Is Printer/Copier Reliability Testing Still Relevant?
We’ve been in the business of office-product testing and evaluation for longer than we care to mention. Nevertheless, for a bit of perspective we cut our teeth testing complex mechanical and electro-mechanical devices that frequently required maintenance by trained service technicians in order to perform to satisfaction. As such, a great deal of the testing involved intensive reliability testing performed under controlled conditions.
For example, typewriter testing was performed using a vacuum-powered device called an Autotypist that used interchangeable piano rolls in order to program the input. With copiers and printers, we had trained operators input a variety of job types (different paper sizes and types, document types, paper sources) and functions (duplex, color, finishing, etc.) while following a customized daily run scenario that simulated office usage derived from statistical information. All in all this was quite costly, technical, and time-consuming, but necessary because of the highly mechanical nature of the test units.
As products evolved with more electronic monitoring and customer replaceable units (CRUs), we began to notice a big improvement in product reliability to the point where today, you would be hard pressed to find reports from any source that indicates an unreliable product. In fact, virtually every report that includes product reliability testing shows that the printer and copier/MFP of today experiences virtually no breakdowns whatsoever.
So What’s the Point?
In a word, tradition. That said, when we founded Wirth Consulting we decided to eschew reliability testing for a number of reasons:
Contemporary Product Reliability
Product reliability has improved to the point of no return. Firms that continue to test for reliability consistently report that contemporary printers and copier/MFPs suffer no breakdowns as a result of reliability testing.
Time to Publication
Product-replacement cycles are more rapid than ever and it makes no sense to delay test reports for months due to seemingly pointless and ongoing reliability testing.
Save power, ink, toner, cartridges, rollers, CRUs, paper, and trees, and limit the environmental damage caused by the manufacture and shipping of these items.
Complexity and Expertise Required Versus Results
As stated, firms that continue to test for reliability consistently report that contemporary printers and MFPs suffer no breakdowns as a result of reliability testing. Moreover, reliability testing under controlled conditions requires that a customized run scenario must be prepared and religiously applied by test technicians. The run scenario must also be customized for each device based on its configuration and capabilities.
Test Procedures and Good Lab Practices
In order to properly test under controlled conditions you can’t just plug-in a printer/copier and proceed to produce thousands of prints:
- One cannot simply print or copy any old document. In other words, one cannot repeatedly copy or print originals with too much page coverage or it will eventually cause early failure of a document feeder/scanner, drum, cleaning apparatus, or a collection unit. This means that the run scenario must be tailored to provide a mix of original types (percent of color and black-and-white; duplexed, etc.) that reflects usage patterns of the day. Moreover, hard-copy originals must be periodically changed due to the perceived level of wear and tear, and some scanners are rougher with originals than others. Finally, one cannot simply continuously perform a run scenario and consider it done. The run scenario must include relative periods of work and rest in order to prevent problems with heat build-up and gauge the effects of the heating and cooling cycles.
- If the device has a scanner, it must be used accordingly in a manner that reflects design principles, as a scanner will not be used for every print, nor will it be used to scan only a certain type of original.
- If the device has multiple paper sources, each source must be tested accordingly. In other words, the main paper source should be used at a rate that is significantly higher than that of a manual feed or universal tray for example. Moreover, the main tray will be used for 20-lb. plain paper while other sources will be used for various other paper types including card stock, envelopes, and labels. Finally, the run scenario must be customized to consider the percent usage of each paper source.
- If the device prints in color, one cannot simply print color documents. The run scenario needs to reflect the percentage of color printing performed in the office today and the remaining prints must be printed in black.
- If the device has a duplex printing unit or duplexing scanner, the run scenario needs to be customized to reflect the percent of usage based on usage patterns of the day.
- For replicable test results, the test unit and paper must be conditioned in controlled environmental conditions (regulated temperature and relative humidity) for a minimum of 24 hours before testing commences, and testing needs to be performed under the same controlled environmental conditions. For example, testing in cold, hot, dry, or humid conditions will result in poor image transfer and/or paper curl that affects reliability in a variety of ways.
- The power supply must be conditioned in order to protect electronic components from damage due to power surges and dips. Moreover, each test unit (particularly power-hungry toner-based units) must be tested using a dedicated power circuit.
For What It’s Worth
All things considered, do you think that reliability testing is worthwhile? Is the testing rigorously performed using good lab practices under controlled conditions? Do 120 trees need to be sacrificed in order to perform a seemingly pointless 1,000,000-print test? Do you really think that it’s worth the resources to manufacture, ship and recycle the number of paper, ink, and toner cartridges, CRUs, developing units, ink/toner collection units etc. that are required for reliability testing? Finally, why is it that virtually every published reliability test results in zero breakdowns?
You decide – and feel free to reply in the comments’ section below.