The end to cartridges?The Epson Supertank line is promising to eliminate this problem. We performed an analysis to check out the claims that Epson is making on their website about one specific unit; the WorkForce Pro WF-R4640 EcoTank™ All-in-One. This unit is marketed as a business unit made for high volume printing. These products are attractive, but their true cost is often recognized in lost productivity and downtime.
Volumes not what we typically see in office environments.
Epson states this particular unit is for high volume printing. The company also states that you will go two years without changing the ink. The stated number of prints on the website is 20,000 prints per round of ink. *We refer to prints as clicks and will do so for the remainder of the article. That volume allows for 1,667 clicks on average per month. Our clients typically average much higher volumes than this number.
What's the coverage?
We did not see where Epson specified the percentage they used to calculate page coverage. Most ink manufactures use a standard 5%. We find typical coverage is closer to 10%, but we will stick with 5% for the purpose of this analysis. It is likely your coverage is higher than 5% and you will not get as many prints for one round of ink. In short, you will probably fill the ink before two years unless you don't print very much. In many cases, color printers are used for printing full color images that are much higher coverage than 5%.
How reliable is it?The next topic for businesses is reliability. Serious manufactures of office equipment have recommended volumes for machines. A recommended volume might run between 5,000 to upwards of 100,000 clicks per month depending on the device. Epson does not place a recommended volume on their website. This leads us to believe that this system is better for infrequent printing and may not stand up to the rigors of the typical office workload that includes heavy scanning and mixed types of media. We have not tested the system for durability so we can't say for sure.
What happens when it breaks?The system comes with a two year warranty, but what happens if the printer breaks? The reason why IT departments use the cheap printer system is because it is disposable. If the printer stops working, they throw the printer away and go buy a new one. You now own a piece of equipment that costs $1,199.00. You will not be throwing the unit way, and you do not have a service contract. No technician is coming to help you, but it has a warranty! With the warranty, you will likely ship the unit back for service. Can you afford to be without a printing unit for the time it takes to get it back?
What does it really cost?
What is the real cost of the system per click? Epson claims the Supertank system is cheaper than both cartridge systems and toner based laser printers.
If we use the numbers taken from the Epson website with the given yeilds and coverage, our estimated cost of ownership comes in at $74.88/mo based on a volume of 1,666/mo. If the printer has no real problems (not typical of any machine especially inkjet), then this could be a lower cost solution for some applications. If the ink coverage is higher than 5%, then your cost per click can be significanlty higher.
What do you really need from your print fleet?
If reliability and service are not concerns of yours, the Epson Supertank system could be a solution. Since the product is so new, there is not any history of durability especially in a business environment. As with many new techonologies, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. It could be something to watch.