The future of the printer

Update on the activities of ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 28 on office equipment

Nearly all industries are impacted by the move to an all-digital environment. The reality is no different for the printing machine industry as the total sale of printers decreases worldwide and fewer documents are kept in print format.

Image of a 3D printer
3D printing is entering the office environment (Photo: Pixabay)

Yet, the printing machine industry is not consigned to obsolescence. Interest is emerging in new areas such as 3D printing and scanning and companies, seeking cost savings, are looking for new business models to meet their printing needs. New technologies, such as Internet of Things, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, are also enabling services and opportunities.

To develop standards for copying machines, printers and scanners, the ISO and IEC joint technical committee on information technology established its subcommittee on office equipment, ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 28. At the recent JTC 1 Plenary in New Delhi, e-tech spoke with the Chair of SC 28, Takashi Ito who provided an update on the work of the subcommittee as well as its plans for the future.

Explaining the scope

SC 28 is one of the few JTC 1 subcommittees that produces standards for products and hardware. Standards focus on product specification descriptors, methods for measuring the productivity of the devices, the quality of the output and the yield of the consumables such as ink and toner cartridges.

According to Ito, "SC 28 has created a lot of standards for office equipment such as copying machines and printers. These standards address specifications for office equipment, the colour of the printing, measurement methods for printed image quality and toner ink cartridge".

Increasingly, data collected by printers and scanners can be useful for manufacturers to better understand the needs of their customers. Ito notes, "the data also helps us to improve our machines".

Since its establishment in 1989, SC 28 has published 33 standards for office equipment. As Ito explains, "at this point, we want to undertake a thorough review of our standards. This means that we will get rid of obsolete standards and revise other standards as needed. We are undertaking a lot of maintenance work".

Making printers and copiers easily accessible to the disabled is one area where standards are in the process of being updated. Features such as simplified displays to help those with weak eyesight, reduced height of multifunctional printers and easy sliding trays are a few examples.
ISO/IEC 10779:2008, Accessibility guidelines for older persons and persons with disabilities, was revised in 2020 to harmonize with the US Section 508 and European EN 301 549. 2020", Ito remarks.

Overcoming challenges

One of the biggest challenges facing SC 28 remains: the office equipment industry is quite small. Only 32 members participate in the work of SC 28 given that few countries have office equipment industries.

Ito admits, "we are worried about the number of participants and the number of national bodies. Printers are primarily made in Japan and the United States so it is a very small group. But we continue to reach out to potential members and are always happy to welcome new members". 

Looking to the future

New technologies are enabling new opportunities for the printing machine industry.

According to Statista, global spending on 3D printers is projected to reach USD 7,8 billion by 2022. Interest in these applications has surged in recent years as affordable desktop 3D devices are increasingly found in office environments where they are particularly relevant for architectural, industrial and art design firms.

In 2015, SC 28 expanded its scope to include 3D printing and scanning. Ito notes that "SC 28 is looking at productivity in 3D printing. For example, with conventional printers, we provide measurements of how many copies are produced per minute. For 3D printing and scanning, we will look at how many hours are needed for production". SC 28 has also established liaisons with the JTC 1 working group on 3D printing, ISO/IEC JTC 1/WG 12.

Other technologies such as IoT and cloud computing are providing opportunities to offer new print services. For example, companies may outsource their printing needs or use networks to centralize their printing needs. Data collected from the printing network can be used to identify underperforming machines or automate the delivery of printing supplies. And remote printing from off-site locations and from any devices is possible. To leverage some of these new opportunities, SC 28 has set up a liaison with the JTC 1 subcommittee on the Internet of Things, ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 41.

The introduction of networked services can bring security risks. "As you know, SC 27 handles security", remarks Ito. "They developed general concepts and principles for IT products with their standard ISO/IEC 15408 which describes how to evaluate security".

"However, the criteria in ISO/IEC 15408 have an associated cost and time burden for certification which means that it is only practical for higher class machines. But we want to keep the smaller machines, such as support machines, secure so we want to develop such security standards for them", explains Ito. Based upon the results of its study group to assess new opportunities for office equipment, SC 28 will address security for mid- to low-end office equipment in a new preliminary work item.

Another area of interest includes environmentally friendly machines. According to Ito, "the environment is becoming a big market. We need to support this market by offering standards or guidelines to minimize energy and paper consumption. Another issue is refurbishment and maintaining the quality of products when using used parts".