Printer Purchase Pointers

Printer Purchase Pointers

Features to find and practices to protect the investment
stone blocks spelling "print"

Although printer purchases aren’t an everyday occurrence on campuses—or at least the procurement office hopes not—when it’s time to buy new printers, department and purchasing leaders can look to features in new models that can save time and money. By staying abreast of available features, tweaking replacement planning with new strategies, preserving printer life, and increasing productivity, institutions can turn printing into a fast, efficient, cost-effective service.

Printers Trend Toward Savings, Efficiencies

Printer vendors know schools need savings. One way to achieve it is by extending the life of ink and paper. According to its promotional materials, one vendor touts up to a 50-percent ink cost reduction when using its newer model inkjet printers. Another vendor claims its inkjet machines help organizations lower total cost of ownership (TCO) by up to 50 percent, part of which comes from savings on ink, according to Barbara Richards, senior consultant of digital peripherals solutions at InfoTrends, a digital imaging market analyst firm. Another brand differentiates itself through a combination of price and performance available to schools using its ink technology, notes Shelly Ortelt, research analyst of network document solutions for the firm.

Other printer manufacturers profess long-term ink savings for schools that purchase high-volume printers, which are compatible with large, high-yield cartridges, according to Cathy Martin, senior consultant of communication supplies at InfoTrends. “These cartridges and canisters can be expensive,” explains Rob Enderle, a technology analyst and principal at the Enderle Group. The price is reasonable when the print volume demands these devices.

As for paper, vendors promote fully automated duplex printers that deliver pages quickly. “Duplex printing is becoming increasingly desirable as a cost-saving measure and an environmental initiative—the less paper an organization uses, the lower its printing costs and the more trees it spares,” says Keith Kmetz, vice president for hardcopy peripherals solutions and services at IDC, an analyst firm. Some printer models boast seven to nine pages-per-minute in automatic duplex print speeds. Print speed is important for rush jobs that must be printed and put together at the last minute, according to Paul Erickson, assistant director of information and communications at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

For additional savings, vendors offer solutions that manage printing and curtail low-priority print jobs, eliminating waste. These printers feature large, on-board hard drives, larger LCD display panels, and additional settings that enable the printer to delay printing until people get to the
device. The added technology makes it possible to require users to swipe an ID card to get a job printed, providing the opportunity to charge for pages or ensure that only authorized parties use the device. It also prevents waste, as the only jobs that people print are the ones they need urgently enough to go to the printer and wait for.

Mobile Printing Capacity

The capacity to print is not what some people would call a new feature. However, higher ed leaders seeing a growing uptake of tablet PCs and mobile devices on their campuses might disagree. Mobile devices that don’t run Microsoft Windows also don’t have the Windows printing system that most printers use. To enable printing, vendors are supporting working through a Wi-Fi router that is connected directly to a printer. The feature “is a clever way for printer vendors to allow printing to their devices,” explains Ken Weilerstein, vice president of research, imaging, and print services at Gartner. 

But with this approach, Windows computers may bump mobile print jobs. Cloud printing attempts to resolve these issues by routing print jobs from mobile devices through a wireless network to a designated printer. “Unfortunately, current cloud printing solutions do not work across different local platforms, multiple printer devices, and differing wireless carriers, which is necessary to make these solutions work properly,” says Weilerstein.

Small, all-in-one printers with wireless connectivity, memory card slots, and quiet operation are also available for mobile devices. The advantage here is that PCs are not required to print, according to Richards. Memory card slots enable users to print photos faster, while wireless connectivity and the minute size of these printers enable people to connect and print quickly and easily without wires, clutter, or bulky computers, Richards explains.

Future Trends: MFPs Get Smarter

In the future, count on increasing multifunction printers to save management costs. While today’s MFPs report usage statistics, consumable requirements, and service events, service providers and manufacturers have not kept up. “We expect to take full advantage of MFPs by having these devices self-report all necessary data directly to the vendor, enabling fully automated billing, consumable replenishment, and remedial self-reporting solutions,” says Kevin Drake, assistant director of Cornell Business Services.

With these advances, the university can save printer management resources. For example, automated, usage-based billing will include electronic invoice generation and submission so that tasks such as ordering toner or submitting remedial service requests no longer burden administrators and IT staff.

Printer Replacement Planning

As with computers, printers have lifecycles of three to five years, according to Weilerstein. Organizations keep printers because they don’t have control of the lifecycle. This leads to a high printer-to-user ratio. The University of Wisconsin-Platteville, for example, has about 500 printers on campus for its 8,000 students, shares Erickson. “Enforcing the lifecycle will rid the institution of equipment that is costly to maintain due to added power usage and higher supply costs,” notes Weilerstein.

As colleges and universities scuttle older printers, administrators should not simply base new purchases on the number and type of printers they bought before. “Because most universities have too many printers, they need to look closely at what they really need for print, scan, copy, and fax for each target environment, rather than do a printer-for-printer replacement,” says Weilerstein.

At Keene State College (N.H.), doing this kind of assessment resulted in the PrintSmart project. Officials are in the process of replacing 639 printing devices across campus with 80 to 100 new efficient MFPs, reports spokesperson Kelly Ricaurte. In the first year, she adds, the college anticipates a 31 percent energy savings.

When planning a replacement, the organization should use a short list of models, perhaps eight to 12, Weilerstein advises. The fewer the models, the easier they are to support.

To best time replacements and leverage bulk discounts, administrators should research institutional needs and then design an optimal printer state for each environment—allowing for smart, consolidated purchases. “This enables bulk purchasing from fewer vendors,” says Weilerstein. Before purchasing, the school should bid out the printer contract competitively, seeking a supplier of equipment, parts, and supplies by combining everything into one large deal. “The institution becomes a very attractive customer that way,” he adds.

Extending Printer Life, Efficiency, and Productivity

“To get more mileage from the campus printer fleet, stay within the recommended printing volume for each machine,” says Dan Paterson, director of contract merchandising for Staples Advantage. Don’t max out printers designed to handle a limited number of pages-per-month, as this can burn them out. Consider splitting print traffic with another machine or replacing the printer with one that easily handles the traffic, adds Paterson.

Use large format printers only for that purpose. “Printing 8.5 x 11 pages on those tends to put grooves in the cylinders,” says Kevin Waldvogel, a printing account executive at Image Systems, a Consolidated Graphics Company.

To improve the efficiency of older printers, try different papers and regulate the humidity in the print shop. “This will cut down on paper jams,” says Erickson. “Smoother papers are easier on printers. The thicker the paper, the sooner it will wear the printer out,” Waldvogel explains.

For increased productivity, remember when provisioning printers that multifunction devices can scan, copy, and fax as well as print, reducing the need, space requirements, and costs of having four separate machines for each function.

Cornell, reports Drake, is in the process of “deploying workgroup MFPs that are full-featured and include full color and black and white printing and copying and scanning to fax, email, or digital files. This solution reduces the overall footprint, energy consumption, maintenance costs, and associated support costs.”
Waldvogel advises setting computer lab hours so that printers are used throughout the day. “Keep a good number of people in the print area using the printer, but not too many. “If students are walking away because they can’t print, then the school is losing revenue,” he notes.

Also set up guidelines to tell faculty when it’s time to push printing into a commercial print environment, such as the campus copy center. “If they are running 1,000 sheets, that will overwork everyday printers. They should save that printer by getting a better price on bulk printing at the copy center where the printers are set up for large jobs,” Waldvogel explains.

It’s all about being strategic about printer purchases and use. By carefully assessing real printing needs and structuring and designing the print environment for efficiency and savings, institutions can lay the ground work for more precise replacement planning so that selective shopping for printers and printer features can reap long-term dividends.

David Geer is an Ohio-based technology journalist. His Twitter handle is @geercom.


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