Editor's note: Welcome to the first installment of "Perplexing IT questions, answered," a series to squash burning IT doubts. In this edition, we'll tackle why the office printer is so often the bane of the IT department.
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From unexpected toner blasts to mangled stacks of paper, printers have earned a bad rep around offices as temperamental machines prone to surprise shutdowns.
It is rumored they can smell fear. They also know, somehow, when a user is in a rush. As a defense mechanism, they'll readily jam when it detects a print job that needs to be ready right before a 3 p.m. meeting.
Think of printers of decades past. They were slow, screeching machines hardwired to pump out reams of paper until their ink dried. Today, printers are a $1.3-billion industry, and the average office printer combo packs a bevy of functions: scan, copy and print; but also email, fax and connect to the cloud.
The mix of software and hardware offers complexities of its own.
When printers keep breaking down in an office setting, a mix of user inexperience, DIY repair attempts and infrequent maintenance of consumable parts are often the culprits.
Beep beep: Printers are like cars
Nearly three decades in the printer repair business have made it clear to Joseph D. Marone, owner of New York-based PrinterRepair.NYC, that printers need regular upkeep to stay operative.
"The reason why they keep breaking down is because maintenance is not done properly," Marone said in an interview with CIO Dive. "It's like a car. Proper maintenance is the key to longevity."
Marone went on a site visit where two refurbished printers were putting up a fight. The equipment looked forsaken, as if it had gone without maintenance for some time.
After opening them up for an inspection, darkness ensued.
"There was toner everywhere," Marone said. "Every tray, nook and cranny. I had to take it all apart and clean it out. It was just a mess."
Another way printers resemble cars is that, over time, the parts that face constant friction — rollers and fusers — begin to wear down, eventually bringing print mechanisms to a screeching halt.
Shadley Reichert, owner of CPR Computer and Printer Repair in Bellevue, Wash., likens the two components to brakes and tires on a car. Eventually, they'll need replacing or the ride comes to an end.
Buy, break, repeat
Access to low-cost printers mean they're seen as easy to replace. This can lead users to think they'll get a bigger bang for their buck.
"Society thinks it can continue to buy a printer for $200 and think it works like a $2,000 printer," Reichert said.
IT buyers, he said, ought to base their purchasing decisions based on actual needs and expectations, and not just the sticker price.
Then when something does halt the print job at the worst possible time, untrained staffers can make matters worse by opening up a side panel and attempting to fix it.
"These are people who cause more problems than they solve," said Reichert. "You don't try to fix your car, you take it to the auto dealer."