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 user 2009-10-16 at 10:45:57 am Views: 124
  • #22623
    been 20 years since a small team of IBMers released a product that
    eventually became the cornerstone of Lexmark International.Lexmark, one
    of Lexington’s largest private employers, is looking back this week at
    the production of the IBM 4019, the company’s first desktop laser
    printer.It hit the market in 1989, when typewriters remained the norm
    and personal computers were what some might have called newfangled
    technology.”We started from scratch with no technology and did the
    whole thing in three years,” said Lexmark chief executive Paul
    Curlander, who was product manager for the printer at the time.IBM,
    which eventually spun off Lexmark, had launched the PC and introduced a
    dot-matrix printer in 1981, Curlander said.

    By 1984, Hewlett-Packard had developed the first LaserJet laser printer using a printing engine produced by Canon.
    about $3,500, it offered users their first look at the advancements of
    laser printing compared to dot matrix. A year later, Apple introduced a
    similar device with some added functions that sold for more than
    $7,000.At the time, IBM worked on high-end laser printers that worked
    with minicomputers, devices far more powerful than PCs, and sold them
    for more than $20,000 each, Curlander said. IBM got into the laser game
    with the 3812, a $7,000 device that could sit on a table.But beginning
    in 1986, Curlander and a team of about 100 employees were given the
    task of producing a desktop version.

    The team’s goals were clear.
    printer weighed about 75 pounds. The IBM version needed to weigh half
    that.The LaserJet printed pages out of order. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it
    be nice if it came out in order?’” Curlander said.And if you tried
    printing an envelope on the machine in those days, the printer would
    heat up the envelope so much that it sealed. The IBM version needed to
    remedy that.”We could see this was big because the PC was going through
    the roof,” Curlander said. “We put together a proposal for what we
    viewed to be a fairly revolutionary new design.”Once approved, the
    question came of just where to build this new printer. A facility at
    Boulder, Colo., had developed the 3812, but Lexington was the
    typewriter hub and had a history of office products. And the design
    team was starting from scratch to build the printer from the ground up
    and would benefit from the strong material science knowledge in
    Lexington, Curlander said.

    Development begins

    August 1986, work had begun with Curlander as product manager. He and a
    few others moved from Boulder.”I came on a two-year assignment, and I’m
    still here,” he said, laughing.
    As time passed, the team encountered
    a number of struggles.IBM had developed its OS/2 operating system,
    making it necessary to have printer drivers.”It was the first time I
    heard about drivers,” said Harry Cooper, who managed software and
    firmware development. “We all take drivers for granted today.”The first
    time they tried the printer’s fusers, which seal the toner to the
    paper, they “didn’t work at all,” Curlander said. The group reacted by
    staffing a whole department to work exclusively on that technology.The
    team had constant reminders of the printers they were determined to
    best. Cooper said Curlander bought HP LaserJets and installed them in
    everyone’s offices.”It was a completely positive thing,” he said. “We
    were all very, very focused on making it better than HP. Twenty-five
    percent faster … that was the mantra.”

    The first test print came at 5:09 p.m. on April 14, 1987.
    still tucked away in a binder kept by Cooper, who is now Lexmark’s
    director of digital imaging systems.By May 6, 1987, the printer was
    producing pages with text and pictures. Cooper, looking back, thought
    it might have been the date of a big executive review, because one of
    the pictures was of IBM executive Marvin Mann, who approved the project
    and eventually became Lexmark’s first CEO.

    A solution a day
    project was “intense,” Cooper said, “but it was great because you would
    come in each day, and you wouldn’t really know how you would solve the
    problems you had to solve.”A lot of us would come in and say, ‘I just
    need to come in today and solve today’s problems, and then tomorrow is
    another day.’”Despite the struggles they encountered, “everyone on the
    team acted as though there would be no impediment to getting this out
    of the door,” said Gregory Ream, who at the time was senior engineer in
    electrophotographic technology development.Launched in October 1989 and
    priced at $2,600, the 4019 sold about 100,000 units in its first year
    and was honored as laser product of the year by PC Magazine.It became
    the building block for IBM’s printers, which expanded to far faster
    speeds and improved print quality. In fact, the technology was so
    adaptable that several more years passed before the company built
    another from-the-ground-up printer, said Ream, who is now a Lexmark
    Laureate in laser technology development. The laureate designation is
    an honor given to scientists, programmers or engineers for
    extraordinary achievement in technical innovation and implementation.

    Toner cartridges for the 4019 are still sold today.
    By 1991, IBM had spun off Lexmark into a standalone printer business.
    the laser technology was the jewel of Lexmark when we launched it in
    1991,” Curlander said. “In terms of spinning off Lexmark, this was
    integral to making that happen.”Cooper said he thinks the 4019′s
    development and legacy “really was the salvation of the
    site.”"Undoubtedly we might have done other things, but with where the
    typewriter was heading, we eventually moved all the other printers from
    IBM from Charlotte to Lexington,” he said. “It became the cornerstone
    of the business here.”

    That business has grown, although it has suffered with the economy’s drop in recent years.
    has focused on becoming the standard printer in certain industries as a
    way to carve out its segment of the market. And the investment to
    develop its own patented laser printing technology is what has aided
    that and differentiated Lexmark from competitors, Curlander said.The
    fact that we had our own technology really allowed us to advance into
    things HP couldn’t match,” Curlander said, noting that HP buys laser
    technology from Canon. “Everything we do started with the fact that we
    developed the technology.”