A Look Ahead: What's Next For Printers


The future of printer technology was on the agenda at CRN's Printer Roundtable at XChange 2018 as we sat down with three of the country's leading vendors to ask them what technology advances solution providers should look for next.

Channel executives from HP Inc., Lexmark and Xerox said the industry is innovating by incorporating advanced hardware and software into the devices to transform them into to the hub of any workspace. Here are some of the hot new features and capabilties making their way to market.

Software-Driven Solution Hub

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John Reilly, vice president of U.S. channel sales at Xerox, said for starters, the company envisions a printer that can help teachers give exams and help hospitals managed patient care.

"All of this is software-centric," he said. "You can even layer on verticalized software, where you have things such as health care, which manages the discharge process, that a health care provider would use as they off-road a patient, or a SLED (state, local and education government) environment where the school is trying to translate documents for a multilingual school [district].

"Instead of spending the money on having multiple teachers and other resources that cost, year after year, you can use the printer as a personal assistant that ultimately helps you translate the same test or the same lesson multiple times automatically.

"Those are real examples. There's a software that looks for plagiarism, there's software that does the translation, so this is real stuff."

Printer, Heal Thyself

Dan McDonnell, vice president of U.S. Print Channel with HP, said the company is focused on making devices that require fewer touches by the end-user through the use of self-diagnostic software, which not only uncovers what's wrong, but can also monitor and eliminate cyber-security threats.

"They can heal themselves—the Tesla model. They can report back and basically tell you what's wrong with the machine. And in some cases, they can fix it. Security is part of it, where if there's a challenge, if there's malware, if there's a breach, the machine can shut down and reset and purge that security blip off the system.

"So the fact that they're self-diagnostic, and they can heal themselves, they can pick up on security and solve it without intervention, it is a huge game-changer for the channel. There's less intervention for them. They're more profitable in terms of servicing the machines, and it obviously helps the customers themselves."

For HP, The Future Is In 3-D

HP recently debuted the Metal Jet, a production level 3-D printer that can extrude stainless-steel components. HP is targeting the device at parts manufacturing in medical, industrial, and automotive industries.

HP also plans to launch four new Jet Fusion 3-D printer models, which will be known as the 300 series and 500 series and will be focused on prototyping.

The models will feature the same technology of the original 4210/4200 models -- which have focused on printing final production parts -- but will have a smaller footprint and lower cost in order to reach a broader set of customers. HP is also launching a separate channel program for the new Jet Fusion 3-D printers that doesn't require partners to provide servicing.

"3D is coming, and it'll probably be bigger than 2-D in 10 years," McDonnell said. "So yeah, there's a massive shift to it."

SMB Machines Built For Enterprise

Greg Chavers, vice president of North American channel sales with Lexmark, said the company's strategy for the future is about preparing customers for what's next in their business, and creating a machine that can grow with them, by over-building their newest devices to be cloud-enabled with dual processors, ready for the workloads of tomorrow.

"Innovation going forward for us, it's going to include the things that are top-of-mind for most customers right now: more security advancements, cloud offerings, mobile print, intelligent capture on the devices so that they can act more like workflow portals in the business environment. And, I will tell you, analytics as well, and opportunities to again take some of these industry-leading tools and systems that we market, our managed print services, and support those services with, and making those more accessible to our partner community, through some of those offerings going forward."

Big Data Is In

Lexmark said while big data and analytics are a crucial components of its printer strategy going forward, the machines must have the technology in place to capture the data. Chavers said Lexmark devices have more sensors than the competition. The metrics produced by those machines give customers a window into the printer, and into their business. It also helps the machines operate autonomously, ordering supplies, scheduling services and calling for maintenance as needed.

"[Big data and analytics will] be huge for all of us going forward. I think Lexmark considers that even with our product launches here, a lot of those devices, they have 30 percent to 40 percent more sensors than some of our competition out in the marketplace, and that's big for us.

"We do it because we want to provide the infrastructure for our partners when they go pursue managed print services as opportunities to grow their business, we want to be able to give them the infrastructure to be able to get more advanced data from those particular devices, be able to act on that data, sometimes automatically, so they don't even really have to have any kind of manual interventions.

"So, it's kind of self-serving if you will. The devices know when to order supplies, and they order supplies on their own. When they need service, they call and dispatch service on their own ... that's where this market is going to, where these devices can really take care of themselves."