The introduction of chemically produced toner has played a large part in improving the output quality of colour devices. Chemically produced toner particles are smaller and more uniformly shaped than their conventionally produced counterparts – 4 microns width instead of 8, and all smooth and round instead of random jagged flakes. This has several advantages, it produces sharper images, it is cheaper to manufacture, it doesn’t clog machines as much, and it is more efficient, around 40 percent less toner is used per page.
The availability of affordable colour copy and print in the office has paved the way for many traditionally outsourced applications to be bought in-house. While many businesses would once have had to go to a copy shop for even the most basic of colour print jobs, these can now be performed in the office at a much lower cost and in a much shorter timeframe. The fact that many offices are now doing their own print runs of a wide range of materials means that finishing options are in high demand with users who want folding and stapling options to produce things like booklets and brochures.
As well as marginalizing single function copiers, this new breed of MFD is also encroaching on the conventional mono laser printer’s territory. Businesses are realising that it often makes little sense to operate laser printers on a toner-out basis. By transferring the workload to a leased MFD which is running on a pay per click contract, costs can be managed more predictably than having to pay for toner cartridges as and when they are needed.
The spokesman said “The majority of users are moving towards toner inclusive packages. Customers are asking for it, and one of the big arguments for moving to an MFD over a printer is that on a printer you are forever buying toner cartridges and the like so you take that away and it is much easier for people to manage what their costs are going to be.”
Many users are looking to replace their old 20 to 35ppm mono laser printers with colour MFDs that can add colour copy and print to the office capability. In this respect it can be tempting to make decisions based on the comparative speeds of the old and new device, but this is false economy, claims the analyst, and placing too much focus on the speed aspect can detract from more important purchasing considerations. “If you are comparing colour versus mono speed for different devices it is easier to look at that to be able to categorise what types of products are being placed in companies, but that is as far as it really goes in my opinion. Customers are increasingly wanting suppliers to provide them with a solution, something that will help them increase productivity and reduce costs as opposed to simply a machine that prints colour at X speed.”
As colour and monochrome copy and print functions become consolidated in a single device, support becomes a much more important issue and requires more specialist capabilities than many in-house IT helpdesks are able to offer. This is pushing businesses further towards lease options which include service and support under the same umbrella. The analyst said “Because colour is going to become an important factor for customers, they’re going to need more support: ‘How can I do this? What is the run rate of this? What is the cost of this?’ they’re also going to need support for critical applications, making sure machines are not down for those. So as support becomes much more important, you find particularly with copiers the majority of devices are under lease terms and we would expect that to continue.”
As with any booming new market the MFD sector is highly competitive and vendors have precious little to differentiate their products with. Colour speeds have exceeded 18ppm and manufacturers are now offering 26ppm devices, with all players offering fairly similar performance that leaves cost per page as the remaining point of contention. Opinions are divided on how this will pan out over the coming year, although everybody agrees that the general trend will be downward, it is the rate at which prices are likely drop that is difficult to pin down. Kyocera suggests that fierce competition means a price war is highly likely “The colour market generally, be it copiers or printers, is probably one of the most hotly contested areas and whatever market you are talking about, if it is competitive then prices are only going to go down. I think in terms of the cost of the devices and the cost per page margins are being squeezed all over.”
However, the analyst believes that attempting to differentiate themselves purely on the grounds of speed and cost will ultimately damage the vendors and that they need to look at better ways of separating themselves, based on a clear understanding of customers document applications and business processes. “Copier manufacturers are motivated to push the value of colour, since they have to add more value to the monochrome pages as well as trying not to start a CPP price war. The industry must recognize that it needs to add value through the appreciation and clear understanding of customers’ business processes and document applications, rather than the type of product a customer will purchase.“
CAP Ventures/InfoTrends has coined the name UCP (universal copier printer) to describe the new breed of multi-function printer which is increasingly becoming the lynchpin of workgroup document creation. Organisations considering going down this route may be tempted to think of the UCP simply in terms of a direct replacement for the conventional laser printer, despite the wide range of additional capabilities it brings into the workplace. Such thinking may result in businesses failing to fully exploit the new productivity and cost saving opportunities on offer. Rather than concentrating largely on device specifications during the selection process buyers should take a more holistic approach, considering what role a device can play in their wider document creation and management process.
The analyst said “It is really important that people realise that it is not about replacing a black and white device with a colour device, it is really about resolving a business problem and that is a very different way of operating. The office market has always been very focused on the device itself, the specification and so on, but the actual device itself is now secondary to the customer’s uppermost thought, which is ‘How do I get the best out of the machines that I currently have?’ and not necessarily about buying a new machine. If you’re buying a new machine, how does that enhance what you have currently got? Customers are looking at balanced deployments now.”