How to Pick a Scanner

By Mark Mandel posted 05-05-2010 13:20


These days, even though we are experiencing the effects of social media, Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, electronic forms, digital signatures, and process oriented solutions, there is still a need to scan paper. Whether it is a backfile of inactive records, or an interim solution until you get that newfangled BPM solution installed, digitizing paper is still a need in most organizations.

I get asked all the time by users in my organization about how to scan paper. This usually includes identifying a system to scan into, how to index, how to QA, and more. I will cover those issues in future posts. For now, let’s just focus on what to look for in a scanner.

In order to determine the best scanner for your needs, you must know a number of things about your documents. This includes volume of pages to be scanned per day, what size, weight and condition the documents are in, whether the documents have information on both sides of a page, whether there are color documents in the collection, and so on. I highly recommend that you do an assessment to document all of these factors and if you’ve never done it before, hire someone who has.

Document scanners come in several form factors: desktop, workgroup, production, and ultra high volume. Of course there are now multifunction copier/scanners that can be used as well.

Scan Speed

One of the key features of a scanner is its speed, in pages per minute. In order to compare scanners from different manufacturers you must make sure you are comparing “apples to apples.” Some manufacturers measure speed in landscape mode and others in portrait mode. The throughput of a scanner is determined by the auto feeder in inches per second. If you feed a letter sized page in portrait mode, 11 inches travel through the feeder. If you feed the same page in landscape mode, only 8.5 inches move through the feeder. So you get a 23% increase in speed by scanning landscape.

Resolution is another key factor in measuring scanner speed. All manufacturers publish specifications with a baseline of 200 dpi. Most scanners are about 30% slower at 300 dpi (but not all).

A rule of thumb I have used over the years is to take the scanner rated speed, using the resolution you plan to use, times 6.5 hours to provide a maximum daily throughput. Then reduce that number by 40% to get your net throughput per day. This takes into account paper handling, jams, breaks and other activities that reduce the effective throughput.

For example: 100 letter size pages per minute at 200 dpi, portrait x 60 minutes per hour x 6.5 hours = 39,000 pages per day. At 60% net effective throughput, that is 23,400 pages per day. By scanning landscape you can get roughly 28,000 pages per day out of the same scanner.

Duty Cycle

A big factor in scanner selection is duty cycle. This specification rates how many pages per day a scanner is built to scan. This is very important, and is a key differentiator between scanner models. A fast scanner with a low duty cycle means that it is not rugged enough to scan high volumes.

Page Size

Let’s say in your collection you have a mix of checks, index cards, letter and legal size documents, and some foldouts that are 11” x 17” in size. If you are looking for a single scanner that can scan all of these, you need one that has a feeder that can scan the small form factor documents, and also a flatbed that can scan up to 11” x 17”. Larger sizes will require a specialized scanner designed for scanning engineering drawings and maps.

Auto Feeder

Some desktop scanners have only a flatbed, but most scanners have an auto feeder. The feeder’s capability to scan your volumes is a key differentiator. Some scanners have advanced feeders with mis-feed detection and which can scan a wide array of paper sizes and weights. Others have very basic feeders that jam frequently and which only work well on very good condition paper. I strongly recommend that if you are looking for high volume scanners that you try before you buy if you can.

The feeder tray capacity is also key – matching the size of your documents and files to the tray capacity is important. For example, if many of your documents run to 100 pages or more, purchasing a scanner with a 50 page feeder tray is problematic. A larger scanner with a 200 page feeder tray might be more appropriate.

Other Key Features

Other advanced features such as color drop out lamps, imprinters or endorsers, image enhancement hardware, long paper scanning (e.g., EKGs), photos, etc. may be important in your environment. The processing solution that you plan to use drives these requirements. Close attention to the capabilities of the scanner and the match to your requirements is critical to your success.

As with anything ECM, the more specific your requirements are up front, the better you will do in purchasing equipment and software solutions to match.

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