We consider ten factors that will help a company select the proper document scanner.
User Friendly Consulting consulted with a high-volume document scanning department at a large telecommunications company by providing expertise in the selection and operating of scanners. During their over two decades of experience with this client, they learned a lot about the selection of document scanners best suited to solving the particular needs for the ultimate end users of the scanned information. There was a wide variety of factors that they considered for the selection of the proper scanner. In light of the latest technological trends in the scanning hardware industry, here are some of the most critical factors to consider in the selection of a document scanner. It is helpful to rank the desired features in terms of “must haves” versus “desirable” ones in order to maximize the available budget. These features are not presented in any particular order as each of them may become the governing factor for selecting a scanner to solve a particular need in a company.
1. Performance (Images Per Minute)
Scanning performance can be a critical factor in light of the document volume that is expected to be processed during the allotted time period. Factors to consider include the labor rate of the person doing the scanning, the required image resolution, image acquisition type (grey scale, black/white, or color), and whether the performance values include a requirement to scan a document in duplex mode without the sacrifice of speed. Such duplex scanners include a dual lamp and CCD (charge coupled device, the optical “eye” that converts light to data) for rapid production of two-sided documents.
2. Hardware Interface Requirements
With the fading of the hardware based SCSI interface into history, the two primary scanner interfaces are the software device drivers known as ISIS and TWAIN. While it’s beyond the scope of this study to explain the advantages and disadvantages of both, it is very important to select a scanner that supports the proper interface based upon the software that is planned to be used with it. For example, the ABBYY FlexiCapture suite of products requires the use of a TWAIN compatible driver. TWAIN (technology without an interesting name) was developed by a committee of developers, at least initially for lower end scanners, in order to offset some of the disadvantages of ISIS. ISIS on the other hand is a commercial product designed for use with complex image processing software. In recent years, the TWAIN technology has for the most part caught up with ISIS. The bottom line is that when selecting a scanner, one must determine which interface is supported by the software they plan to use to acquire the images. The vast majority of scanners, as of this date, support TWAIN whereas only some of the higher volume ones support ISIS. Be certain to check your requirements before you make a purchase.
When installing a scanner on a Windows computer, the computer will install a plug and play driver. This provides the functions necessary to scan documents through the Windows Scan software that is built into most versions of Microsoft Windows. It is important to note that not all scanners will work with this plug and play driver including those from the Fujitsu ScanSnap family of devices. Be sure to read the detailed documentation from the manufacturer before you purchase a device. Also, for the medium and high level scanners the manufacturer’s representative may provide a loaner unit to evaluate before the actual purchase. Reach out to us if you are considering a scanner and we will help you as much as possible.
3. Maintenance Plans, Parts, and Consumables
When a scanner is to be used in a high-production environment, one consideration must be the availability of onsite service, consumables (pickup rollers and light sources for example), and frequently broken parts (such as lenses that get scratched when users scan documents with staples).
4. Sheet Feed versus Flat Bed
A company must determine whether they would ever have the need to scan documents that would not feed well through an automatic document feeder (ADF). This would include things like rare photographs and onion skin paper documents (as produced by carbon copy stacked forms) such as those within a shipping/receiving department.
5. Support for Dropout Color(s)
Dropout color technology is when documents containing certain predefined colors (usually red, yellow, or orange) disappear or “drop out” during scanning. This can make the processing of the information contained within the document much easier because extraneous features such as table grids, legends (enter your first name, enter your last name), and character boxes (force handwriting into a predefined grid space) are not present in the scanned image. ABBYY FlexiCapture is one of the technologies that benefit greatly from scanners providing this function.
Dropout technology is provided in one of three ways. A colored light source can be provided, a color lens is used to feed the CCD, or software can be used to process a document scanned in color. In some cases, a scanner manufacturer may provide a dropout color kit. If this isn’t available, software may often be available to provide this function through an image pre-processing step. The advantage of software dropout is that multiple colors can be dropped out at the same time.
6. Included Software or Support for Advanced Image Processing Software
As mentioned above regarding dropout color, software is available to provide advanced processing functions in cooperation with a scanner. The most familiar product is Kofax VRS© (a registered trademark of Kofax) which is sometimes included as a bundled product with the purchase of a scanner. Another product to consider which offers an extremely useful set of features is Nuance PaperPort©. Although the latter product is not an image processing solution, it does provide a very good scanning front end along with features designed to organize and export scanned documents and includes OCR technology.
7. Support for Thick Paper or Odd-Sized Documents such as Business Cards
Sometimes a company may desire to scan documents such as 3x5 cards or business cards, either on an occasional or regular basis. A section requirement may be needed to scan very stiff documents such as credit or medical plan cards. Some scanners support the scanning of very thick documents one at a time through a straight-through roller system. Others provide higher capacity scanning of these documents through a specialized ADF.
8. Overall Size and Noise
If office space is a consideration, there is a considerable difference among scanners in terms of the amount of desk space required. These range from none (hand-held roller type area scanners) to one equipped with its own stand, taking up lots of space in the office (and creating lots of noise!). Portable scanners provide users with the ability to sneak past the work rules enforced at tradeshows (one handed carry, no extension cords, etc.) while also providing a medium level of speed while back at the office. One disadvantage of these portable units is that the alignment of the documents being fed into the scanner is particular in order to assure a de-skewed image. They also do not provide the much desired ADF function.
Noise is something that will need to be considered for larger, production level scanners. The noise level for such scanners can be significant, and prospective purchasers would do well to see several models in operation before they commit to a purchase. On the low end, the desktop scanners suitable for workgroup use are almost silent. Noise can be a consideration when higher volume scanning is desired.
It may be obvious, but most scanners are selected upon the basis of a company’s budget and how the scanner fits into the company’s overall needs for new hardware, such as a company in the business of scanning versus one using the scanner just to process invoice documents. When a company has a budget figure in mind, the selection of the scanner can be made upon the consideration of a much smaller pool of available devices. Once the feature list is ranked according to the “must haves”, the selection can then proceed upon meeting these mandatory requirements at the exclusion of those on the “desirable” list.
10. Unique High Capacity Processing Needs
Other factors may need to be considered for high-capacity processing. This includes things like the need to stamp documents which have been scanned with something like a Bates stamp. Other factors can be things like vacuum assist which provides better adhesion between the scanning glass and the document. Such a function can also be provided through a static electric system. Perhaps one of the most important features that may need to be considered is the duty cycle of the scanner. If continuous use of the scanner for two 8-hour shifts is required due to needed capacity, will the scanner continue to hold up without overheating or otherwise break down due to the continuous use? These and other factors are things which experienced scanner operators are familiar. UFC can help you sort through them and make recommendations to provide the best feature set possible.
User Friendly Consulting will be glad to help you select a scanner for purchase from one of our partners including the industry leading products from Fujitsu. We have extensive experience in scanners designed especially to support the software products we sell including ABBYY Recognition Server and FlexiCapture. Reach out to us today to see how we can help.