Go Against Type: Should You Put a Printer on Every Desk? – Buyers Guide
Those of us older than 30 have no trouble recalling the days when every office worker had a Remington typewriter on his or her desk–a machine that may rightly be called the grandparent of the modem word processor. The machine generated not only words (in a single font, granted), but spat out a hard copy too (two or three with a carbon). If you see a typewriter in a corporate office today, it’s usually by itself on a lone secretary’s desk, used sporadically to type business forms and the like. Consequently, as in the old days of the typewriter, over the past decade no manager has thought twice about providing every employee with a personal computer. Yet, if the workplace PC and Mac are the direct descendants of the manual hunt-and-peck, consider the second part of the component: the printer. It’s arguably a necessity if you expect to distribute hard copies of your daily work, right? If you answered yes, then why are so many of us still sharing printers in the workplace when we have no trouble getting our han ds on a computer?
The gut response to this question is an obvious one: cost. But it begs some explanation. After all, computers are the single most expensive piece of office machinery purchased for individual employees. Yet management has few qualms about doing that because, unlike printers, desktop computers are used all day, every day. Conversely, printers may be underused in many workplaces.
“It’s really a cost-efficiency issue,” says Brian Greer, vice president for marketing at QMS/Minolta. “You’re talking about the lowest cost printers with a street price of between $250 to $300, and thinking about putting one on every desk. It’s not feasible. And if you’re going for the best printers available, then it would be ridiculous to think about putting a $2,500 printer on one desk.”
And those lower-priced printers will not necessarily buy the best results. Today the needs of most companies have expanded to include not just word processing, but color, graphics, and wideformat presentations. Printers under $300, in general, don’t play a role in the needs of most midsize to large corporations. The only bright spot is the projection that the higher-priced, multicapability printers may not always be out of reach, according to Noel Jones, senior director of marketing for Kyocera Electronics in Duluth, Ga.
“Monochrome laser printers have come down in price, especially when looking at entry level models,” Jones says. “Ink jet printers also are reasonably priced. However, these printers are not nearly as fast or economical to operate as laser printers. Our prediction is that the trend of price reduction for laser printers will continue, and consumers will see increased performance at lower prices.”
Still, industry experts maintain it isn’t the up-front costs that make such an idea of multiple printers impossible, but the money spent during the lifetime of the machine. In fact, the purchase price represents less than one-quarter of the overall operating cost over a printer’s life cycle, according to a report commissioned by Kyocera Electronics and prepared by Lyra Research Inc. last year. “It is toner replacement costs that are the largest factor in driving operating costs for most of these machines,” the report states, “usually accounting for well over half the total operating costs.”
Consumables, as toner and paper are referred to in the industry, are aptly named because printers are useless without a steady supply of ink and paper. And offices are increasing their output. A survey conducted in January by Market Tools for HP’s Internet Printing Index found that office workers who regularly print pages from the Internet alone print an average 32 pages a day. Add that to employee-generated work during a typical day, and paper and toner can evaporate rapidly, depending on the size of your particular office population. PC Magazine reported in its July 1999 issue that, while ink jet supplies at HP accounted for just 5 percent of company revenues in 1998, sales of these products achieved an amazing 25 percent of total profits.
“It’s almost become a ‘give away the razors and make your profit on the blades’ approach,” explains Ian Crockett, president of Hunter Barth Inc., an advertising agency headquartered in Costa Mesa, Calif., whose clients include HP, Hitachi, and Mita. “The only difference is that the printer manufacturer is not guaranteed a stream of revenue from the supplies. I believe that the cost of operation will eventually dwarf the original purchase price of a desktop printer.”
The report by Lyra Research Inc. includes a comprehensive study of competing printers over a five-year period. The fifth year found “total costs again dominated by toner replenishments and scheduled maintenance costs. The five-year costs incurred to operate these machines are a minimum of three times and nearly six times the initial purchase price for some machines.”
Furthermore, differences in initial purchase prices, the report concludes, are not significant over the typical useful life of the competing brands of printers. Rather, “consumables are clearly the most important factors in overall operating costs.”
Third-party vendors of consumables have subsequently appeared, offering customers refilled or remanufactured ink cartridge products at a fraction of the $30 to $50 prices recognized dealers do. Experts warn, however, these less costly cartridges can rupture or clog, leaving you with a pricey repair bill for your printer.
But not all the toner cartridges on the market come from off-brand manufacturers. For instance, Lexmark, a respected producer of printers, offers the Linea Print Cartridge that’s compatible with those offered by HP and Xerox. In independent testing conducted last fall by the Business Equipment Research & Test Laboratories (BERTL), the Lexmark consumables met or exceeded the performance of the HP and Xerox toner products, including cost per page. These results indicate just how competitive each company has become in the area of compatible toner cartridges.
The consumables issue offers a good argument against providing each employee with his or her own printer. Yet, the workforce can’t function without equal access to a quality printer. The next best thing to a printer on every desk, therefore, comes from two options: network printing and cluster printing.
Industry experts agree there’s economy in sharing printers, which, if left to sit on an individual’s desk, would remain idle much of the time. This holds true even if the printer happens to be a dedicated printer, but not so as part of a network in which multiple employees are all connected to a single printer. Most network printers are, by nature, more expensive and larger than what would normally sit on an individual’s desk. But these machines are also a higher quality. “Unlike ‘personal’ printers, network printers usually can print graphic-intensive documents more quickly than personal printers, and they can print more pages per minute than most personal laser printers,” explains Noel Jones of Kyocera.
Ian Crockett of Hunter Barth adds another incentive. “Network printers are solutions that not only help manage costs, but include finishing features that reduce labor,” he says. “They are faster and each impression is an original. With desktop printers, employees must print out the original, then walk over to the copier and make the desired copies. The network products not only produce a better product, they save employees a step.”
The line of networkable printers is a competitive market. Brian Greer at QMS/Minolta favors the new QMS magicolor 2 DeskLaser, the latest assault on the color ink jet printer market. Retailing for $1,299, it comes network ready, uses the Windows environment, and prints 16 pages per minute monochrome for the small workplace. “It’s the only one currently available that does both black-and-white and color printing on a network,” says Greer. PC Magazine approved in its October 1999 issue, hailing the QMS magicolor 2 as “the most cost-effective choice for those who need both color and the speed available only from lasers.”
QMS also offers the 2560 Print System, retailing at $1,799 and featuring a 25-ppm speed. It supports 11 x 17-inch pages, a 3,750-page input capacity, and attractive 5- and 10-bin mailboxes that attach easily for enhanced job collation. No other printer has the latter capability, according to Greer.
If your office is one that commonly produces a print volume in excess of 250,000 pages or more per month, cluster printing may be the way to go. This is a matter of placing a series of networked printers side by side in a “cluster,” all accessible by each employee’s computer. When a user decides to print, the first printer not in use processes the job. No need to wait in a queue. This is repeated until all printers are in use. This also is useful if one printer breaks down and is an efficient way of network printing if the printers are heavily used.
A number of manufacturers offer cluster printing options. Mita Inc., a subsidiary of Kyocera since January, announced in late 1999 the ES-2 Kit, which enables advanced printer control capabilities for its line of Ai4040 and Ai5050 printers, allowing users to cluster print. Using Mita’s multiple printer control, customers can obtain printing speeds of 80 to 400 ppm by clustering two to eight systems. The ES-2 Kit retails for about $888.
Likewise, the Minolta MicroPress Cluster Printing M-500 Series premiered in December of last year. The M-500 allows users to manage up to eight monochrome, color, or wide-format printers in any combination. Minolta says its new product delivers processing speed unrivaled in its class, offering an optimal growth path to new and faster processors as they become available. Accordingly, the M-500 Series starts at $36,700.
Even ink jet manufacturers have jumped into the fray, determined to upgrade their products’ longstanding label of being slower when compared to the laser printer. In the small business arena, HP heavily promotes its HP 1220C color ink jet, compatible with both PC and Mac. With speeds of up to 11 ppm in black and 9.5 ppm in color, the 1220C can be networked with an optional HP JetDirect print server and has a duty cycle of 5,000 pages per month. Moreover, the company emphasizes this product’s fast, photo-quality features for special projects such as booklets, posters, and handouts on everything from 4 x 6-inch note cards up to 13 x 19-inch posters. It retails for about $499.
Epson America Inc. recently introduced the Stylus Color 900, proclaiming it “the world’s fastest color ink jet printer” with print speeds of 12 ppm black and 10 ppm color. At an estimated street price of $299 (following a recent price reduction from $449), the fully networkable printer is available with an optional Ethernet print server that makes cluster printing practical. Its sister machine, the Stylus Color 900N, retails for $599 (formerly $649) and comes with an internal print server. Both machines are PC and Macintosh compatible, allowing simultaneous connection and autosensing between both platforms for maximum flexibility. “We’re offering our networked customers an economically viable, highly durable, and efficient network printing solution,” says Mark Warlick, assistant product manager. “We’re continuing to push the envelope on speed and quality to accommodate our customers.”
Network printing looks to continue its dominance of the office environment as long as desktop printers and consumables remain a burden to most corporate budgets. But Hunter Barth’s Crockett ultimately sees something else as the defining issue when it comes to printers. “Affordability, in my opinion, is not an. issue in giving printers to each employee,” he says. “Most businesses are not only looking to control and manage costs, they’re looking for ways to increase existing employee productivity. With a networked output device, they’re providing the employees with increased printing and finishing capabilities, more print speed, and a higher-quality impression. And the overall bill is less. To use a corny phrase, ‘It’s the best of both worlds.”‘
Jonathan Young is a freelance writer living in Reidsville, N.C. He’s currently at work on his first novel.
Kodak Personal Picture Maker PM100 by Lexmark
A computer operating without a printer is not uncommon, but a printer without a computer? The Kodak Personal Picture Maker PM100 by Lexmark makes this feat possible for digital camera users by allowing them to print directly from their camera’s CompactFlash or SmartMedia memory card. The PM 100 offers 1,200 x 1,200-dpi resolution and supports a variety of print media including photo and plain papers, transparencies, and T-shirt transfers. Although the printer will connect to any PC’s parallel port, users can also transfer images directly to an external device such as a Zip drive without connecting to a computer. Lexmark International
Check Out These Network Printers
Here’s a sampling of the more popular network printers, according to their manufacturers.
HP Deskjet 1220C color ink jet printer has print speeds of 11 ppm for black and 9.5 ppm for color. Street price: $499.
Canon imageClass 4000 is designed to meet any networked departmental requirement. It prints high-resolution and graphics at 32 ppm and has a paper capacity of about 3,100 sheets. Street price: $2,750.
The Epson Stylus Color 900 is the company’s fastest ink jet printer, printing at 12 ppm black and 10 ppm color. Street price: $299.
The DDS 32/40 is designed for groups of 10 to 50 workers and handles 32 and 40 ppm. Its PrintWatch network management tool can assign a user up to 64 different printer configurations, which appear as distinct printers on client machines. Street price: $4,095.
The FS-1200 is a laser printer that provides 12 ppm and touts its low consumable costs as an added plus. Street price: $649.
The QMS 2560 features a 25-ppm print speed and 5- and 10-bin mailboxes for enhanced job collation. Street price: $1,799. The QMS magicolor 2 DeskLaser comes network ready, has print speeds of 16 ppm for monochrome and 4 ppm for color. Street price: $1,299.
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