INK 2.0 : AN END TO LASERS ?
INK 2.0 : AN END TO LASERS ?
2007-06-27 at 2:20:00 pm #17906
Ink 2.0: An End To Lasers?
Where’s the least likely place you’d expect to find an inkjet printer?
a) In your home
b) At the workplace
c) In the dumpster out back, along with its messy, expensive cartridges
people would likely answer b) to that question (although c would also
be acceptable), as laser is the technology of choice for office
printing. Cheap inkjet printers–primarily consumer and home
units–have given the technology a bad rap.That perception may be
changing as new technology advances in inkjet printing, coupled with
the rise of business color printing, could make inkjet printers a
serious challenger to business-class laser printing.
Skeptical? You should be.
technology has largely earned the reputation of being inferior to laser
in black-and-white office printing. But if color printing continues to
make inroads in the office, inkjet–which has color-printing advantages
over laser–is getting a second look.”We see a very large opportunity
for ink to be successful in business from SMBs up through the
enterprise,” says Hatem Mostafa, senior vice president of
Hewlett-Packard’s inkjet systems.Several printer vendors are developing
next-generation inkjet printers, which they say are faster and more
reliable than their predecessors.
The Money of Color
laser is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. printer market, with a
compound annual growth rate of 15 percent from 2005 to 2010, according
to market research firm IDC.VARs, too, say they’ve seen an uptick in
color printing sales.”Our color-laser business in 2000 was very close
to zero,” says Jim Fall, vice president of strategic planning at
Indianapolis-based Cannon IV, which supports nearly 20,000 printers
under managed services contracts. “Today, color is about 25 percent of
our overall business.”There are some doubts, however, about how much
traction color will gain in the office, as many businesses are still
gun-shy about the high costs of color printing. Still, though, if color
reaches even 25 percent of printing in businesses, the door is wide
open for inkjet printers. In 2006, the total market for digital
hard-copy peripherals, ink and toner supplies was about $35.5 billion,
according to IDC.Two years ago, HP introduced its Scalable Print
Technology, the fruit of a $1.4 billion, five-year research and
development initiative that changed the way HP designed and made inkjet
printheads.The new architecture enables faster development cycles at
half the cost, improves the accuracy of ink-drop placement and allows
for more nozzles to fit on a single printhead. In addition, the
printhead width, and the number of nozzles and inks can be changed
depending on desired performance and cost. That way, the manufacturer
can use a single platform to scale from the consumer market all the way
up to the enterprise.At the launch of the new architecture, HP
introduced several new photo printers. Since then, it’s also launched
several new office products. For instance, it released last fall the
OfficeJet Pro K550 color printer, which became the fastest desktop
printer in its segment–of any inkjet or laser printer. The vendor
followed that up last March with an all-in-one series, the Officejet
Pro L7000, positioned for small businesses. The all-in-ones print at
speeds comparable to that of low-end color laser printers and cost 6
cents per color page–comparable to laser printers in the same class.
The printers use new HP ink and paper supplies that enable the ink to
dry more quickly. Consumables make up the largest portion of HP’s
profits and are a lucrative revenue source for VARs.Most recently, HP
rolled out a new line of department-level multifunction printers based
on its Edgeline technology, an extension of Scalable Print. Edgeline,
which employs fixed printheads that span the width of the paper passing
through the printer, results in more accurate ink-drop placement and
faster speeds. HP says the printheads offer improved reliability, less
maintenance and lower operating costs.Although HP will likely sell many
of the larger Edgeline machines directly to businesses, it’s also
selling them through select partners, and VARs say sales are promising
so far.”We just spoke with a customer this week that was looking to
replace all its black-and-white copiers with Edgeline devices,” Fall
says. “The quality of image on an inkjet is so much better than color
laser, and as you get higher quality at lower cost, I expect to see a
major shift in the marketplace.”That’s not to say HP is abandoning its
laser-printing business. For now, it’s targeting its ink products at
SMBs and company departments, leaving the workgroup printing market to
But could that change? Possibly.
“I think ink is
capable of playing in the workgroup area in the next five years,” says
Michael Hoffman, senior vice president of supplies at HP.Another factor
in all of this is how HP’s relationship with Canon, which sells HP its
laser-printer engines, would be affected if HP moves deeper into the
workgroup space.”If HP lets inkjet play across the board, you wonder if
that would be threatening to its Canon relationship and possibly fuel
Canon’s development of ink and the loss of HP’s laser business,” notes
Angele Boyd, group vice president of Imaging/Output & SMB Practices
The ‘Intel of Printing’?
Meanwhile, a start-up
company that counts several former HP executives among its top brass
claims it has developed an inkjet printing technology that could
radically change the face of the printing market.Silverbrook Research,
a Sydney, Australia-based research firm, is bringing its new Memjet
inkjet technology to market through three U.S.-based companies: Memjet
Labels, Memjet Home & Office and Memjet Photo Retail.The company
says it’s developed inkjet printing components that allow for a
color-inkjet printer that costs from $200 to $300 and prints at a
blistering speed of 60 pages per minute (ppm)–a price/performance
ratio unheard of in today’s color-inkjet arena.Memjet says initially it
wants to bring high-speed color printing to SMBs. Like HP, Silverbrook
employs a fixed page-wide printhead, but the start-up also has an
astounding 1,400 of its own patents for the Memjet technology, with
another 2,000 patents pending approval. The company, co-founded by
longtime printing veteran Kia Silverbrook in 1994, now has about 300
full-time engineers.The Memjet technology consists of four components:
printheads, driver chips, ink and software. The printheads are made of
microchip segments, with each chip measuring just 20 millimeters in
width and housing 6,400 nozzles. Each driver chip can drive up to
70,400 nozzles in a standard A4 letter printer to produce the 60 ppm
printing speed. The printheads and driver chips are also scalable to
large formats, and the inks are versatile for labels, photos or office
documents.Memjet, however, isn’t aiming to compete directly with HP.
Instead, the companies are planning to sell their inkjet-printer
components to HP and other PC-makers, and consumer electronics
companies looking to enter the printing market.”We want to become the
Intel of printing by selling components and enabling existing printer
brands to enhance their portfolios,” says Kim Beswick, vice president
of marketing at Memjet.The company debuted its first prototype publicly
this March, and it plans to release its first products in 2008 for the
photo printer market and in 2009 for SMBs.
But HP execs dismiss
Memjet as a competitive threat. “Anybody can do a demo of one dimension
of a capability on a prototype. It’s really getting all those things
together–high speeds at best-in-class print quality with high
reliability, media independence and low cost per page–that matters,”
Mostafa says. “They have a long way to go to bring all those pieces
together.Analysts agree that while the technology sounds compelling,
the company faces some pretty substantial obstacles ahead.”I think
Memjet has two big hurdles. The first question is whether they can find
the partners who can do the volume Memjet needs. And the second issue
is around technology,” Boyd says.”A number of executives I’ve talked
with have been a bit skeptical about the technology–that Memjet can
manufacture the quantities they need with consistent quality,” Boyd
continues. “It could be a great scenario if Memjet could find partners
in a large customer like Dell in the United States, Acer in Europe or
Lenovo in China. I think then HP might take more notice of
them.”However, a lot of PC vendors and system vendors–DEC [the now
defunct Digital Equipment Corp.], Apple, Sun, NEC, Fujitsu, IBM,
Digital–have tried to get into the printing business,” Boyd adds.
“Eventually, everyone hit the wall and generally got out.”Solution
providers, too, concur that Memjet could have a long road ahead.
“Technology is one thing; how you effectively get to market with the
total package and supply-chain logistics behind it is another,” Fall
Memjet, though, isn’t being deterred from its course, and
it views HP’s progress in inkjet printing as further proof that the
technology is poised to play a bigger role in the business
arena.”Although we’re taking different approaches, what we’re both
essentially saying is that page-width inkjet really is the future,”
Memjet’s Beswick says.Of course, HP isn’t the only major printing and
imaging vendor seeking to drive ink deeper into the business space.
Ricoh has developed its own ink-based technology for business, called
GelSprinter, designed for entry-level monochrome and color printing,
and Xerox has seen year-over-year growth of its solid-ink business
since its introduction in the early 1990s.”We think there are some
unique advantages solid-ink has over laser,” says David Bates, vice
president of product marketing at the Xerox Office Group. “These other
recent entries–Memjet and Edgeline–are further evidence that people
are looking for alternatives to laser.”Xerox now has solid-ink printers
and MFPs in the letter-sized printer line, but the company’s also
looking to expand its solid-ink line into other business market
Some solution providers aren’t sold that inkjet could be in their best interests–or in their users’.
require a tremendous amount of service…that’s not really an added
value we want to provide,” says Stephen Bohlig, CEO of Compar, a
solution provider in Minnetonka, Minn.HP, for one, says it has reduced
maintenance required with the design of its Edgeline printers, but the
perceptions around inkjet are still very pervasive in the market.”A lot
of the manufacturers are saying this makes inkjet just as good as
laser, but why not just use laser then? Where is the pent-up demand for
inkjet? Bohlig adds. “We don’t hear users crying, ‘I want my inkjet.’” n
Silverbrook says its Memjet technology, which consists of printheads,
driver chips, ink and software, can enable a color inkjet A4 printer
priced under $300 to print 60 ppm.
#• The Memjet printheads house
individual microchip segments that join together to form a page-width
printhead. Each chip is only 20 mm in width and contains 6,400 nozzles.
#• Each driver chip can calculate 900 million drops per second and drive 70,400 nozzles in a standard A4 letter printer.
Printheads and driver chips are scalable from 20 mm to large formats,
enabling use of the technology in a variety of printers.
HP’s Edgeline technology uses an ink-based printing engine with
printheads that span the width of the document passing through the
printer, which improves ink-placement accuracy and speed.
Edgeline printheads don’t come into contact with the paper, which helps
extend the durability of the product and decrease service costs. The
printheads can last through 2 million pages.
#• Edgeline also uses
HP’s Vivera office inks for printing on plain paper. The inks help the
prints to dry rapidly and resist smearing from highlighters and other
#• HP, for now, plans to use Edgeline technology in
industrial printers and light production, such as the HP CM8060 and
8050 Color MFPs it launched in the spring of 2007.