Digital Check scanners and teller equipment

How Much Longer do ‘Big Iron’ Reader/Sorter Machines Have left?

Experts Tell Us What They’re Really Seeing in the Field

Note: This article is an excerpt from our case study, ‘An Alternative for Your Old Check Transports,’ published August 2021

Agissar Corp.

Quick Overview

Agissar Corporation logo.

Established: 1974
Located: Stratford, CT
Expertise: Maintenance of large-scale commercial office equipment, including bank reader/sorter machines

For almost 50 years, Stratford, CT-based Agissar Corporation has been in the business of servicing and maintaining complex office equipment – think mailroom machines, commercial copiers, and sorting equipment of all shapes and sizes. Their current client list includes users of both Digital Check’s Quantum DS, and of the larger reader/sorter machines that it is designed to replace.

It’s well known that official end-of-life dates for reader/sorters are approaching fast, and that finding parts and service are becoming increasingly difficult. But what’s the situation really like in the field? Brandon Robinson, one of Agissar’s field service managers who specializes in reader/sorters, recently took the time to explain.

One thing you’ll hear over and over when talking about reader/sorter maintenance in the 2020s is some variation on: Parts and service are hard to find. But what exactly does that mean? How hard is it? And what’s available?

Robinson paints a mixed picture on this front. While he regards it as feasible to keep these older machines running if parts are available, that last part is a big “if,” and it depends a lot on which part you’re looking for.

“Electro-mechanical parts – the internal components of the machines – are no longer available as new. All of these parts are used, and with limited quantities,” he said. “Users can still purchase consumable items like ink and feed rubber … Parts have increased in price and are obtained from third-party vendors.”

The practical implication of this is that if you are just doing basic maintenance on your reader/sorter, you can probably keep it going; but if anything major needs repairs, the outcome is anyone’s best guess. Many of the spares available today for those internal parts have been cannibalized from machines that have been retired – meaning they may be older than what they are replacing. And with the average age of in-service reader/sorters approaching 20 years, that means there’s a lot of luck involved not only in whether the right part will be available at a given time, but also in how long that part will last.

Quantum NDP reader sorter machine.
END OF THE LINE: Older reader/sorter machines are facing a critical components shortage , as the original manufacturers quit making new spares years ago. This NDP Quantum series device, which was retired in 2019, was likely stripped down for parts by an aftermarket dealer – one of the only ways to obtain replacements for the machines’ major electrical and optical components.

As for finding service, that’s begun to present its own challenges. It’s a vital part of keeping a reader/sorter running, with monthly maintenance inspections and more intense semi-annual preventive visits by a technician required. Even for a company like Agissar that specializes in the field, though, finding people who are qualified to service these older machines isn’t easy.

“Servicing the larger transports requires a strong electro-mechanical background with knowledge of older financial technology products. As these devices have aged, and smaller, modern technology has replaced them, it has made it harder to find technicians willing to work on them,” Robinson explains. “Costs of maintaining these check transports can range from $8,000 to $12,000 annually … Most if not all adjustments cannot be performed by the end user, as it requires training to do so.”

“Modern sorters like the Quantum DS are more user-friendly, and users are capable of performing several duties with phone support, thus reducing downtime. Maintenance plans for these devices typically involve two visits per year, and issues are much easier for the technicians to diagnose in advance.”

While a machine that has been diligently maintained throughout its lifetime may yet still have a few years left, others are simply in need of replacement after scanning millions of items year after year. Robinson and his technicians are encountering more and more of these as time goes on. Even for reader/sorters in relatively good shape, though, it may still be time to move on, he says – echoing one of the reasons why many users decide to make the switch in the first place:

“These machines can be maintained if quality parts can be located. However, these older machines will soon be, or already are, not compatible with the latest operating systems, which in turn increases the risk of viruses and malware. This is not advisable in the financial industry from a risk-management perspective.”

Read more:
Quantum DS product info
Reasons to replace your old reader/sorter


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