Today's Automated Copy Clerks Push the Digital Envelope

by George Waldon  on Monday, May. 9, 2005 12:00 am  

Digital copiers have been on the office equipment scene for more than 15 years, but the technological overhaul of the familiar machine only began making real inroads with businesses during the past few years.

Recent additions to the product, which include scanning and networking functions, have put a new-and-improved sheen on digital machines.

Brett Rogers, president of Little Rock's Capital Business Machines Inc., said customers have grown more comfortable with adding digital copiers to their offices.

"One of the neat new things that digital office copiers can have on them is a feature that allows two-sided scanning, which scans both sides of the original at the same time," Rogers said.

"Consequently the speed is twice as fast. That's really slick because your paper isn't having to be handled as often."

Producers have resolved the reliability issues that plagued the early 1990s models. That was largely accomplished through melding the engine of computer printers with the copier concept.

The resulting scan once/print many process means a digital copier has almost 30 percent fewer moving parts in an average print or copy run. That translates into less wear and tear and greater reliability.

"It's taken awhile for companies to get people comfortable hooking up a copier to their [computer] network," Rogers said.

Continued software refinements have improved digital copier function and versatility, helping to win over consumer confidence.

Mark Roberts, senior account representative with Standard Business Systems of Little Rock, said digital copiers are becoming a big component for business networks, processing e-mails, faxes and more.

"One of the hottest things we're seeing is scanning software and document management software," said Roberts, a 15-year veteran in office equipment sales. "Whatever paperwork is compiled can be scanned and converted to a digital file."

Such a capability led to the concept of a paperless office years ago. But even with the advanced machines growing more prevalent in the marketplace, Rogers isn't seeing a corresponding reduction in paper use.

"There is still more paper being consumed today than there has been in the history of the world," he said. "The widespread paperless office won't happen in my lifetime, but we can set an office up to be paperless, today."

So what sort of numbers are we talking about for a high-performance digital copier, something with a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $50,000 or so for a base unit?

Some models copy/print at 105 pages per minute. Throwing in an impressive scanning add-on will likely run that sticker price upward.

But we're talking 80 scanned images per minute at true 1,200-dpi resolution, with a network scan-to-e-mail and scan-to-file option.

"Our business is more document-oriented rather than equipment-oriented," Rogers said. "We have the means to the end.

"Our bread and butter is still copiers and printers. We don't sell analog copiers any more."

Copier History

There is no shortage of copier companies fighting for market share.

A roster of players taking the competitive field includes Brother, Canon, Copystar, Gestetner, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, Imaginistics, Konica, Kyocera Mita, Lanier, Minolta, Muratec, NEC, Oce, Panasonic, Ricoh, Royal, Samsung, Savin, Sharp and Toshiba.

Oh yeah, there's that company whose name became synonymous with copy machines: Xerox.

The father of copier technology is Chester Carlson, a New York patent attorney. On Oct. 22, 1938, the 32-year-old made his first copy using a process he called electrophotography.

A decade later, the process was renamed xerography, coined from the Greek words for "dry" and "writing." Carlson patented the groundbreaking process, but the idea needed developmental refinement and didn't catch on right away.

He shopped his invention to more than a few big-name corporations, who fail to see his foundational work as the jumping-off point for one of the biggest office innovations ever.

Carlson signed a royalty sharing agreement in 1944 with the Battelle Development Corp. of Columbus, Ohio, which made commercial improvements to his process, including the development of toner.

The Haloid Co., a photo-paper manufacturer based in Rochester, N.Y., acquired a license to Carlson's patents in 1947 and a year later trademarked what would later become its corporate moniker: Xerox.

The company's first xerographic copier was introduced in 1948, and further research led to the use of a rotating drum, which increases speed and quality.

The Xerox 914, revered in the office equipment hall of fame, was unveiled in 1959 as the first automatic, plain-paper office copier. The model number referred to its ability to handle legal size (9-inch by 14-inch) sheets of paper.

Its introduction transformed the company into an international giant and made the copy machine an office icon.

 

 

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