With all the hoopla and hype surrounding e-business these days, it’s easy to forget that, for most companies, paper is still a preferred medium for conducting business and, more importantly, keeping track of information inside a company’s walls. This article explores some of the major players determining the future of printing.
Printer manufacturers and MIS managers have been hearing about the paperless office and electronic data interchange for so long that you might think they are all deaf to the new arguments about how paper will be defeated by the Internet and e-business. But that’s not so. Companies that sell printers, whether they are production laser printers for cranking out bills and statements or old-technology line printers out in warehouses and on shop floors, are altering their sales pitches to fit the new e-business model.
Printing isn’t just about hard copy any more, as companies like IBM, Xerox, and Hewlett-Packard have been quick to point out. Printing is about offering advanced technology to help companies create, store, and manage their hard copy while also allowing them to do more things with their printers than was possible in the past.
The future of printing involves adding color to normal print jobs, often with photo- realism, as well as the integration of production print jobs with groupware programs such as Lotus Domino and Microsoft Exchange. These improvements help companies better keep track of their nonproduction documents (such as email), as well as their production reports. Printing is now about transforming traditional documents, like plain billing statements, into marketing messages with personalized information content for customers. In many cases, companies like Xerox and IBM want to sell AS/400 shops advanced color printers that can effectively replace the offset printing they normally use to produce annual reports, marketing brochures, and other high-gloss documents.
Whether or not AS/400 shops have the need—or the money—for such advanced products remains to be seen. Nonetheless, AS/400 customers will continue to use high- speed production printers for their data centers, workgroup printers for their departments, and desktop printers for those who don’t want to or can’t use a workgroup printer. And dozens of vendors, a few of which will be profiled in this article, want to sell them these
devices. (This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive review of AS/400 printer vendors, but just an update on how the major players stack up.)
IBM Printing Systems Company
In August, IBM revamped its entire InfoPrint line of printers as well as its InfoPrint Manager software for controlling workgroup, print on demand, and normal production print jobs. IBM introduced the following products:
• The InfoPrint 32, a 32-pages-per-minute (ppm) cut sheet workgroup laser printer
• The InfoPrint 60, a 60-ppm cut sheet production laser printer
• An expanded InfoPrint 4000 line that includes a 708-ppm continuous form model that prints at that high rate in IBM’s standard 240- and 480-dpi formats and in the 600-dpi format
• The InfoPrint Color 100, a faster version of its wide-format color printer for marketing and book publishing
In addition to these production printers, IBM also sells a Network Printer line with machines that run at 12, 17, and 24 ppm, as well as the 3130 line of 30-ppm laser printers. The company is also still selling its 3835 and 3900 continuous forms printers, which range from 88-to 464-ppm in speed. All of these machines use the Intelligent Printer Data Stream (IPDS) that is incorporated into OS/400. In many cases, they also support Adobe’s PostScript and Hewlett-Packard’s PCL printer languages, too.
IBM doesn’t focus on just laser printers. The company also sells a broad line of impact printers that use a variety of mechanical technologies to smash ink smears onto paper. In late September, IBM announced a new family of line printers, the 6400s, which span a range from 500 to 1,500 lines per minute (lpm). IBM’s 6262 line of band printers, which zip along at 2,200 lpm, are the most popular high-speed impact printers in the AS/400 market.
When it comes to high-speed production printing among AS/400 customers, these customers seem to prefer two vendors: IBM and Xerox. In the early 1990s, Xerox made an aggressive push into the AS/400 base and is now just behind IBM in terms of quantity of printers installed and aggregate printing capacity at big AS/400 sites. For a while back in the early 1990s, it looked as if Xerox would take over just about all of the high-end production printing business at AS/400 shops, but Big Blue fought back valiantly, meeting Xerox on technology and price.
Still, Xerox has one of the most well-known brand names in the business. In addition, it also has the broadest printer product line, ranging from 17-ppm network printers with 65,000 page per month duty cycles up to 1,300-ppm digital presses with the capability of printing tens of millions of pages per month. That makes Xerox a serious contender in the AS/400 printer market, and now that Richard Thoman, formerly IBM’s chief financial officer, is second in command at Xerox, it is reasonable to expect that Xerox will push harder into the IBM base. (Xerox may even, as is widely rumored, buy IBM’s Printing Systems division.)
Many Xerox printers have support for the IBM IPDS data stream built in. These printers usually also support PostScript, HP-PCL, ASCII, SCS, and other data streams, either directly or with third-party interface cards and software.
Like IBM, Xerox is repositioning itself from a printing company to a “knowledge management” company, seeking to make its products and marketing message relevant in the e-business era. Xerox is also increasingly focused on multifunction devices, which incorporate printer, scanner, fax, and copier functions all in the same machine with sophisticated software for storing and managing documents.
Five years ago, you could hardly find a Hewlett-Packard printer being used in a true production environment. HP’s machines, although well built and reliable, were just too slow. While HP dominated the market for printers under 20 ppm, it really didn’t have
the technology to compete against IBM, Xerox, and others for AS/400 production printing jobs. That was then, and this is now.
Today, HP has a wide range of workgroup printers that run from 8 to 40 ppm, and they are quickly taking market share from IBM and Xerox. HP’s LaserJet 4000s are, at 17 ppm, fine for lots of small production jobs (fewer than 65,000 pages a month) and are very inexpensive. The LaserJet 8000 (24 ppm) and 8100 (32 ppm) are perfect for many bigger jobs and can crank out up to 150,000 pages a month. And HP’s D640 High Volume Printer can handle 40 ppm and up to 300,000 pages a month.
While HP has never designed its printers with support for the AS/400 in mind, the company has worked with its partners Axis Communications and i-data to develop twinax adapter cards for its printers that incorporate electronics to support IBM’s IPDS and SCS printer data streams. Unbeknownst to most people, HP also sells its own brand of line printers, ranging from 500 to 1,400 lpm. However, these machines are available only for HP’s 3000 and 9000 series of servers.
Like Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark International has been able to make its way into AS/400 shops with ever-faster laser printers that have become suitable for workgroup and production jobs. Lexmark, which used to be IBM’s low-end printer business before it was bought out by venture capitalists in 1991, has reinvented itself and is now nipping at the heels of HP in the desktop markets as well. Like most companies, those using AS/400s prefer HP printers for jobs under 45 ppm. But Lexmark is the number-two vendor at AS/400 shops.
Lexmark competes on price and technology with HP in its core market, laser printers that range in speed from 12 to 34 ppm. The new Optra Se 3455, a 34-ppm printer with 1,200 dpi resolution, is winning lots of kudos. The company sells a variety of adapter cards to connect its Optra laser printers to Ethernet and Token-Ring networks as well as twinax adapters that support the IBM SCS data stream and optional plug-in electronics that provide support for IBM’s IPDS data stream. Lexmark also sells two dot-matrix forms printers, the 2300 Plus with a speed of 350 characters per second (cps) and the 4227 (533 cps), as well as monochrome and color inkjet printers (which are not directly supported on the AS/400).
GENICOM is one of the oldest printer vendors in the AS/400 market and is especially popular as a provider of impact printers. The company has dozens of serial matrix and line matrix impact printers in its current product lines, as well as two laser printers equipped with electronics for connecting to IBM mainframes and AS/400s through coax and twinax links. Genicom’s 49XX line printers come in 400- and 800-lpm models with integrated twinax connections and built-in emulation for more than a dozen IBM AS/400 printers. The 4950 line printer can print at 1,400 lpm and is the fastest impact printer in the Genicom line.
Genicom also sells five serial matrix impact printers, the 3500s and 3900s, that range in speed from 480 to 840 cps. Three of these machines offer support for color. The Genicom microLaser 7916 is a 16-ppm cut sheet laser printer, while the 7924 can handle up to 24 ppm. Both models come with a twinax connection and support for IBM’s IPDS and SCS printer data streams as well as integrated support for PostScript, HP-PCL, and PPDS.
Printronix sells three different lines of machines. The company’s P5000 series of line matrix printers are network ready, as many laser printers are these days. The P5005 is a 500-lpm impact printer that can be purchased in a normal or quietized cabinet. The P5010 is a 1,000-lpm model that comes in a regular or quietized cabinet, while the P5215 is a 1,500 lpm machine in a quietized cabinet. All of the P5000s can connect to an AS/400
either through a network adapter or through a twinax port. The P5000s can emulate IBM 5225 and 4234 printers.
The company’s ThermaLine family of label printers is also popular at AS/400 shops for bar code and other kinds of specialized labels. These machines range in speed from 5 to 10 inches per second and print in resolutions of 203 or 300 dpi, depending on the model. Printronix also sells three laser printers. The L5020 is a 20-ppm device that has a duty cycle of 200,000 pages per month and offers 300 dpi resolution. The L1024 prints at 24 ppm, but has a lower, 50,000 page-per-month duty cycle. The L5035 can print on both cut sheet and continuous forms at 35 ppm; it has a 300,000 page per month duty cycle.
Decision Data is perhaps best known for its AS/400 impact printers, but the company also sells laser printers. In early November, Decision Data announced two new continuous forms laser printers for IBM AS/400s, RS/6000s, and mainframes. The 6920 can print 20 ppm and has a duty cycle of 200,000 pages per month, whereas the 6935 can print at a rate of 35 ppm and can handle up to 300,000 pages per month. Both handle forms as small as 7 inches across and as wide as 17.5 inches across. These printers support IPDS and HP-PCL, as well as Printronix LinePrinter and Graphics Language protocols.
Decision Data also sells the 6216 (16 ppm) and 6224 (24 ppm), both of which are cut sheet laser printers that provide up to 1,200 dpi resolution. The company’s 6540 serial matrix printer runs at up to 400 cps and attaches to the AS/400 through a built-in twinax link. The 6570 serial matrix printer is similar to the 6540, except that it runs at a faster 700 cps. Both machines support IBM’s SCS and IPDS protocols. The 6530 serial matrix printer from Decision Data is a slower model, with speeds ranging from 67 to 350 cps.
Decision Data, like IBM, also offers line matrix impact printers—the 6605, 6609, and 6614—that can print at 500, 900, and 1,400 lpm respectively. As with the other printers in the Decision Data line, the 6600s connect to AS/400s through twinax links and support IPDS and SCS data streams.
But Wait, There’s More!
These are by no means the only companies to look at when shopping for an AS/400 printer. (The sidebar "AS/400 Printer Vendors" shows a more complete list.) Lots of other companies sell laser and impact printers to midrange customers. Also, dozens of printer manufacturers make specialized devices for bar code printing and magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) printing for checks and for other types of labels. And, finally, some midrange printer companies offer services for integrating printers, especially low-end Hewlett-Packard and Lexmark printers, with AS/400s because integration can often be tricky. Check out MC’s online product guide at www.solutionsctr.com for a list of these printer services companies.
AS/400 Printer Vendors
Anzac Computer Equipment Corporation 19201 Cabot Blvd. Hayward, CA 94545
Canon U.S.A., Inc. One Canon Plaza Lake Success, NY 11042 Tel: 800-652-2666 Fax: 516-328-5676 Web: www.cusa.canon.com
Datasouth Computer Corporation 4216 Stuart Andrew Blvd. Charlotte, NC 28217 Tel: 704-523-8500
Integrated Print Solutions, LC 3400 Silverstone
Plano, TX 75023 972-769-8030
Tally Printer Corporation
Output Technology 2310 N. Fancher Road Spokane, WA 99212 Tel: 509-536-0468 Fax: 509-533-1285