How to Buy a Copier or MFP: 2009

Printer-Based MFPs vs. Copier-Based MFPs

There is little doubt that the multifunction printer base is growing, especially in the 45-ppm range, and more and more vendors continue to introduce devices into this category. Whether or not customers have “seen the light” and are quickly migrating to printer-based MFPs from copier-based MFPs is still in question, but according to Tom Codd, outbound marketing director for HP’s LaserJet business, a new study sheds more light on the current climate in the industry. According to Codd, this new study finds that a typical document length is about four pages, and 60 percent of jobs consist of five pages or fewer. Further, a majority of people print fewer than 10 jobs a day.

“These results allow us to go to customers who have been buying network printers for years and tell them our printer-based MFPs are the same network printer you like with multifunctional capabilities,” said Codd, adding that it is a logical extension to customers’ fleets. “Why put all these robust capabilities and robust finishing in every single MFP when they are simply not needed?”

According to Mark Meisberger, channel marketing manager for Samsung, almost all output is letter or legal-size documents, and ledger size is rarely used. “When looking at the needs of most customers, better legal-size documents and simple sort and staple are key,” Meisberger said, adding that a very small percentage of customers require booklet finishing options.

An Inevitable Shift?

According to InfoTrends, focused research and forecasting reveals that pages are migrating from copier-based MFPs to the growing printer-based MFP population. Don Dixon, principal research analyst and agenda manager, printing markets, Gartner, also finds that the industry is beginning to see cases in which customers, realizing that they do not do much legal-size printing, opt for a multifunction printer when it is time for a replacement. In addition, Dixon sees customers replacing one copier-based MFP with multiple printer-based MFPs, providing them with a more balanced deployment.

For a look into the future of the U.S. market, it may serve manufacturers well to take a look at Europe and Latin America, where Dixon finds that printer-based MFPs are having a larger impact currently than in the United States. Dixon attributes the larger impact in Europe and Latin America to the fact that the workgroups are smaller, as are the companies. HP’s Codd agrees, as Europe tends to build with more space constraint than the United States. Europe also tends to be more “progressive” than the United States, Codd said.  According to Samsung’s Meisberger, price could also be playing a role, as Latin America and Eastern Europe are currently more price sensitive than the United States.

So What's The Difference?

All the talk of printer-based MFPs and copier-based MFPs seemingly going head to head to win over customers begs the question: what really is the difference between the two product types? According to David Bates, vice president of product marketing for Xerox’s Office Group, not much; and the lines are continuing to blur. “The sales forces and industry know the lines, but customers do not look at it this way,” he said.

This blur is evidenced by following the evolution of the control panels for the printer-based MFPs. Whereas in the past the control panels of printer-based MFPs were unlike any found on competitive copier-based models, more and more printer-based MFPs are incorporating a customizable touch-sensitive color LCD display with an easy-to-navigate menu system. Further, functions such as duplexing are identified with names that will be easily recognizable by copier users.

Perhaps the first area where end-users may begin to see differentiators between the two device types is in network management. According to Codd, copier vendors have historically struggled with the network printing capabilities of their devices, and in order to have a successful multifunction printer product, this is a must. Indeed, few if any deny that HP’s Web Jetadmin is the market leader in network management.

According to Bates, the controllers of the copier-based MFPs do not always have the architecture to make the devices great printers. Indeed, printer-based products have standard embedded controllers that were designed alongside the hardware to work as a unified system. Printer manufacturers also design their software to provide the best print quality (through interpolated resolution modes; controlling dot placement, changing the shape of the dots, layering the dots, etc.), which is generally the area where printers surpass copiers.

But to the same degree, printer-based MFPs do not yet have the same copy capabilities as the copier-based MFPs, said Bates. “There is a place for the copier-based MFPs, as they do incorporate more robust capabilities for copying and finishing than the competitive printer-based MFPs.”

Codd agrees that for users walking up to glass and doing complex jobs with a lot of finishing capabilities, copier-based MFPs are the way to go. “But we really believe that people do not have to do that most of the time. If people are printing more than copying, they should buy technology based on a printer,” he added.

The line also continues to blur when following the consumables replacement evolution for each product. Whereas printer-based MFPs used to always utilize all-in-one printer-cartridge technology, which is less cost efficient, generally resulting in a higher per-page cost for supplies as the drum must be replaced whenever the toner is spent, more recent models feature what Meisberger calls a “dual component solution,” which is similar to that of copier-based MFPs in that the toner and drum are separate and replaced at different intervals.

However, a cost analysis conducted by BLI on a printer-based model against some of its direct copier-based competitors showed that it is more economical than its competitors when running up to 50,000 copies per month. But for users running at 100,000 copies per month or higher, the copier-based competitors are much more economical.

What About The Single-Function Printers?

Although much has been made of the multifunction printers versus the copier-based MFPs, it appears that single function printers have felt the most impact thus far from the multifunction printers.

According to Xerox’s Bates, multifunction printer models in general are not replacing copier-based MFPs. Instead, a vast majority of the multifunction printers are replacing single-function printers. This is evidenced by the fact that single-function printers are declining in the space in which the multifunction printers are growing, said Bates.

“I think the multifunction printers versus copier-based MFPs is overplayed in the industry. Users print to printer-based MFPs much the same way they would to a single function printer, which is why it is typically replacing a single-function printer,” said Bates.

It appears that the introduction of multifunction printers has actually expanded the market so far, according to Samsung’s Meisberger, agreeing with Bates that they have taken away some share from single-function printers.

Ironically, while multifunction printers are taking away share from single-function printers, when looking at BEI Services’ data on a standalone printer that runs at 45 ppm, the device’s service cost per copy is lower than both a printer-based MFP and a copier-based MFP, at .00228, and its average monthly volume is higher as well, at 14,814. The device’s copies between service, at 42,807, and copies between failures, at 95,668, are much higher than that of the printer and copier-based MFP as well.

“Product familiarity is key to the lower service,” Moseley said, adding that firmware updates are most likely complete and technicians are aware how to better service the machine.

The multifunction printer and copier-based MFPs also have more moving parts than the single-function printers, according to HP’s Codd, which typically leads to more failures. “We make sure we test each device thoroughly and that they deliver the same level of quality and reliability that customers expect from our products,” Codd said.