This Is What Keeps Dilbert in Business

A reader we’ll call J.G., an environmental engineer for a consulting firm, tells us what happened in his office lately:

Our office recently purchased two new copy/printing machines and the powers that be have asked that all the employees start using these copiers for the bulk of their copying/printing needs. They have asked this because apparently it is the cheaper copier to use, as the office had a study done on the price per page on many of the other copiers, and we would be saving roughly 8-13 cents per page (depending on which printer we used). I can see this adding up over time for sure, but the new copier is 2-3 times the distance (60-80 feet as opposed to 20-30 feet) as the normal copier/printer me and many of my co-workers would normally use. Not to mention the bog down that happens on occasion when the copier/printer is being swamped by multiple employees.

I’ll assume (perhaps wrongly) that we’re talking fairly high-end or specialized copying/printing if there’s a potential savings of 8 to 13 cents per page (of course, that number may be wildly inaccurate). In any case:

  1. Do we think the powers that be may need a lesson in opportunity cost?
  2. Do we think the powers that be should consider splurging for more of these new, cheaper machines?
  3. Do we think that J.G. or others may sabotage these new, distant machines?
  4. What would Dilbert do?


I'm going to guess their consulting firm doesn't have any Industrial Engineers that were involved in the decision.
How fast are the new machines? If they halve the processing time, it may be worth the extra walking time.
Or pehaps the engineers using the printers should use more electronic documents and not print as much.
Or they should print more efficiently, more jobs at a time and gather them all in one trip.
How many times a day does an engineer print something?
Need more info.
I've done workflows for 20 years and an extra 60-80 feet is only going to add up if you make many, many trips a day.

As far a Dilbert... He'd have Asok get his print outs for him.


take a page from wally's book. send all pringt jobs to the new remote machine. then stop working until the print job comes out. You might join the queue of people waiting for their print jobs to grind thru. if you're lucky it will take time. time for which you are being paid to produce nothing. If your hourly rate is $20. then every minute of your time is worth .33 cents. When the powers that be look for cost savings and find none maybe they will look at a bigger picture than than the cost per page.


There was a recent segment on either NPR Planet Money or This American Life about a guy who goes into businesses and helps them save money by being more efficient. He said one of the things he nearly always does is move the printers around to save people time.

Mark Levison

The real question is where is the organizations bottleneck right now? I suspect its the work of the humans and not the printers. If that's case reducing the costs of the printers will save money and slow the system as a whole down. Its a case of local optimization at the expense of the system as a whole.

On the upside this office might see weight loss and a reduction in obesity.

Mark Levison


Is 60-80ft REALLY that big a deal?
I think the powers that be should get rid of the inefficient printer altogether or put it where the new is.
In fact, are you sure you need to printing all that much anyway?


Then again perhaps the company leadership wants people to walk more as a fitness effort.


If they put in new printers that are cheaper to use - why didn't they remove the old printers?


The increased blood circulation will increase your alertness and productivity when you sit back down at your desk again.

Mike G

I used to work at one of those consulting firms that changed out the printers to save money. They boasted $1 million per year per 1000 employees. I didn't work doing that directly so I'll stipulate I'm no expert.

One of the things they mentioned in regards to distance (which I've observed as true in my 12 years of IT experience) is that if you increase the distance to a printer so that is is close enough to be usable, but far enough so it isn't "close" the users will print less frequently.

Most printing jobs aren't going to customers or meetings they are simply for us to read it in a more comfortable format.

This angle is probably worth some Freakonomics magic.


Print the large jobs (10 or more pages) at the new machine. Print the small jobs (fewer than 10 pages) at the closer machine.


don't you think the company is trying to get people to print less? It seems that is the main objective here.


Dilbert would not be printing his emails. It's hard to find an excuse for hard copy anymore. Get with the times. Save a tree by keeping it digital.

Megan in Seattle

I say: give everybody a pedometer when you install the printers. They'll be glad for the extra distance.


If this firm provides health insurance, it could all be a ruse to get their employees some more exercise.


Hard costs will go down nicely. It can be measured on a per page basis. Soft costs, i.e., productivity, is about to take a big dive though. No more quick trips to the printer. There will be stops on the way for socializing, coffee, side trips and so on. I feel sorry for whomever is sitting closest to the printer, they're not going to get anything done.

Dilbert would resurrect Bob the Dinosaur to crunch the new printers.

Ian Kemmish

Aren't you falling into the trap of assuming that the new printers are further away from ALL staff, and not just your correspondent? (Which is of course topologically nearly impossible, short of putting it in an outhouse) Maybe your correspondent is one of the people in the office who prints least, and the people at the other end of the office print most? Maybe they've just rented a new wing and the new printers are in the middle of the new, expanded, office?

I don't know about Dilbert, but I expect the PHB would simply make replenishing the toner in the clapped-out old printers a very low priority....

Ian Kemmish

And another thing -- My home "office" is 24 feet long, and obstructed by furniture. I've just walked end to end in four seconds. Just how obese IS this guy, anyway?


go paperless already. print to PDF and have 2 backup servers with at least located off premises. safer than paper and no time wasted walking 160 feet and waiting for printouts.


Unless the machines routinely have a line several people deep I doubt the 'opportunity cost' outweighs the rather significant savings... I can however see JG sabotaging the outlet that the printer plugs into to see if they'll move it closer!

Chris Moyer

There are far too many variables missing here for us to make a judgment call on whether the benefit of saving money on printing costs outweighs the cost of lost productivity.

How many pages are printed per day?
How many times do people walk to the copier in a day?
How long does it take to walk the extra distance?
What is the average amount of time a person waits once they get to the copier?