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Package Deal

Multifunctional Devices Offer The Latest Technology, Professionalism, and Convenience.

Wish you could wave a wand and banish all those machines cluttering your desk? More than a dozen manufacturers have done that for you by combining a printer, copier, scanner and fax machine in one unit. Called multifunctional devices (MFDs), these machines perform all the primary office functions except answering your phone (although Ricoh's MV106 even has an answering machine port). They can be networked, print and copy in color or black-and-white, send faxes at a programmed time, and scan documents for editing and faxing directly from your computer.

Research firm CAP Ventures estimates that by 2000, one in five office machines purchased will be an all-in-one product. The market for MFDs is so hot, new models equipped with technological advances are appearing every month, it seems, with higher-quality imaging, more font choices, larger paper trays, faster speeds and increased memory capacity. At press time, one of the fastest machines was Toshiba's DP2460+SC-1 Controller, a digital laser MFD that faxes, prints and copies 24 pages per minute, compared to about six pages per minute by its competitors. Brother's color 7000FC allows you to capture video frames for direct copying, faxing or filing from a digital camera, VCR, television or camcorder.

The most obvious advantage of an MFD, aside from taking up less space, is its cost-effectiveness. Instead of having to buy four or five different machines--and maintain each with different replacement toner, drum and other parts--you can purchase a single machine whose printing, scanning and copying functions use the same cartridge. This will lower your utility bill. A third advantage is that you'll need fewer service people. And while some argue that an all-in-one machine can't offer the same high quality in each of its functions as separate machines can, digital and other technologies are quickly narrowing that gap.

MFDs are built with one of three different print processes: laser, LED (light-emitting diode) or inkjet. Lasers produce the highest quality in the fastest time; LEDs are only a fraction behind. While inkjets are not quite as sharp, they produce professional-looking documents and are priced much lower than other MFDs. The newest black-and-white models produce more varied shades of gray than before. Color MFDs are more readily available, although maintenance costs for color cartridges are higher than for black-and-white models. The quality of the image you get depends on the dots per inch (dpi) the machine prints. The higher the dpi, the clearer the image. Most MFDs use around 600 dpi for printing and 300 dpi for copying and scanning.

The greatest disadvantage of an MFD is also its greatest strength. If one of the functions breaks down, the entire machine is unusable. To preclude such a disaster, several manufacturers offer warranties with 24-hour express replacement, on-site exchange or fast repairs.

There are more than 50 MFDs on the market. Here's a rundown of some of their functions:

Auto fax/phone switch: If you have one line for phone calls and faxing, some MFDs will switch to the fax function when a fax is incoming.

Broadcasting: Sends faxes to several different numbers simultaneously.

Dual access: The ability to use the MFD for a second function while another function is being performed.

Fax memory: If your machine is out of paper or the ink cartridge is low, faxes will be stored. When the paper tray is refilled or the cartridge replaced, the faxes stored in the memory chip will be printed. Some MFDs can store up to 180 pages.

PC faxing: Sends faxes directly from your computer's modem without having to print the document and feed it manually into the fax machine.

Quick scan: Scans a document into memory so you can retrieve your document without having to wait for it to be processed.

TWAIN: Allows importing graphics without leaving an application.

How do you choose an MFD? Steven Gomo, the general manager in Hewlett Packard's San Diego division, offers some tips:

  • Determine whether you need full or partial color, or monochrome capabilities.
  • Make sure the MFD transitions smoothly among various hardware applications via a single, user-friendly software interface.
  • Make sure the MFD can print on the kinds of paper products you use, such as envelopes and index cards.

Jill Amadio is a writer in Newport Beach, California.

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This article was originally published in the December 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Package Deal.

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