By Carro Ford Weston More powerful engines are making MFPs a realistic choice for mid-volume production in corporate and quick print environments. May 18, 2005 -- Multifunctional digital scan/copy/print systems (MFPs) are making inroads in both commercial and corporate environments, but sometimes for different reasons. Both categories of users can relate to the well-documented advantages of the MFP's reduced footprint and consolidated functionality. More powerful engines are making the devices a realistic choice for mid-volume production, and some units offer color support, high resolution, duplexing, finishing choices, front-end software tools, value-added scanning intelligence and more.These are qualities any print manager would covet. While potential output and applications are similar, the difference between the corporate and commercial MFP markets is often perspective. For corporations, printing is just something that supports the larger business strategy. The corporate customer may prioritize on MFP manageability from both an IT and network perspective, ease of use, cost per page, and reliability. A major difference is that for quick printers, printing is their business and therefore a strategic focus. The priorities of a quick printer for an MFP device would tend more toward service and uptime, print output, and operational cost. One Device, Two Views Quick printers use MFP technology as a walk-up service to improve the customer experience, and they must be able to charge users for work done on the machines. Because money is changing hands, the print shop can't get away with saying, "I was out of the green covers and had to use the blue ones." This might fly in a corporate job, but paying customers want what they want. Many corporate environments don't even track the user charges for walk-up MFPs. Getting work in, done and out quickly means the next paying customer can step right up. When the department MFP goes down, the solution for a corporate user may involve simply going to a device on another floor. For a quick printer, the downtime is more serious. When the copier/scanner/printer goes down, there is no other choice for the print-for-pay operator. The impact is lost jobs and revenue, so uptime is critical. Still, because the MFP device is a revenue generator, commercial users tend to be much harder on their equipment, and they push the limits on volume, usually above the manufacturer's recommendation. MFPs on the market today address print-for-pay concerns with turnaround and print quality. Greater overall digital quality now available on these systems is driving commercial MFP adoption, because the output is the product for print shops. These service-based businesses put greater demands on reliability, speed, flexibility and workflow efficiency than corporate environments, because getting work in, done and out quickly means the next paying customer can step right up. MFPs also help give print-for-pay operations a bigger piece of the profit pie. With the copy/print/scan abilities of the MFP, print shops can take a job from beginning to end and not have to send any of it out. The consolidated features also mean fewer systems on which staff must be trained. Already Ready vs. Make Ready Software plays a part in the broader use of MFPs for scanning, archiving, retrieving, and adding value to documents, but casual walk-up users may not appreciate the advanced capabilities. In corporations, most MFPs are used mainly for printing, unless they are in an environment like a law firm or medical office that is constantly bringing hardcopy into a digital workflow for archiving. In those cases, someone may be dedicated to a scanning function, and that person probably has a deep appreciation for intelligent software to enhance scanned documents. Print-for-pay companies would be more likely to use MFP scanning functionality to get customer hardcopy into digital production. For them, software is still important to despeckle, deskew and otherwise get image quality up to snuff. Today's MFPs often work hand-in-hand with software tools to overcome problems and get the jobs into the digital workflow. In quick print shops, the front-end work typically gets more attention than in corporate environments. In corporate CRDs and print rooms, the document format is pretty much set and a known factor across jobs and cycles, so page makeready isn't so critical. On the other hand, print shops must be prepared to receive all kinds of work from customers, and the jobs may not be quite ready for the shop's digital workflow. Fonts may not be available, or conversion of some sort may be needed to run the job on the shop's equipment. Today's MFPs often work hand-in-hand with software tools to overcome problems and get the jobs into the digital workflow. Being able to bring in jobs from a wide variety of data formats without expensive conversion expands opportunities for print-for-pay. Expanding Capabilities Both types of users need to move large volumes of information quickly, efficiently and reliably, and make use of advanced finishing options. Both are also taking advantage of new ways of driving digital workflow. For quick printers, this could involve accepting and processing orders online, while corporate enterprises might distribute scanned images and documents to remote offices via e-mail, fax or scan-to-desktop. MFPs now include stack and staple capabilities, dual and multi-position stapling, two- and three-hole punching, saddle-stitched booklet making, v-fold booklet making and letter size c and z tri-folding. These advanced features result in highly professional, diverse output at almost any volume range, benefits that meet the needs of both commercial and corporate users. Productivity and concurrency--the ability to do multiple things at the same time, like printing and copying -- are key in both environments, because no matter where you work, you've got deadlines. You can always reach Carro Ford Weston at her new email address: [email protected].