A gold mine of data locked on film?

Since the beginning of time, or that’s how it seems, microfilm has been the preferred solution for document archiving. Data was stored on this media in many ways, from simple 35mm and 16mm roll film to the more complex updatable jacket fiche or Aperture Cards. Later with the introduction of the IT world Computer Output to Microfilm (COM) became the chosen media for mass storage of archival data.
This media had its draw backs because despite the data being stored reasonably securely it was difficult to retrieve information from, copy or circulate the documents within a business.

Thriving industry
With the introduction of magnetic storage, film became even less attractive as an active means of storage media as magnetic forms began to make it more of a long term archive medium. Being regarded as an outdated technology by most, film use has declined somewhat with less and less business filming their documents preferring to scan and store digitally. None the less, the industry has more than survived and although the filming of documents is less popular than before it is still a large and thriving industry and seen by many as the only guaranteed medium for long term storage of data.
In today’s low cost IT world millions upon millions of records, files, documents and content are now stored electronically on magnetic media offering vastly improved retrieval rates and means of distribution. This is, however, only available to documents that exist in the magnetic world or have been converted from an analogue state by way of scanning. This evolution has seen a huge advance in the paper scanning markets with a wide variety of paper scanners from some well known industry leaders. What has been slightly less high profile is the emergence of the same type of technology for the purpose of scanning microfilm.
Even today, in a world with instant search engines that can find you anything you want from an ever growing list of suppliers in a fraction of a second, the awareness of film scanning technologies is largely limited to the scan on demand world of scanner viewer/printers manufactured by company’s such as Minolta and Canon. It would appear that unbeknown to a huge section of the business community film archives can be scanned not only quickly and efficiently but cost effectively, using modern high speed microfilm scanners capable of capturing hundreds of images a minute and in some cases far more effectively than scanning the original paper.
Valuable asset
Every day bureau scanning agencies across the UK scan millions of images from all types of microfilm allowing the data to once again become a valuable asset for the company, increasing productivity as well as the ability to react to customer needs and expectations. One of the biggest industries to embrace this idea has been the insurance industry with all the key market leaders already having converted vast libraries of fiche and roll film into electronic data, which can be imported into an EDM solution. This was achieved by outsourcing the work to specialist bureaus who had invested in what was then an extremely expensive and specialised technology requiring skilled operators. However, as with most products in the IT world these technologies and products have not only fallen in price, but have become far simpler to use thus allowing a larger market to take advantage of the ability to scan their film archives.
Sadly however, due to the fact that none of the leading manufacturers in this industry are truly global in size they have been unable to market and promote the products to any great extent outside of the traditional bureau market. With prices falling and the ever increasing desire by organisations wishing to have instant access to all their data the reality of scanning their film archive can now be achieved both in house and with an ever increasing choice of third party bureaus.
By taking advantage of the film scanning products available today, projects that have previously been regarded as unviable due to either costs, complexity or a simple lack of knowledge can now be completed either in house or through the great many additional bureaus who specialise in this type of work. No matter what the project, large or small they can all be completed quickly, efficiently and to a quality level far superior than ever thought possible.
What should you look out for when purchasing or hiring such equipment? Ideally you would want a system that automatically detects the images either on the film or fiche, a product that will output in both bitonal and greyscale scanning at what is known as a true dpi, which should generally offer you a higher level of image quality. They should be relatively easy to use however with the flexibility to make adjustments when scanning poor quality film. Some are supplied with integral PC’s, others may require an additional PC to run the scanner.     When renting always look to run the equipment over two or even three shifts per day and make sure the service support is included in the hire charge. Wherever possible have samples of your film tested on the scanner, all suppliers will be more than happy to produce sample images from your film, and finally, always check the manufacturer’s history and infrastructure for supply and support. As I have already mentioned some of these manufacturers are small and relatively young with little or next to no support infrastructure outside of their country of manufacture. Just making a few simple checks should safeguard you against what could be an expensive mistake.

For more information
Steven Godfrey: Commercial Director SunRise Imaging (EMEA) Ltd

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