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 user 2007-06-27 at 2:19:00 pm Views: 74
  • #18005

    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
    Many 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.
    Inkjet 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
    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 lasers.

    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 at IDC.

    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 says.

    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 segments.

    Some solution providers aren’t sold that inkjet could be in their best interests–or in their users’.
    “Inkjets 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.
    #• The 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 substances.
    #• 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.