How Vendors Are Using AI To Improve The Printer Experience

Experts at HP, Xerox, Lexmark, Sharp and Brother talk to CRN about how their companies are using AI to improve the way printers are used, managed and maintained.

Vendors in the printer industry are already using AI technologies to improve how people use, manage and maintain printers, and some expect those investments to expand, experts told CRN in interviews for Printer Week 2024.

Shelly Radler, senior product marketing manager at Brother, said her company is already using machine learning to help customers replenish printer suppliers.

[Related: 6 Big Printer Industry Trends In 2024: HP, Xerox, Epson And Others Weigh In]

“We have intelligence to automatically order supplies depending on their usage, as long as the printers are connected to the internet,” said Radler (pictured). “Then it’s up to the customer and channel partner whether they want to automatically send an order or wrap it into a service which includes the service and the machine in a subscription fee.”

Dino Pagliarello, vice president of product management and production at Sharp, said his company is looking at using AI to improve printers “from a data perspective and a preventative maintenance perspective.”

“So for example, maybe I have customers printing or scanning 10,000 pages a month. It's hard to look at every single customer, right? And if we're looking at the whole data lake of information, we could start assessing information for the customer to understand what type of technology could they use to do their jobs better,” he said.

Pagliarello said preventative maintenance capabilities can help customers know when “there's going to be a paper issue or paper jam, or a printer will run out of toner, or a drum is going to be out of yield in a certain amount of time.”

“Then we can proactively provide the customer what they need before there's a problem,” he added.

Chris White, senior director of Lexmark’s global product strategy and portfolio management organization, said his company also views preventative and predictive capabilities as two areas where vendors can use AI to deliver “real customer value.”

“For years, when we designed a device, when we talked about it lasting a long time, part of that story is we put over 100 sensors in every device and gathered a bunch of files going back 10 years and more, and you would have data scientists analyzing that data. We would build machine learning algorithms on it,” he said.

By adding AI capabilities, a predictive algorithm can be used to analyze data coming from the sensor of a printer’s fuser and determine if there’s a higher chance of a failure in the next several months based on heating cycles, speed and temperature, according to White.

“So you trigger a non-urgent service ticket. It sits there in the queue. If somebody goes on site to work on something else, they can also work on the fuser at the same time, knowing that there's a high probability of a failure,” he said.

Xerox, on the other hand, said it’s using AI-assisted capabilities to improve document-centric workflows, whether they are completely physical or a mix of physical and digital, according to Terry Antinora, the company’s head of product and engineering.

These capabilities include Xerox’s Intelligent Filer App, which “takes the guess work out of naming, organizing, and adding context to scanned hardcopy using AI,” he said. There’s also the Translate and Print App feature, which can scan documents, translate the text of those documents into more than 40 languages and print them out.

Like Lexmark and Sharp, Xerox also sees the benefit of AI technologies improving uptime through performance monitoring and predictive analytics “that aim to reduce service interventions and device downtime,” according to Antinora.

“We also expect AI technologies to continue to deliver improved uptime of Xerox devices through AI-enabled performance monitoring and predictive analytics that aim to reduce service interventions and device downtime,” he added.

Mary Fish, senior vice president of print software platform and solutions at HP Inc., said her company is looking to apply generative AI capabilities to its “industry-leading print expertise and customer insights” to improve the print experience in the future. These capabilities will be introduced in an upcoming software solution called Print AI.

“By combining this knowledge with generative AI capabilities, such as contextual awareness, inference awareness, prompt engineering, natural language processing, and content generation, we continuously improve our AI model to provide intelligent and personalized printing experiences,” she said.

For instance, according to Fish, “contextual awareness will allow us to understand our customers’ printing habits and preferences, enabling us to deliver a personalized experience.” This, in turn, will allow HP to infer on “how they want to print, the optimal print output and size based on image quality and resolution, and the best print settings based on the available printer,” she added.

“As a result, we can present customers with recommended print outputs and previews that suit their specific needs,” Fish said.

The “immediate goal” with AI capabilities like this is “to make printing simpler and frictionless for customers by providing easy set-up, consistently perfect prints, and predictive and proactive support,” according to Fish.

“Currently, printers only print what we tell them to, which can lead to frustrating trial and error for customers to achieve their desired output. With our Print AI software solution – we are flipping the script. By harnessing the power of AI models derived from HP's deep knowledge base, we are making our printers smarter and more intuitive,” she said.

Fish added that HP’s Print AI software solution will “open up a world of new and exciting opportunities for our channel partners.”

“It also creates a fresh wave of engagement possibilities within their own channels. By introducing innovative AI capabilities, channel partners can showcase the cutting-edge software solutions from HP, generating excitement and interest among their customers. This presents an opportunity to offer value-added services and solutions that cater to the evolving needs of customers of all sizes,” she said.