Dynamic Business Logo
Home Button
Bookmark Button

Is your office starting to look like a museum for cumbersome technology? A multifunction centre might be the answer. Helen Bradley takes a look at the new breed of all-in-one machines, from budget to super feature models.

Active ImageIn the world of printing there are machines that just print and types that do much more. Once known as multifunction devices or MFDs, these multi-featured devices are increasingly referred to as multifunction centres (MFCs), in recognition of their place as a central network resource for copying, printing, faxing and scanning.

No longer are MFC machines seen only in small and home offices and chosen only because they’re compact and inexpensive. Nowadays, many MFCs are large robust office machines that offer a range of features to meet just about any business need.

When you’re shopping for an MFC, the first step is to define what you want the machine to do. Traditionally, the MFC was an all-singing-all-dancing copier, printer, scanner and fax combined in one machine. These days, MFCs may or may not include a fax option, so it’s important to determine the components you need before you go shopping. The next step is to determine what you need in each component of the machine, as shopping for an MFC is like shopping for four devices at once.

For printing, consider if you need laser or inkjet technology. An inkjet printer uses ink in cartridge or block form and the ink is typically not waterproof. So, if you’re planning to print flyers to take to outside tradeshows, for example, choosing a device with a laser printer will ensure that your flyers don’t bleed into an inky mess if it rains. On the other hand, colour laser technology is still more expensive than inkjet colour. For users with photo printing needs, Epson has an all-in-one photo printing machine which uses high quality photo inks and includes the ability to print direct from a camera card.

Historically, colour devices were either seen in small and home office machines or expensive work-group machines, but there is a new breed of MFCs that are black and white devices that will print colour when needed. This ensures that you have colour when you need it but that day-to-day work is printed in black and white to keep operating costs down.

As with any printer, the speed of printing and the number of documents the machine is rated to produce per month are important considerations. You’ll need a printer that can handle the demand you’ll have for it. Ask the sales representative how often the major printer components need to be replaced. In addition to consumables, such as ink and toner, you will need to replace major parts like drums periodically. So it’s worth knowing their life span and replacement cost.

When you’re printing confidential documents, you’ll find some devices offer secure printing tools to prevent documents from being printed until a password is entered into the machine, for example.

Scanner & Fax

The scanner component in a multi-function device can be of two types: a flat-bed or a sheet-feed scanner, and some have both. A flat-bed scanner lets you scan bulky items and books by laying them on the scanner glass. A sheet-feed scanner requires that you feed sheets into the feeder. Many MFCs now offer an automatic document feeder (ADF) in addition to the flat-bed to cope with large copy tasks. These ADFs allow you to scan multiple pages at a time and some, like the Canon PIXMA MP830, can scan both sides of a page at once. This same scanner can automatically detect the direction of text, rotate scanned materials if required, and it can correct the skew of a scanned image if the original is not square on the scanner glass.

Some specialist photo MFCs, like the Epson Stylus Photo RX650, include a transparency adapter that lets you scan both positive and negative film. The same machine scans at a high 3200 x 6400dpi (dots per image) so that small negatives and slides can be scanned to larger images for printing.

Some multi-function devices don’t include the ability to send and receive faxes. For example, Canon has a line of print/scan/copy devices that it calls all-in-one printers but they don’t have fax capability. Most multifunction devices, however, do include faxing. The fax component of these may have additional features such as the ability to multitask so users can be printing or scanning while a fax is being received.

If you’ll be sending a lot of faxes, look for a fax with high receiving and sending speeds, so the time it takes to send and receive them is as short as possible and reduces your long distance and international call costs (although, the actual speed is also affected by the speed of the fax machine at the other end). Typical fax speeds vary from 14.4kbps to 33.6kbps, with the higher number indicating the faster device.

MFCs that can store numbers regularly dialled will save time and assist with accuracy. If broadcast faxing to multiple numbers at a time is required, having a fax function that lets you program the numbers as a group will speed up the process too. If you’re using the device in a small office and where the MFC shares a landline with the office phone, some devices can sound a different ring depending on whether an incoming call is phone or fax, so you know whether to answer it or not.

Network Options

There is a range of connectivity options for MFCs. Some of these, particularly pitched at the consumer end of the market, will take input from camera cards and USB devices. Having Bluetooth connectivity will allow users to print directly to the device from other Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Many MFCs are network compatible and have a built-in network card so they can be hooked into the company’s network to be used by anyone connected to the network. These will generally come with software to handle the printer in the network environment. This may include tools for identifying when the printer is experiencing problems—it might send an email if it’s low on paper or toner, for example. Also included will be tools for configuring the printer; for example, some Brother printers have Embedded Web Server Support so you can view the printer details using a web browser and alter settings using the printer’s home page.

If it is necessary to account by department or client for printed documents, many higher end printer manufacturers have software solutions that integrate with their printers to let you manage printer accounting tasks. For example, Canon’s NetSpot Accountant can track pages printed by department, user, device, paper size, type and billing code. It lets you allocate printing and copying tasks to various cost codes which let you track usage more accurately and pass on costs where they can be recovered from clients. You can also manage your device usage and limit the number of pages printed or copied by user or department over a set period.

Other things to consider when shopping for an MFC are the finishing options you may want, such as stitching booklets or stapling and collating pages. You should also consider the paper you routinely use, and ensure the printer has trays available for all the printing jobs you typically do.

If your office is currently littered with multiple scanners, printers, copiers and faxes, you can save on equipment costs and service agreements, as well as space, by investing in MFCs that can each do the work of four machines. And there are plenty of very smart machines available.

Multifunction Devices

To give you an idea of what is available in the multifunction centre market, we’ve looked at a range of printers from budget versions upwards. We’ve looked at their key features, which businesses they might suit, and what you can expect to pay for them.

1) Canon PIXMA MP830 all-in-one (RRP $549*)

Active Image
This printer is designed for small business or home office use and is a printer, copier, scanner and fax. It has a 35-page automatic document feeder and storage for up to 250 incoming pages. It can print up to 30ppm (pages per minute) in black, and 24ppm in colour, and offers both duplex printing and printing CDs. The machine will hold 300 sheets of paper reducing the need to refill it frequently.

2) HP LaserJet 3392 all-in-one (RRP $1,349*)Active Image

This laser prints up to 21ppm and can handle up to 10,000 pages per month. Two paper trays store 250 sheets each and it can print duplex and staple 20 sheets. The copier function will scan in colour at up to 1200dpi optical resolution and it can enlarge and reduce from 25 percent to 400 percent. It will store up to 120 fax numbers and includes ethernet network connectivity and USB 2.0. This printer is suited to small to medium sized businesses that require a laser printer and no colour.

 3) Brother MFC–9420CN (RRP $1,599 inc GST*)

Active ImageThis is Brother’s colour laser multifunction device. It can scan up to 1200 x 2400dpi from the flat bed, and 1200 x 600dpi from the ADF, and will scan to email, OCR (optical character recognition), image or file. The print speed varies from up to 31ppm for black and up to 8ppm for colour, and it comes with a 250-sheet paper tray. The fax is a Super G3 33.6kbps fax that can store up to 400 pages when awaiting transmission or when it’s out of paper.


4) Fuji Xerox ApeosPort 650 I (from $431.50 per month*)

Active ImageA fully featured network, monochrome printer, copier and scanner, this device offers optional finishing including folding, hole-punching, stapling, and saddle-stitching. It can scan documents up to A3 size, two sides at once, and it can scan to email and to ftp. The copier can add page numbers and date stamps automatically to copied documents and, to secure sensitive documents, you can print watermarks into the document that will be visible if the document is scanned, copied or faxed. It has an optional 2,000-sheet high capacity feeder and, using its bypass tray, it can handle paper up to a hefty 220gsm weight.

5) Ricoh MP C2500 (RRP $13,100*)

Active ImageAt the higher end of the spectrum, Ricoh’s MP C2500 draws on Embedded Software Architecture (ESA) technology, so the device can be programmed to integrate with existing or customised office solutions. One-touch finishing includes hole-punching, stapling or folding—with 2400 x 600dpi quality and saddle stitching capability. Print black-and-white or colour at 25 ppm, with paper supply (including letterhead, transparencies and select stocks) up to 3,100 sheets. Thanks to a new full-colour QWERTY operating panel, with touch screen, preview your documents before emailing or printing them. Scan to email, scan to folder or scan to URL at 50ipm (images per minute) black-and-white or 35ipm in colour.

*All prices correct as of August 2006


What do you think?

    Be the first to comment

Add a new comment

Guest Author

Guest Author

Dynamic Business has a range of highly skilled and expert guest contributors, from a wide range of businesses and industries.

View all posts