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DIGITAL COPIERS & PRINTERS -- The Urge to Converge

February 2003

Buzz words can become every bit as annoying as the insects evoked by the name. They also seem to multiply just as quickly, often building into a swarm that can obscure the view.

For a time it seemed as if "convergence" was destined for this fate in the digital printing realm. Since the latter part of 2002 and carrying forward into 2003, how-ever, there has been growing evidence of the concept being made manifest in the real world. The term applies equally well to developments throughout the industry segment.

Technological convergence is leading the way and actually dates back the furthest. Increases in resolution, substrate flexibility and data format support have all but obliterated the distinction between digital printers for data center/production printing and commercial printing/graphic arts applications.

Advances in digital capabilities also seem headed toward making the "copier" label a relic of a bygone era. These devices are becoming printers on the network with scanning units for hard copy and an increasing array of finishing options.

Standardization of front-end software and controllers is another growing trend among the manufacturers offering multiple classes of hardware—from copier/printers to high-volume production systems with support for black-and-white and color output. This gives the corporate or institutional user the option of implementing a common interface across its output capabilities.

Win Some, Lose Some

The net effect of these developments is to make it more practical for print customers to meet a growing range of their needs internally, should they so desire. The door swings both ways, though, so greater versatility in digital systems means commercial printers can compete for a wider range of a corporation's printing work.

Increased integration and network connectivity also can make it easier for an outside print supplier to plug into customers at the desktop or chooser level. The Internet overcomes distance barriers for outside companies seeking to offer digital printing services via a facilities management arrangement or from their remote production facilities. The business potential of integration already can be seen in the digital shops that have packaged their print-on-demand production capabilities with fulfillment services and Internet-based ordering and inventory management.

(Product-specific examples of the convergence in technology can be seen in the accompanying sidebar.)

A logical extension of technological advances is convergence at the production level. Preprinting of color shells via offset production for subsequent imprinting on black-and-white digital systems has been an important enabler of print-on-demand and personalization applications. This "hybrid" production concept continues to evolve as digital color systems become more robust.

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