Maximum Monthly Duty Cycle vs. Optimum Monthly Volume
When Buyers Laboratory met with its Testing Advisory Committee (TAC) of multifunctional product (MFP) vendors, one of the topics that elicited the strongest response was the high maximum monthly volumes for MFPs. Vendors participating at the meeting agreed that maximum monthly volumes for their equipment are not realistic and that actual usage is far lower.
Running the products at the maximum monthly volume would result in the need for very frequent service visits—both for preventive maintenance and failures—and products would not last the term of a three-year lease, as their engine life is not that long. In fact, running some products at their manufacturers’ maximum monthly volume, which is part of BLI’s reliability test procedure, is not even possible in a normal eight-hour day in some cases. In these cases, BLI has had to stagger work schedules and extend the work day to accommodate some products’ daily volume.
Based on feedback we received on monthly volumes from the vendors at the TAC meeting, BLI has modified the terminology regarding monthly volume used in our specification sheets and our lab test reports to avoid confusion. For example, previously BLI listed the manufacturer’s rated maximum monthly volume as “Manufacturer’s maximum recommended monthly volume.” But Paul Albano, product marketing manager with Canon U.S.A., pointed out that the use of the word “recommended” in conjunction with the maximum monthly volume could be misleading.
Maximum Volumes Not Recommended
While none of the vendors we spoke to could tell us precisely how the monthly duty cycle is determined, Albano said, “From Canon’s perspective, the maximum monthly duty cycle of a product represents the maximum number of pages the machine can produce within a one-month period.” He pointed out that while it is sometimes confused with the manufacturer’s recommended monthly volume, the monthly duty cycle of a given product is not the “recommended” volume at which it should be used on a consistent basis. “To use an analogy,” Albano said, “it would be like stepping on the gas pedal of your car down to the floor everyday, eight hours a day for a month. While it is possible to achieve, it is not recommended.” Continuing with his analogy, he explained that “the device can approach the maximum duty cycle on an occasional basis, but you would not want to run these machines at that rate continuously, just as you would not want to run your car at the maximum rate on a daily basis.”
BLI now lists a product’s maximum monthly volume as “Maximum monthly duty cycle.” In a similar vein, BLI changed its wording for BLI’s recommended maximum monthly volume for a product, which is determined by BLI test technicians based on such factors as its reliability, paper capacity and productivity. Whereas this used to be listed as “BLI’s maximum recommended monthly volume for optimum performance,” it is now represented as “BLI’s recommended duty cycle for peak usage.” It represents the maximum monthly volume for which BLI recommends it, but as with duty cycle, that volume is for occasional peak usage, not on a continual basis.
Why Not Say It Like It Is?
Because of competitive pressures, vendors feel compelled to set their maximum volume rates high, but they also recognize the need for customers to realize that MFPs cannot reasonably be expected to run the maximum monthly volume on a consistent basis.
Canon has what it refers to as the “optimum zone” for each of its products, which, according to Albano, represents the monthly volume range in which the product will deliver optimum performance with little maintenance required. This more realistic monthly volume is published in Canon’s service guides, documents used by dealer management in both sales and service organizations. “This helps our dealers set their pricing models and correctly position the right products for our customers based on their expected volumes and expectations,” said Albano, noting that the information has a direct impact on dealer profitability, as well as customer satisfaction.
He explained that no problems would be anticipated if a product ran outside of its optimum zone every now and then. However, he added, “If customers consistently operate the machine above that zone, or close to its maximum duty cycle, they may run the risk of additional maintenance calls. If this is the case, we’d recommended a higher-volume device to keep our customers satisfied.”
Xerox at one time published both a maximum recommended monthly volume and an average recommended monthly volume. The latter was a more realistic volume for which the unit could be used on a consistent basis. Xerox recently formed a task group to study the issue, in order to reconcile the monthly volume recommendations across a line that includes printers, which have higher monthly duty cycles to compete with products from companies such as HP and Lexmark, along with MFPs, which compete against products from companies such as Canon and Ricoh and have lower monthly duty cycles. Though Xerox won’t have an official position on the matter until approximately September, Xerox Vice President of Product Marketing David Bates offered some interesting speculation. He explained that Xerox is studying the issue because as Xerox’s service business grows and the company takes on more customers’ fleets, it is getting more questions from its sales force on proper placement of equipment. He noted, for example, that in some cases the engine in a Xerox MFP is the same engine as in a Xerox printer, but the two products have different monthly duty cycles. “So customers and our sales force see that and they’re saying, ‘What?’ That’s why we’re looking at it, because it doesn’t make sense.”
Bates said he believes the divergence was likely driven by the different business models for the two types of equipment, pointing out that since MFP vendors will have to service customers’ equipment, they would naturally have a tendency to be more conservative than printer vendors, since printers are not generally covered under service contracts. “I can see how we got where we got to,” said Bates, “but as these worlds collide, we have to make sense of these numbers not only for us, but for our customers.” One of the things Xerox’s task group is considering is whether or not to continue to differentiate between printers and MFPs when establishing monthly duty cycles.
Ricoh is one company that is apparently going public with its more realistic monthly volumes. According to Chris Markowski, color product manager for Ricoh, Ricoh now has three volume specifications for each of its products. The maximum duty cycle is the very high number—indeed, he termed it ridiculous—that he said vendors must have for marketing purposes to position their equipment against competitive models. He explained that if Company A’s model has a monthly duty cycle of 250,000 impressions and Company B’s similar-speed model has a much lower monthly duty cycle, “there is a perception among buyers that the model with the lower monthly duty cycle is less reliable.” Ricoh also has a maximum recommended monthly volume that he said the machine is designed to handle during peaks of heavy usage, but again, not on a consistent basis. The unit’s average recommended monthly volume is the optimum volume for the unit, the volume at which end users will be happiest, with required maintenance within acceptable ranges.
Toshiba America Business Solutions (TABS) publishes only a maximum monthly volume, but Kay Fernandez, director of product and solutions marketing for TABS’ Electronic Imaging Division, pointed out that individual dealerships may use data from Business Equipment Information Services (BEI Services) to provide sales reps with data indicating the monthly volumes that would allow for optimum performance for the customer and optimum profitability for the dealer.
Low Monthly Volumes A More Likely Problem
While maximum monthly volumes may be unrealistically high and consistent usage at such volumes would surely cause problems, such overuse is not likely. Not even close. In the real world, products are being used for much lower volumes, ranging from 5 percent to 20 percent of the duty cycle in the case of monochrome products (depending on the speed range). For example, products with speeds of 31 to 40 ppm have an average maximum duty cycle of more than 100,000 impressions, but in the real world they are used on average for slightly less than 10,000 impressions a month.
The Reliability Paradox
Because it seems reasonable that using an MFP at its maximum monthly duty cycle would result in a significant increase in the amount of service required, wouldn’t it also seem reasonable to assume that using an MFP for very low volumes would result in less wear on parts and less need for service? The answer may surprise you.
“It’s a common belief that if you sell a Segment 4 machine to a customer who only does a low volume, the product will last a long time,” said Greg Moseley, CEO of BEI Services. But, he said, this is a misconception. He explained that while the fusing rollers for a typical Segment 4 MFP might have a rated life of 300,000 impressions, even if the unit is producing only 8,000 copies or prints a day, it’s still sitting there at a very hot 160 degrees Centigrade all day long. And from time alone, the rollers are likely to fail after 100,000 impressions, achieving only a third of their rated life. The same is true of photoconductors. And since developer is designed for use at a specific volume range, it will not work as well at volumes considerably outside of that range. At low volumes, for example, the machine will get dirtier inside, which will have a negative affect on output quality. In contrast, said Moseley, when units are run at higher volumes, the same components will often last longer than the rated yield. For example, those same fusing rollers could last for 400,000 impressions.
Since more service is required when machines are underutilized, it requires more service technicians on staff to support low-volume placements, resulting in higher cost to the dealership for less return.
A Tale of Two Dealerships
To illustrate the effect of monthly volumes on a dealership’s profitability, Moseley related a “tale of two dealerships.” One dealer sells Segment 3 products into almost every environment. It takes 12 service technicians to support those installations, which works out to an average of 500,000 impressions per technician. Another dealership focuses on “going after value” by selling high-volume machines into high-volume placements and pursuing deals in which it can place multiple high-volume (e.g., 20, 40, 80) models. Requiring just one service technician for every 2 million impressions per month, this latter dealership clearly has a much more profitable business model.