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Choosing the right Office Copier or Multifunction for your business

Buying the right photocopier or multifunction printer or device (MFP / MFD)) for your office can be quite complicated. You used to be able to simply buy a copier that sat in the office somewhere and made black and white copies. Nowadays, they are complex, high-tech pieces of office equipment which are usually linked in and connected to you office network.

Buying a copier, or more likely, a multifunction device with lots of features, does not necessarily mean you will be paying for unnecessary options. Many features which used to be options now come built in as standard. So these "extra" features may actually have very little impact on price.

When choosing the right copier / multifunction device, you need to ask the following main questions:

1.What does it need to do?
Digital photocopiers are now usually referred to as "multifunctional products or devices", because they do more than just copy. Most are also capable of printing, faxing and scanning. For low-end models, these functions may be sold as add-on modules. For mid- to high-end models, these features are mostly standard.

Having a multifunction product connected to your network allows your staff to print or send faxes straight from their PC’s. Multifunction devices are great in terms of space saving, which can be important in expensive office space.

People used to think adding more functionality to a copier would reduce reliability, but that is not the case anymore. However, relying on one device for all your printing, faxing, copying and scanning does mean that if it breaks down, you may lose all three functions at once. This is why it is important to have a good service maintenance agreement in place covering all your multifunction devices.

Do you need a machine that can support colour? Whilst colour copying and printing does not cost the premium it used to, you will still pay much more for colour copies and prints than for simple black and white ones. But prices are coming down fairly quickly.

For most businesses that need occasional colour printing and/or copying, setting the default to black and white is a good idea. It will reduce unnecessary colour copying or printing. Of course dedicated colour machines are more expensive to purchase as they have faster processors with much better quality and print accuracy. However, neither is essential in typical office applications.

2.What is my volume - how much copying and printing do I do?
Once you have decided on features, the next step is to narrow your choices based on monthly copy and print volume.

If you are buying a replacement machine, you will most likely already have those figures. If it is a new machine to replace multiple printers for example, or for a new office or new business, you can get an idea by looking at your paper purchases to determine monthly paper consumption.  If you have been doing you’re copying / printing externally, maybe look at your copy shop receipts to get a sense for your volume.

Once you have an idea on monthly volume, increase it by at least 15%-20%. This will help you account for growth, as well as compensate somewhat for often inflated monthly copy volumes set by manufacturers for their models. An overworked copier is the fastest way to downtime and service calls and an overall frustrating experience - better to pay for more capacity than risk damaging and wearing out a relatively expensive but essential piece of office equipment too quickly.

If you are expecting to make less than 500-1000 copies a month, you probably do not need to go to the expense of a "business" copier. You’re probably better off buying a small desktop multifunction copier from a department or office superstore, which can be purchased for under $500 - unless of course you want the advanced features, print quality or service guarantees & agreements that come with business copiers.

3.How fast do I need to print and/or copy?
Copier speed is measured in copies per minute (cpm) or pages per minute (ppm). Whichever term is used, it refers to the number of A4 pages the machine can produce in 1 minute at maximum speed. The copier industry has roughly 5 segments defined by speed, ranging from Segment 1 - machines that operate on 15 to 20 ppm to Segment 5 - machines running over 80 ppm. In most offices, machines from the mid-range segments - the 20 to 50 ppm range will be sufficient. Depending on the size and layout of the office, one or more machines may be required.

In summary, copiers are classified in the following volume segments, with pricing depending on manufacturer, speed and colour capability:

Segment 1: Rated from approx. 500 - 1,000 copies p/month, with prices between $1,000 - $2,500
Segment 2: Rated from approx. 1,000 - 5,000 copies p/month, with prices between $2,500 - $4,500
Segment 3: Rated from approx. 5,000 - 15,000 copies p/month, with prices between $4,500 - $8,000
Segment 4: Rated from approx. 15,000 - 30,000 copies p/month, with prices between $8,000 - $12,000
Segment 5: Rated from approx. 30,000+ copies p/month, with prices from $12,000

Making two-sided copies or prints, copying on larger paper sizes, such as A3 and sorting and stapling - will of course slow the speed down.  If you do this frequently, plan for the slower speed or go for a faster model. If most of your copies will be one-off single copies, the first-copy speed will become more important - the number of seconds it takes for one single copy to be made. This varies per model.

Once you have decided what your monthly volume, speed, colour and networking requirements are, you can narrow your search down to specific copier models from the various manufacturers. This will allow you to base your decision on the most important factors, not added functionality offered on so many copiers but which are rarely used in real office situations.

4.What options will I require to customise it to my needs?
Functionality that used to be expensive add-ons or not available, are now standard on many digital multifunction devices. For non-standard functionality, many of the options can be added later - if you choose the right model copier.

Some machines offer a "plug and play" type of upgrade; others require more extensive hardware fixes. If you are considering adding printing or faxing modules later, ask about the specifics of the upgrade process. In most cases it will be cheapest to purchase the options you require up front. This also eliminates the risk sometimes of options being no longer available for machines that are only 2-3 years old, which in the copier industry is a long time.

Some typical options to consider are;

Most offices can benefit from using a copier as a printer, as the per-page costs will be the same as copies and much less than that of prints printed on separate laser printers.

Most copiers run standard network protocols, but you should still ensure the model you choose is compatible with your network. Make sure to consult your IT department in all network related aspects of the copier purchase - it will save you significant headaches later.

Because digital multifunction devices actually scan each document being copied into memory before it’s being printed out, it's obvious that they can be used for pure scanning purposes and creating electronic versions of your hardcopy paper documents. Automatic Document Feeders (ADF) can be added and often come standard and allow for fast scanning of multiple pages. Books and other thicker documents that can't go through the feeder can be scanned directly on the glass.
Additions to scanning functionality include optical character recognition (OCR) software -software that converts paper documents into editable electronic documents and the ability to scan directly to e-mail or a computer desktop.

A fax module allows you to send and receive faxes through the copier. Some modules come with dual fax option, allowing for an incoming and outgoing fax line. Multi-page and double sided original faxing is a breeze using the document feeder. Incoming faxes are printed as they're received (in a separate output tray, if so configured). PC faxing is possible with a network interface.

Image Editing
Many multifunction devices can now edit documents during copying. For example, you can set the machine to include automatic page numbering, adding watermarks, such as "confidential" or "copy," or adding a date stamp. Images can be rotated to match the orientation of the available paper supply in the trays, saving paper waste from unanticipated errors.
They can also combine images in creative ways, such as copying a two-sided original onto one single sided page, or reducing and combining originals to put 2, 4, or 8 pages on to one single page.

Duplexing or Double-Siding
Most multifunction devices now support stack-less duplexing - storing each side of the original page in memory, and then printing both sides of the copy. This means the number of two-sided copies you make is no longer limited by the capacity of a separate duplex tray. Output speed is also increased as no mechanical re-feeding of the paper is required.

Automatic Reduction / Enlargement (auto-sizing)
Digital photocopiers usually offer an auto reduce / enlarge function. This enables the copier to sense the dimensions of your original document and adjust itself using pre-set reduction/enlargement settings, even if your copy paper is a different size to your original.

Automatic shut-off
Almost all copiers now have an automatic shut-off option. This saves energy and wear and tear on the machine by turning the copier off after a set period of time if it hasn’t been used.

Many digital multifunction devices allow you to enforce users to enter a PIN code before they can make copies or prints. This prevents unauthorised usage and allows analysis of usage patterns. Many machines can also hold faxes and network originated documents in memory until the correct code is entered at the machine by the user, it then prints them. This prevents confidential documents from being left in the output tray for anyone to view. It can also eliminate the need of a separate, private printer in a user’s office.

Wired and wireless connection options
Some digital copiers offer a wireless LAN interface - either the 802.11b wireless LAN standard, or a Bluetooth wireless board. Some have separate parallel and universal serial bus (USB) interfaces, allowing for connection and printing directly from laptops or high capacity storage devices.

Environmental Friendliness
Photocopiers can be big consumers of electricity, especially if left on continuously. And let’s not even start to talk about paper consumption. But despite this, copiers are becoming more environmentally friendly all the time: Higher energy efficiency is one of the prime concerns of manufacturers and consumers alike.

Newer models usually have an "energy save" mode, or modes, that cause the machine to power down if it hasn't been used for a certain period of time. "Energy Star" rated copiers save money (and protect the environment) through intelligent power management. So if this is important to you, make sure your new machine has a good Energy Star rating.

RAM, the same memory used in computers, is used for supporting digital copier features, such as scan once/print many, automatic page numbering, faxing, and printing, double-sided copying and printing and many more. Additional memory can be added to boost productivity and enable more memory-intensive features, especially where colour printing is involved. Insufficient memory will result in slower output and possibly the inability to print or copy certain documents.

In some cases, a relatively small cache of memory is dedicated to each function - copying, printing, and faxing. Other configurations share a single, larger cache between functions. Find out how memory is allocated before you decide on whether to buy additional memory SIMM’s.
Make sure your chosen copier accepts generic memory, like SIMMs. Most do, but some manufacturers still use proprietary memory systems. You should avoid them if you can. If your copier accepts industry-standard memory, you can easily purchase additional memory if required. If you do intensive colour printing, purchasing the maximum amount of RAM is recommended.

Copier Memory
Digital copiers are able to produce as many sets of documents as are required, without re-feeding the originals through the ADF. The number of pages that can be produced with this "scan once/print many" feature depends on the size of the originals and the amount of detail. More detail requires more memory. With insufficient memory, the copier may be unable to complete large copy jobs in one run.

Many advanced image editing features actually require purchasing extra memory. Copiers come with various amounts of RAM. If you plan to use any image editing features, or frequently produce complex documents over 20 pages, especially if colour, make sure you get the maximum copier memory. Memory is not expensive anymore and it will simply prevent problem later on.

Fax memory
1 MB of fax memory holds about 60 - 80 pages - enough for most offices. Unless you plan to hold many international faxes in memory to send during off-peak hours, you probably won't need to buy extra fax memory.

Printer Memory
The printer memory determines the overall speed and efficiency of the machine. As with copying, the more detailed the documents are, the more memory it needs for processing. Additionally, memory-hungry printer languages, such as PostScript can require more memory for faster printing.

The standard memory many printers come with ‘out of the box’ is often not enough for effective printing. Additional memory or hard drives (HDD) are almost always available as an option and are a good idea. Don’t forget you will probably be using your machine for the next 3-5 years and many new applications and printing higher and higher quality colour documents continuously require more and more memory. Future proof your purchase now by buying enough memory.

Colour copiers work much like a computer scanner connected to a laser printer. The copier scans the original(s), and then transfers the information via lasers to a charged image drum. Colour toner (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) adheres to the charged areas of the drum before being transferred to paper. The final step, as with a laser printer, is to heat the toner on the page and ‘fuse’ the image.

High-end copier or multifunction models apply all four colours in a single pass-through. Lower-end machines take four passes of the same image, rolling the paper around the drum four times to apply each colour. Whilst this technology is less expensive, it also drastically reduces copying and printing speeds.

Colour Editing
Most digital colour copiers include standard features such as border erasing, image centering, colour adjustment, and colour balancing. Some models offer a whole menu of additional editing functions, such as colourising - creating colour documents from black and white originals. Pantone colour matching or emulation (with a PMS colour chart) is another advanced feature available on some higher end models. Unless you require almost exact colour matching, maybe for company logos, this is a feature not needed in normal office applications.

Although these advanced editing techniques can be impressive, they tend to be difficult and time-consuming to master. And, if your copier is set up as a network printer, you can do complex image manipulations simply by using standard image editing software at your computer and then print the results. Basic editing functions are enough for most office users.

If you do require specific editing applications, or a certain output quality which must match existing documents, ask a sales representative to demonstrate exactly what is available for their range, how to use it and what is the extra investment required.

You should also factor in consumables - paper, toner, developer and in some cases fuser oil, into the overall purchase of a copier. The cost of consumables will end up being significantly higher over the life of the equipment than the original purchase price. Most business copiers or multifunctionals can
Be covered with a maintenance, or service agreement. These agreements can include toner and all parts and labour involved in the use and upkeep of the machine. You pay for this with a ‘cost per copy’ charge. Each month you manually provide the supplier of the service e with the copy and print usage, or it can be sent through the network if configured that way. You then get a bill for that month’s usage. As of the date of this writing, July 2010, typical charges for black and white prints and copies are somewhere between 0.6c - 1.5c and for colour somewhere between 7c - 15c.  These figures should only be taken as a guide and are for metro areas. Regional areas are more expensive to service by copier dealers and usually have a higher copy cost. The benefit of an agreement like this is that you never get expensive surprises when fusers blow, drums need replacement or for any other unexpected repairs and servicing. A disadvantage can be that over the life of the machine you pay more this way than if you had paid for parts, toner and service separately. It’s a bit like insurance.

Paper costs will be a significant part of your overall copying & printing costs. Select paper for your colour copies and prints carefully, as it will be more expensive than the paper you buy for regular copying. Although colour copier manufacturers will typically recommend you use whiter and heavier paper (90-100gsm or sometimes higher), consider using normal 80gsm copy paper, which in many cases will produce acceptable results for office applications. But make sure to test this on the actual machine you’re looking to purchase. In demonstrations, high quality paper is always used. Ask the demonstrator to put in normal 80 gsm paper and see what the quality is like.

Toner is more complex with a colour copier than with a black and white machine, since four toner colours are used: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. (These are referred to as CMYK, where K stands for black.) Each toner colour typically comes in a separate bottle or cartridge, which can be replaced individually, as they run out.

Toner has to be mixed with developer - this allows it to be magnetically attracted to the copier drum, after which it is fused on to paper via fuser rollers. Most copiers require separate developer for each toner colour. Developer yield varies but usually is twice that of the toner. When copies or prints seem to get lighter, it is usually time to change the developer. When you run out of toner, on the other hand, you will see an overall unevenness in colour.

Fuser oil
is required for the last step in the process and does not need to be replaced very often. One bottle will generally last twice as long as a bottle of developer and there are some models that do not use fuser oil anymore.

What is my budget?
Decide which features are essential, and which aren’t. Expected average monthly print requirements, machine size, paper size and budget constraints must of course be considered when deciding which model copier / multifunction is right for you.

The type of photocopier that is best for your workplace must have the features you need but also be within your budget. More important than initial purchase price, but often not taken into account, is the actual ‘total cost of ownership’ (TCO). This is what it costs to operate the equipment through its life cycle, including consumables, servicing and parts and labour.

It is worthwhile to do a couple of simple calculations over the planned life cycle and to translate this to an effective net cost per copy. This is not always an exact science but can be an indicator of economic efficiencies between certain copier brands and models and may mean a cost saving overall.
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