originals can be transferred to a secure, long-term storage facility and the scanned documents are instantly accessible to anyone who needs them. Organizations with significant facilities like government, hospitals, transit authorities, schools, and businesses benefit greatly by scanning with possible disaster in mind.
Peter De Winter-Brown, VP of Sales and Marketing, Colortrac Ltd., confirms, "This has become very common since September 11th. The United States government is mandating that local governments store all documents electronically, although a date has not yet been set."
Making an Investment
The type of investment required depends on scanning needs and the scanner chosen. Quality standalone large-format scanners can be found in a wide range, with monochrome scanners typically ranging from $7,000 to $25,000 and color scanners typically ranging from $11,000 to $30,000. Specialty scanners can go as high as $150,000.
"The price point hasn’t changed much over the last five years," states Fay, "The cost of a large format scanner is about the same, but today you get more for your money. Five years ago you couldn’t touch a good color scanner for $25,000. Now you can get one for $10,000, like the Océ CS4032—we can’t keep it in stock."
De Winter-Brown adds, "You can get a monochrome scanner for imaging most technical documents for less than $7,000 or you can go up to $35,000 for a high-accuracy, high-resolution device for specialty applications. Our Colortrac SmartLF 4080m, 4080c, and 4080e scanners are all priced under $10,000."
Of course, price depends on how loaded you want your scanner with accessories like stands, receiving trays, and software. Fay continues, "Options include viewing software for editing and enhancement of scanned documents on remote PCs, archiving software for indexing and retrieval, software for scanning single documents into a set with pre-programmed configurations, and accounting software to enable bill-back capabilities."
Becoming More Accessible
Randy Geesman, president, Paradigm Imaging Group, explains, "As the scanner market evolved and software was developed to direct output to printers for reproduction and printing, scanners were introduced with user interfaces more like copiers. Many scanners now have touch screen interfaces and buttons that make scanning more accessible."
"Manufacturing and AEC users want scanners with capabilities that simplify use—automatic cleanup of drawings while scanning, direct scan-to-PDF, integrated scan-to-print and scan-to-file in one system, and time-saving indexing and importing functionalities. People don’t want to fiddle with their scanners," says Fay, "Today’s scanners fit right inside the customer workflow, so they’re as easy to use as a telephone, fax machine, or copier."
Scanning still requires some level of knowledge and human intervention. "In large format scanning, you can’t auto-feed because of all the variations in size, quality, and media types," says Geesman. "Your document feeder always has two arms and two legs."
"It really depends on the application," explains Bill Mitchell, Product Manager for Large Format Scanners, GTCO CalComp. "In a reprographics shop, there are normally a couple of operators dedicated to scanning. In a manufacturing engineering department, you usually see a department member responsible for operating the scanner. City planning departments typically assign the task to one or two clerks."
Gonzales agrees, "We usually train three or four people at one location, not just one individual with specialized skills or knowledge."
Jesper Erlandsen, marketing manager for Europe and Asia, VIDAR Systems Corporation, adds, "You typically find dedicated operators in service bureaus and copy shops."
The Service Bureau Opportunity
Scanning has been a staple for service bureaus for quite a while, particularly for manufacturing and AEC users. According to Fay, "On-line digital plan rooms have become very popular in the AEC community. There are millions of documents in plan rooms today."
As for return on investment (ROI), scanning for profitability is still a developing area. Some service bureaus are very profitable. Some offer scanning free and recoup costs in printing. Others struggle because they haven’t determined the best way to charge
for scanning services. According to Stevens, "The easiest way to calculate ROI is to identify the costs of outsourcing versus the overhead of owning the scanner."
Geesman states, "The factors that affect price are size, quantity, and the condition of the original. This is a big factor because large format originals come in varying conditions and are created on all types of media—linen, blueprints, vellum, Mylar. Each presents different challenges."
In some cases, ROI depends on the device. De Winter-Brown comments, "Color scanners can pay for themselves in one to three months and monochrome between three and twelve months."
If you’re in the market for a scanner there are some basic things to consider. You need to understand your key applications. Are they technical or fine arts? Are you scanning monochrome or color documents, or both? What types of documents are you scanning—maps, posters, graphic arts? On what types of materials? Make sure your scanner is large enough to accept the documents you need to scan—maps, artwork, and automotive originals can be up to 54"-wide. Then, think beyond the scanner to the overall context and to service and support.
"Companies evaluating large format scanners should consider the entire workflow. Once you identify your needs, look at the total loop—the software driving the scanner, if you’re going to print the document, and how the scanner connects to the printer," says Fay, "make sure your vendor can support the entire solution so there’s no finger pointing. Then look for on-site support, longevity, and if possible, choose a vendor that supplies everything—scanners, software, indexing, export, retrieval, and printing-in one integrated solution."
As scanning capabilities advance and systems become easier to use, large-format scanning is enabling companies of all types in many industries to digitize, store, and preserve documents, making them more accessible for everyone.