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Forgotten elements of Total Cost of Printing – Reliability – Part 3b, Hardware failures (mechanical and electronic) outside of warranty

Issue 1001/1 – By the time the warranty on a printer or MFP runs out, the whole cost of unreliability changes from what we saw in the previous article. No longer will the manufacturer just arrange a swap-out on a failed device. Instead, it is necessary to contact either the manufacturer or, more likely, a service agent for the manufacturer and arrange either a service call-out or to take the faulty machine in for diagnosis and repair. Picking up where we left off in the last article, here we look at the implications and costs associated with owning a device that is not entirely reliable and fails outside of warranty.

Both examples here actually involve inkjet printers but, again, the situation, time and costs can be associated with rectifying a fault on a laser printer just as much as on an inkjet printer. The scale of repair costs will vary according to the actual fault experienced and will vary as much with inkjets as with lasers – with the upper limit of cost being higher on a laser device.

As both of the inkjet printers involved here were already ageing and well out of warranty, the decision to just discard the units and move on was easy to make – perhaps a mistake as they were otherwise perfectly good devices and, in retrospect, completely repairable. But, in these days of commoditisation, ‘moving on’ is an all-too-common occurrence with low cost inkjet devices. It certainly does not help the planet, only the printer manufacturers who make a new equipment sale out of the failure!

So, having two dead printers that I rescued after being abandoned by their owners, I decided to troubleshoot the problems and see what I could find out. Ironically, both machines turned out to have exactly the same fault – ink pads needing to be changed.

Scenario 1
With one of the devices, a low budget single function inkjet printer, I found that it took me an hour to be satisfied that I could not fully diagnose the problem myself. During this time, I was directed to consult the user guide, which was less than helpful!

Attempting to find some more useful information on the manufacturer’s web site, I was led to the online chat support system. This proved to be very effective, the support agent was able to put his finger on the problem immediately and I was directed to a local repair agent to discuss feasibility and cost.

Again, the repair agent was very helpful and knowledgeable and talked me through the problem in some detail and what needs to be done to resolve the issue, including the expected cost – £25. At this cost a repair does not seem to be a particularly attractive option as the machine is old enough to have been replaced by several generations of much more efficient and versatile models and the £25 will almost buy a new printer.

If a repair were desired, the total cost actually rises much higher than the basic £25. In all, there was the hour spent attempting to diagnose the problem with the user guide and internet, then about 20 minutes spent online with the manufacturer’s support agent and on the telephone with the repair agent. Total – 1hr 20 minutes but no satisfactory resolution. I would need to add half an hour, plus five miles driving, to deliver the unit and the same again to collect it after the repair, plus the actual cost of the repair.

Time to diagnose, with reference to user guide 1 hour
Time spent with support (online) 10 minutes
Time spent with repair agent (telephone) 10 minutes
Time to deliver unit for repair 30 minutes
Time to collect unit from repair 30 minutes
Total time spent rectifying the fault = 2 hours 20 minutes
Total cost of time @ €50/hr €116.67
Cost of phone calls say €0.50
Cost of motoring say €4.00
Cost of repair say €30.00
Total cost of repair €151.17
Printer downtime (with 2-day repair turnaround) ~48-72 hours

Cost of time at €50 per hour is based on the cost model outlined in article .

I think I’d replace the printer immediately, without spending too much time attempting a full diagnosis, when it costs this much to diagnose and repair it! I can buy an equivalent new device and have it delivered to me for less than one-third of the total repair cost (but, of course, I do have to factor in the cost of selecting a replacement and placing the order!).

Scenario 2
With the other machine, a three-function inkjet All-in-One, it was more rapidly obvious that there was nothing to be done but the user guide was again very unhelpful. The manufacturer’s website produced a FAQ that indicated the most likely cause but, like the user guide, failed to tell me how I could obtain the actual error code that would verify the nature of the fault.

Only a telephone call to the manufacturer (no online chat system being available) produced the information needed to fire up the device in a way that would produce an error code. The support agent was then able to tell me what the fault was and that it would need an engineer to replace the ink pads and reset the machine.

That done, it was then another call to a third party service company to ask about a repair. The first company I called quoted a callout fee of £89 plus whatever parts would be required. After declining a callout (!), I called another service company. After swiftly confirming the nature of the error, I was told that a callout would be £53 plus any parts – slightly better. As an alternative, I could take the printer in, which would reduce the cost to £25-£30 plus parts but add in the cost of driving at least 25 miles each way to deliver the unit and then again to collect the unit (total cost in time and transport just for delivery/collection, around €200).

Essentially, this shows that, by the time everything is considered, unless the repair centre is very local (and perhaps even if it is local), it is better to pay for the callout even though I would lose some time while the engineer made the repair, even if only in meeting, greeting and wrapping up – probably amounting to 30 minutes in all.

Time to diagnose, with reference to user guide 20 minutes
Time spent with support (telephone) 10 minutes
Time spent with repair agent (telephone) 10 minutes
Time spent with service engineer 30 minutes
Total time spent rectifying the fault = 1 hours 10 minutes
Total cost of time @ €50/hr €58.33
Cost of phone calls say €1.00
Cost of callout and repair say €80.00
Total cost of repair €139.33
Printer downtime (with 2-day repair turnaround) ~24 hours

Cost of time at €50 per hour is based on the cost model outlined in article .

Let’s just look at this another way.

Cost comparison – Reliable vs Unreliable
If we take the overall cost of running an ideal inkjet All-in-One device that is fast to install and reliable (does not fail at all during a three-year period of ownership), we can compare that with the overall cost of running a device that costs less to buy and less to run but is a hassle to install, needs repairing once in the three year period and suffers from regular paper jams (as described earlier in previous article ).

We’ve constructed a cost table below applying typical times and costs from the illustrations above and real costs associated with running medium range inkjet All-in-Ones taken from CharisCo Printer Labs Total Cost of Printing model.

Reliable AiO Unreliable AiO
Purchase cost €132.05 €122.27
Cost of supplies over 3 yrs €558.88 €429.88
Total cost of buying/running AiO (3yrs) €690.93 €552.15
Time to install 15 minutes 1 hour
Cost of installation @ €50/hr €12.50 €50.00
Total cost of buying, installing
and running AiO
€703.43 €602.15
Cost difference -14.4%
Time to clear paper jams/misfeeds over 3yrs
1 misfeed every 150 pages = 60 misfeeds
2 hours
Time to diagnose fault, with reference
to user guide
40 minutes
Time spent with support (online) 10 minutes
Time spent with repair agent (telephone) 10 minutes
Time to deliver unit for (local) repair 30 minutes
Time to collect unit from (local) repair 30 minutes
Total time spent rectifying faults 4 hours
Cost of time @ €50/hr €200.00
Cost of phone calls say €0.50
Cost of motoring say €5.00
Cost of repair say €30.00
Total cost of rectifying faults €0.00 €235.50
Total cost of owning AiO for 3 yrs €703.43 €837.65
Cost difference +19.1%
Printer downtime
(with 2-day repair turnaround)
Nil 2 hours (misfeeds)
Plus ~48 hours (repair)

Note that these situations are fictitious but figures are based on real AiOs where the cost of supplies is for mixed mono/colour printing over three years, calculated on the basis of 250 pages per month; printing 70% pages in mono and 30% pages in colour; is based on the use of maximum capacity supplies; and takes into account any standard, or starter, supplies shipped with the device. All prices are Median Street Price with tax, sourced in Germany. Cost of time at €50 per hour is based on cost model outlined in article .

Note how the AiO that is cheaper to buy and cheaper to run, progressively becomes more expensive as inefficiencies and faults take their toll on the owner. Over the period of ownership, the significant cost saving (14.4%) of buying and owning a lower-cost machine becomes a significant cost burden (19.1%) – not to mention the frustration, annoyance and downtime experienced in constantly clearing paper misfeeds and attending to a printer failure.

Clearly the purchase of a lower cost machine does not in any way mean that problems will definitely occur or that the purchase of a more costly machine will guarantee trouble-free printing. But, certain manufacturers have a reputation for producing high quality and reliable equipment while others have the opposite. This article puts possible costs to a principle that we have spoken of on many occasions – purchase price is largely irrelevant to the overall cost of owning a printer and manufacturer’s capabilities and reputation have to be considered alongside obvious and visible costs.

Implications for Business Critical Printing
If we were then to translate this to a business critical environment where the printing device is the only one available, whether under warranty or not, the consequences could be devastating, requiring a replacement printer to be brought in at very short notice. The cost of acquiring a backup printer could vary from the cost of just moving an identical printer from one location in the business to another (i.e. borrowing it), to hiring in a replacement for a few days.

Also, if the replacement printer, whether ‘borrowed’ or hired, is not identical to the faulty printer, then drivers will need to be installed, for every user – with all of the time implications that involves (see article for further detail).

Hopefully, managers in a business critical environment would have foreseen the potential dangers and made provision for a backup to be available at short notice. But, here is how it might pan out for a mid-speed mono MFP.

Reliable MFP Unreliable MFP
Purchase cost €549.90 €498.61
Cost of supplies over 3 yrs €3,251.56 €2,463.30
Total cost of buying/running MFP (3yrs) €3,801.46 €2,961.91
Time for basic driver installation for 5 users 1 hour 15 minutes 4 hours 20 minutes
Cost of installation @ €50/hr €62.50 €216.67
Total cost of buying, installing
and running MFP
€3,863.96 €3,178.58
Cost difference -17.7%
Time to clear paper jams/misfeeds over 3yrs
1 misfeed every 1,250 pages = 144 misfeeds
4 hours 48 minutes
Time to diagnose fault, with reference
to user guide
40 minutes
Time spent with support (online) 10 minutes
Time spent with repair agent (telephone) 10 minutes
Time spent moving a ‘borrowed’ printer 30 minutes
Time spent installing drivers for 5 users
(average 30 minutes each user)
2 hours 30 minutes
Time spent with service engineer 30 minutes
Time spent returning ‘borrowed’ printer 30 minutes
Total time spent rectifying faults 9 hours 48 minutes
Cost of time @ €50/hr €490.00
Cost of phone calls say €0.50
Cost of repair say €150.00
Total cost of rectifying faults €0.00 €640.50
Total cost of owning MFP for 3 yrs €3,863.96 €3,819.08
Cost difference -1.2%
Printer downtime
(with 2-day repair turnaround)
Nil Nearly 5 hours (misfeeds)
Plus ~3hrs 30 minutes
swapping printers
Plus ~24 hours (repair)

Note that these situations are fictitious but figures are based on real mono laser MFPs where the cost of supplies is for mono printing over three years, calculated on the basis of 5,000 pages per month; is based on the use of maximum capacity supplies; and takes into account any standard, or starter, supplies shipped with the device. All prices are Median Street Price with tax, sourced in Germany. Cost of time at €50 per hour is based on cost model outlined in article .

Obviously there are many alternative permutations of these costs depending on whether the temporary replacement MFP is borrowed or hired and whether it is an identical model to the original or not (affecting the need to load drivers).

In this particular illustration the total cost associated with owning the unreliable mono MFP does not quite exceed the cost of running the reliable device – simply because we are using real data and real prices for running costs (taken from CharisCo Printer Labs Total Cost of Printing model) and the machine chosen to represent the unreliable machine is, relatively speaking, a low cost machine. But, it helps to emphasise that buying a cheap printer looks great on paper before the purchase and might even save some money in the long-term – but quite probably not much!

Much more importantly here though, is the fact that a huge amount of downtime, frustration and hassle is experienced as a result of owning an unreliable device but avoided by owning the more reliable device. Even if there is a device available to borrow, downtime (in this illustration) for five members of staff, all needing to print, is potentially as high as 4 hours and 30 minutes each – total of 22 hours and 30 minutes – rather than the cost of just one member of staff for that amount of time. Therefore, the potential financial loss to the company would be €900 (4 staff x 4½hrs x €50) higher than shown in the above table.

This puts a completely different perspective on the 1.2% cost saving of the less expensive, but unreliable, device. It turns the 1.2% saving into an 18% expense.

So, to reiterate the moral of the story – it is a big mistake to look only at purchase price. There are far more important considerations in the long run.

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