Multi-functional products with smart technologies increase office efficiency.

The era of multitasking is here and offices in the Middle East have undergone significant changes to keep pace with the ongoing technological innovations within corporate and SOHO (small office home office) environments.

One area that has definitely seen this growing trend in recent years is office printing where there has been a notable shift from single function devices to machines that offer multi-function capabilities.

Multi-function machines can be incorporated into printing and imaging infrastructures to control costs and extend business capabilities.

Yoshihisa Tsuji, Managing Director, Brother Gulf, was recently quoted in a report on the internet as saying, "Multi-function centres present a host of benefits to users especially in the SOHO segment, such as cost effectiveness, better space utilisation and greater practicality of use since it allows printing, scanning, copying and faxing from one machine. Our latest range of MFCs with several unique features is designed to deliver unmatched quality of output and thereby maximise customer satisfaction.

Growing demand

"A recent International Data Corporation (IDC) study that shows the demand for laser multi-function products in the Middle East is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of about 40 per cent between 2004 and 2006 has further reinforced Brother Gulf's strategy to capitalise on the growing demand for high-quality MFCs in the region.

"We expect the demand for Brother's MFCs to grow by 40 per cent by the end of 2006. All our previous models of MFCs have been extremely popular among customers, which gives us every reason to believe that our new range will be an overwhelming success," said Tsuji.

According to IDC offices around the world will produce 4.5 trillion pages of hardcopy information by 2007.

"We have seen a high level of demand and growth in the UAE market for multi-function devices in the inkjet range where one gets three functions in one machine, thus economising on space and operational costs. This also holds good for the laser multi-function printer market," says Khalil El Dalu, General Manager, Epson Middle East.

"We expect demand for Epson's multi-function devices (MFDs) to grow by 25 per cent in the Middle East this year. This reflects recent industry projections, where (IDC) expects inkjet MFDs to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 82 per cent between 2004 and 2006 and laser MFDs to grow at a CAGR of about 40 per cent during the same period.

"Epson expects the Middle East's entry-level commercial market within inkjet MFDs to account for a sizeable portion of this growth. The growth in demand and sales of printers, scanners and projectors, especially in the SOHO segment, has been most encouraging," says El Dalu.

According to Amr Hassan, General Manager, Imaging and Printing Group, HP Middle-East, businesses want a range of machines that offer flexible low-cost printing and copying on fair contracts. HP will announce seven new printer-based multi-functional products (MFPs) at Gitex to provide a complete set of options for today's enterprise and business customers in meeting their most challenging needs.

"Customers/users in general are increasingly looking to do more with less and Toshiba MFP plays an important role in increasing office productivity with multitasking features at a competitive total cost of ownership," says Pradeep Kumar, Regional Manager, Electronic Imaging Division, Toshiba Gulf Fze.

"Companies should look for multitasking machines, versus just multifunction devices. Key to the productivity of the equipment is the concurrency it can offer as that reduces wait time and gets work done faster with fewer assets. Our core products all offer true multitasking," says Smita Bhargava, Product Marketing Manager, Xerox Emirates.

Customers in the UAE have varied choice when it comes to choosing multi-functional products that suit their particular needs. Most brands offer singularly different technologies, based on their global expertise and understanding of the regional market needs.

While Brother pioneered the MFC about 12 years ago, the machines have become faster, smaller and smarter. These products are launched in the Middle East about four months after Europe and the US. This helps to gain some market feedback and tweak the technical support setup in the region as well as ensure improved levels of customer satisfaction.

Toshiba recently introduced the second generation of e-Bridge technology and single-pass high-speed colour MFP. E-Bridge Technology incorporates unified architecture with ready-to-use solutions and has capability to expand with the user's future requirement for higher standardised network capabilities. The second generation of e-Bridge Technology makes it much easier for Toshiba MFP to install and integrate to network environment.

Konica Minolta has introduced the Simitri polymerised toner for its consumables as well as banner printing via its colour laser A3 printer. The company also had good reviews for its tandem machine — single-pass with PRISMLASER technology, multi-function, direct printing from camera via PictBridge Photo Print.

HP Instant-on technology is now incorporated into almost all HP LaserJet printers. Instant-on technology works by having an innovative quick heating fuser system that virtually eliminates warm-up time. Instant-on technology enables a printer to begin printing from PowerSave mode immediately, regardless of when it was last used, and then directly return it to PowerSave mode once printing is complete. There's also the added bonus that Instant-on technology also leads to lower power consumption and less wear on the printer engine.

"Features such as Xerox's CentreWare Internet Services desktop management software allows IT administrators or office workers to configure and manage remotely our core multi-function devices," says Bhargava.

Xerox's SMART eSolutions software automatically reports how many prints, copies, scans and faxes are completed on the system. Advanced security features enable customers to restrict access, track usage and protect confidential information that flows through the devices. Xerox's ‘smart paper trays' which automatically sense paper size to match the print or copy job and are designed to be easy to install and maintain.

Affordable products

Affordable colour MFCs are the latest products being introduced aggressively and the rollout is almost simultaneous in the UAE market with the rest of the world. Kyocera has an enduring policy of using long-life components, ease-of-use and service friendly products, which is part of the ergonomic design to help people become more efficient and productive.

Epson is the first to introduce photo inkjet printers using Micro Piezo technology in its printer head which results in low running costs, yields images that last for more than 120 years, and are water and smudge resistant. Its Micro Piezo print head technology delivers ink from microscopic nozzles that measure a fraction of the diameter of a human hair, thereby allowing greater precision for finely detailed images. It allows users to make high-quality prints directly from popular memory cards, PictBridge and USB Direct-Print digital cameras and to copy, enlarge and retouch photos in a single step.

As products and revolutionary technologies jostle for space at Gitex, MFPs will hold sway.

Environmental and office space constraints will remain the major drivers for companies to switch to MFCs as they drive down their administrative and supplies expenses.