The unprecedented advances in PC technology over the past 20 years have directly contributed to the development of increasingly sophisticated text and graphics packages, all of which have improved the quality of business communications.
It is now common to fax copies of documents that include a variety of fonts, charts and graphics, all of which increase the print density or the toner coverage on a printed or faxed page.
As machines developed to meet requirements for better communication, the knock-on effect on print density was of secondary consideration to the user.
Recent independent research by RS Consulting has revealed significant findings. The prevailing ITU-T Test Document No 1 - an industry standard for fax print density - is used by many fax manufacturers to calculate average cost-per-A4-page and appears not to reflect current practice.
The research, carried out in 94 corporate organisations in manufacturing and distribution, public sector and finance market sectors revealed that the mean print density per A4 faxed page is 10.5 per cent - nearly three times greater than the present standard of 3.8 per cent.
Print density is fundamental to calculating quoted running costs and has a bearing on a machine's memory capacity and transmission speeds.
If you allow an additional cost of one pence per A4 page, in terms of additional toner, over the life span of a high-volume fax machine (180,000 copies), you are looking at an overall increase in running cost of #1,800.
Multiply this again by the number of fax machines likely to be found in a large organisation and the significance of the research results soon becomes clear.
In addition to the dramatic effect on cost-per-page, the results also throw the efficiency of some of the most popular brands into question.
Approximately half of the manufacturers producing faxes and printers utilise a combined toner and drum unit. It is now clear that the toner, calculated to have the same life span as the drum, is actually used up faster, with higher print densities. That means a drum with 50 per cent of its life left is discarded when the toner has expired.
The results also indicate that the mean print density statistic for printers needs to be re-examined. Based on empirical evidence, the average print density per A4 printed page can be more realistically considered at 7.5 per cent, instead of the five per cent used at present.
As the full implications of this research are realised by corporate purchasers and users, dealers around the country may be anticipating an influx of sales. Realistically, however, no organisation is going to change all its office equipment overnight.
Customers rely heavily on advice from dealers and manufacturers on the best action to improve the cost-effectiveness of their office equipment, and we would encourage dealers to re-evaluate their product range to ensure they are offering customers the most cost-effective models.
Dialogue with manufacturers is also essential. Dealers may benefit by asking questions about a manufacturer's stance on the new print density findings. Does it intend to amend its method of cost calculations in light of the new findings? Is it in dialogue with other manufacturers? Will it commission its own research? And, most importantly, what is its stance on combined consumables units versus separate toner and drum technology?
These new findings are by no means the last word on print density. The ITU-T has agreed that the print density statistic investigated require updating and has provisionally agreed to discuss it further at the forthcoming ITU-T Study Group Eight meeting to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, in June.
It may be that more research is required before a new print density figure is agreed.
Whatever happens, it is essential that dealers are actively involved in the debate which looks set to have such a dramatic impact on our industry.
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