Lexmark jumps on multi-function printer bandwagon

In step with a growing trend toward printers that work as MFP (multi-function printing) systems, Lexmark International on Tuesday will introduce both a new MFP add-on option for many of its printers and two new MFP systems.

MFP systems are essentially next-generation printers that combine the functionality of printers, copiers, scanners, and fax machines all into the same unit.

The Lexmark X4500 MFP option brings MFP functionality to practically any Lexmark T-series laser printer or C750 color printer. An add-on option approximately the size of a scanner, the X4500 can be installed by the user, according to Mike Pollard, a manager of product marketing at Lexmark, based in Lexington, Ky.

Once attached, the X4500 lets users control the print, copy, scan, and fax functions of the MFP system through an intuitive interface located on a 7.7-inch touch-sensitive color screen. Printers modified with the X4500 gain features such as monochrome page scanning at 23 pages per minute, color scanning at 14 pages per minute, a 33.6Kbps fax system, and scan-to-e-mail functionality using a company's own e-mail directory.

By making MFP an option for some of its mid-range printers, Lexmark hopes to move MFP functionality closer to those who actually need and use scan, fax, copy, and print devices, Pollard said.

"We're taking this traditionally departmental-level MFP functionality and we're deploying it closer to users on our workgroup printers," Pollard said. "We also want to enable our customers to move into and out of electronic formats seamlessly and easily."

Lexmark introduced two new MFP printers equipped with the X4500 interface, the monochrome X620e MFP and the color X750e MFP. Both new MFP systems deliver the full range of the X4500's MFP functionality in a pre-configured setup.

Since mainstream printers began arriving with their own IP addresses in volume last year, printer companies such as Lexmark, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Canon, Xerox, and others have each been evolving their printers into MFP devices.

Although HP and Canon beat Lexmark to market with their separate MFP products, the MFP design approach by each of these vendors is significantly different. HP's MFP systems are tightly integrated. Canon's MFP systems, which are the result of a joint effort between Canon and eCopy, are somewhat integrated. Lexmark's new MFP offerings are modular.

Because of these design differences, time-to-market will play little, if any, role in deciding which vendor's MFP products prevail. Instead, customer acceptance of the preeminent MFP design approach will be the deciding factor, said Keith Kmetz, a program director for printer research at IDC, in Framingham, Mass.

"It's going to be interesting to those who watch this printer market if customers are going to gravitate towards one type of MFP configuration or another," Kmetz said.

The X4500 MFP option starts at US$4,299. The X620e MFP system runs for $6,999, and the X750e for $11,799, according to Lexmark.

So far these products are not available in Australia.

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