We know first hand that end-users and small business owners don’t want to deal with sales people, sales pressure, service contracts, and leases when they’re trying to acquire an MFP for their office. Thankfully for them, a wide variety of A4 MFPs are available via a few clicks online or a visit to an office superstore. However, if they need A3 capability (print and scan on up to 11″x17″), like it or not the hard sell is something they’re forced to deal with, because nearly all printer vendors restrict the availability of A3 devices to their direct sales or dealer channel. The complaint among small-business users is that they know what they want and they just want to buy it, not be hounded by sales people, have strangers coming in to “analyze their workflow,” sign contracts, and be pressured to upgrade in just a few years.
If they require only A4 (print and scan on up to 8.5″x14″), the process of course is much easier – a visit to CDW, or Lexmark, Xerox or Hewlett-Packard’s Web sites is often all it takes.
For those small-business users who require A3 imaging, Epson has an alternative: the WorkForce WF-7520, a color MFP that prints on up to 13″x19″, and scans in color up to 11″x17″ via a flatbed platen or 30-sheet automatic duplexing document feeder (however, the document feeder can’t duplex scan 11″x17″/A3 originals – it can only simplex scan 11″x17″/A3 originals). It ships with Epson Dura-Brite 127 high-capacity ink cartridges. It’s also got wired Ethernet and WiFi wireless network connectivity, duplex printing, duplex-scanning auto document feeder and dual trays with a total 500-sheet media capacity – the kicker is that you can buy it at Epson’s Web site with just a few clicks and it’ll show up at your door in about three days. It retails for only $299.99 and there’s no sales people, contracts or leases. And as we’ve seen over and over again in our test program, vendors of ink-jet printers and All-in-Ones continue to make it easier and easier to set up and install these products. We’ve also seen how much easier it is to maintain them and install their supplies (simply a set of four ink cartridges) versus laser-based units’ toner cartridges, waste toner units, and developing and photoconductor units. (With installing ink cartridges, it’s typically a no-brainer: unwrap the ink cartridge, lower a front door, and slide the ink cartridge into its color-coded slot. Plus, ink-cartridge capacity grows with each new ink-jet print engine, extending the easy maintenance intervals. With many laser-based units, you’ll need to carefully remove packing, shake the toner cartridge, and usually carefully fit it into place, along with the sometimes required photoconductor and developing units. And, if you have a conscience, you must save the packaging so that you can box the empty units up and mail them back for manufacturer recycling, adding to your cost. All in all, this isn’t a process that you’d want the summer intern or anyone who’s isn’t willing to take a little care attempting.)
The real kicker is that these office-level ink-jet products sell for substantially less than laser-based counterparts ($299.99 for Epson’s WorkForce WF-7250), and their black and color cost per page has become much more affordable and usually considerably more affordable than comparable laser units. Go to any BTA vendors’ Web site and try to purchase an A3 color All-in-One/MFP with just a few clicks and for under $5,000 – you basically can’t. You must click the “Where to Buy” button and enter your contact information. Then, sit by your phone and you know what happens next…
Obviously products like the WorkForce WF-7250 aren’t built for heavy page volumes – but in most offices and enterprises, A3 print and scan represents only a small portion of total page volume. The A3 WorkForce WF-7250, plus as many as needed A4 office ink-jet All-in-Ones and printers, might be all that’s needed. Plus, the cost savings using this setup would be considerable, if not remarkable.
Of course, these office ink-jet products are just for lower print volumes, and print speeds are still slower, right? That’s already changing. Last week, we got a look at Memjet’s 60-ppm A4 color ink-jet printer side-by-side with competitive laser products. With its single-pass, page-width print head, it effortlessly and quietly churned out prints (you can see a video of the office Memjet here), while its color laser counterparts labored along – often very loudly – with periodic delays for calibration checks. You can be sure there are other high-speed office ink-jets are in the works, too.
As we’ve said, we can easily see a scenario where an Epson WorkForce WF-7250 in conjunction with its B-510 color ink-jet printers could easily provide the digital imaging and distribution needs of most small companies. The only things missing from this setup are enterprise-level fleet management and secure workflow capabilities such as scan to an e-mail server and network folders.