Multifunction devices smarten up with software

Multifunction devices smarten up with software


The key to multifunction devices of the future might lie in software, not hardware.

Ricoh Corp. officials believe almost any office device has the potential for multiple uses, no matter how it was originally constructed.

Ricoh has found that the biggest development expense for multifunction devices is the software controller. The company is experimenting with a universal controller for office equipment. For example, a copy machine with the universal controller could have its memory flashed to do faxing or scanning, too. It could also host an account management and interoffice tracking system.

Brian Cahill, product manager of office solutions, said Ricoh machines with the universal controller would arrive as early as this summer. The West Caldwell, N.J., company is courting third-party applications developers, he said.

Most companies are adding new hardware to their multifunction designs or retrofitting older devices.

The trend has been to make every component top-of-the-line because buyers don't want, say, a high-quality scanner harnessed to a slow network printer. That means jack-of-all-trades devices cost more because they have to master all their functions.

No matter what components are heaped on top, it seems that the primary job of all multifunction devices is network printing, increasingly in color. Some devices also do faxing and copying, and others function as network scanners or e-mail servers, but they all have a network-ready printer as their heart. 'There is not much demand for fax,' said Grady Yarbrough, director of product planning for Minolta-QMS Inc. of Mobile, Ala.

Minolta-QMS decided to add the $399 SC-200, a 600-dot-per-inch color scanner, to any of its printers to create a walk-up copier and network printer multifunction device in a custom wooden case.

Can't beat it

But Sharp Electronics Corp. of Paramas, N.J. decided not to cobble together different machines to make a multifunction device. They said faxing is an important component.

'You can get faxing through your e-mail or a lot of other ways, but for convenience, nothing is going to beat having a fax machine right there when you want to send a document,' said Anthony Titone, senior product marketing manager.

Sharp is introducing a line of multifunction devices for small workgroups. The AJ-5030 combines a 7.5-page-per-minute network printer, a 14.4-Kbps fax modem, a 1,200-dpi copy machine and a 9,600-dpi scanner. The components fit together in a machine not much larger than a standard desktop printer.

The only downside is that there is no network card. To share the device, users must set up their own print server.


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