Memjet’s new pricing model

Years ago I worked for an IT consultancy.  I had an ink jet background, which led to me being continuously baited by almost everyone else that laser printers were for businesses and ink jet was for kids to use at home.  Unfortunately some of that attitude still prevails with IT staff in many companies, both large and small.  Even today ink jet is still perceived as blocked nozzles, paper feeding problems, and continuously changing ink tanks.  As if!

Many vendors have tried to enter the networked printer market with ink jet devices.  True, sales of scanning head printers into businesses is growing, but they are increasingly competing against colour laser printers which are still getting cheaper each year.  Colour laser tends to be faster than ink jet, or it was until Memjet came along.

We’ve talked about Memjet’s 60 page per minute desk-top printer before.  It is actually a fairly simple device, particularly compared to colour laser printers, and much faster.  There is a single page-wide printhead, simple paper feed, four ink tanks and that’s it.  No need for the complexities and multiple consumables of colour laser printers.  The current generation of Memjet printers use aqueous dye-based inks, which means there is some sensitivity of image quality and optical density to the paper used.  But what so many people seem to forget is that to get the best out of any printer – including colour laser printers – you should choose an appropriate paper type.  It’s not like there is no choice!

So how will Memjet get their printers into the market? Retail outlets attract customers who print 6 pages per month, not 60 pages per minute.  The Memjet printer is well suited to SMEs who use dealers for business equipment.  In what Memjet hope is a “win-win” offering, customers will be offered an “all-in” pricing model.  For a fixed monthly payment ranging from £49-£149 per month you get all of your printing costs paid for – machine, inks – everything except the paper.  It doesn’t matter whether you print in black and white or colour, or what the area coverage is, the cost is the same.  What happens if you exceed your monthly page allowance?  Just like a mobile phone contract you are charged for the extra pages.  The printer hooks up to a phone line, so tells the dealer how many pages you have printed, and when the ink is running out.  For the customer they have fixed printing costs, for the dealer a regular income with consumables supply.

I’m the one on the right!

At the Memjet UK launch last week, slogan “Speed Wins”, guests could have their photo taken with Olympic Gold Medal cyclist Victoria Pendleton.  The photos were of course printed out on a Memjet printer, and I attach a print sample.  Thankfully there was a suitable delay between the camera flash and the print coming out so we could have a little chat.  Evidently the weight of carrying the medals around is taking it’s toll on her handbag.  The downside of being an Olympic athlete!

Anticipating 2012, in particular Drupa

It’s that time of year when we reflect on the past year and wonder what the new year will bring.  In the area of ink jet, 2011 has brought some interesting product launches, in particular the commercialisation of the Memjet technology by Lenovo, LG, Lomond, Xante, OWN-X and others.  At the recent IMI Europe Ink Jet Conference in Lisbon, we heard that ink jet textiles are a fast-growing application, and ceramic tile printing is also rapidly gaining market share.

So what will 2012 bring?  Well most eyes are focussed on Drupa, the printing industries trade show held every 4 years in Dusseldorf, Germany.  Although many of us in the industry associate Drupa with expensive hotel rooms miles from the city and the terrible Drupa song, it really is the pinnacle of the printing industry calendar.

Ink jet is increasingly demonstrating great potential for use within the commercial print industry.  The main applications for the ink jet web presses launched so far has been books, coupons, transpromo, newspapers on demand and the like.  But ink jet ink technology is evolving and the capabilities of ink jet are being extended.  So far Fujifilm and Screen with their sheet-fed presses, and Kodak with their web press have claimed the ability to print on to paper types used for general printing in the industry.  It’s quite a challenge, as we have been seeing at Pivotal Resources from the patent applications being filed.

We can also see from patent applications that other vendors are likely to join the market for high-speed printing.  For instance Ricoh has many patents on page arrays of their own printhead technology.  At present, Ricoh subsidiary Infoprint uses engines from Screen that in turn incorporate Epson printhead technology.  Canon is another potential player in this market.  It now owns Océ who make high-speed web-feed ink jet prises using Kyocera printhead technology.  But we can see from the patent literature that Canon is developing page arrays using thermal ink jet, similar to the technology used in HP’s web presses.

But lets go back to the beginning and to Memjet.  Back in April 2011 it was announced that Delphax plans to launch a Memjet-powered ink jet press at Drupa.  The technology certainly has the potential print speed and cost structure to make a breakthrough product.  But let’s hope they haven’t forgotten all the other industry needs, in particular the ability to print onto a variety of paper types.  So far we have only seen Memjet-based products working on absorbent or coated substrates.  Is there a new ink technology coming up for Memjet?  That would make it a very interesting breakthrough for this market, but it would also really improve the capabilities of the Memjet technology in desk-top and wide format markets as well.

Where Have All the Printers Gone?

I write the news section of Pivotal Resources’ “Directions” ink jet patent review publication. I just completed the March-April edition. If this hardly seems like news, bear in mind that it is meant to reflect the industry news at the time that the patents issued. The patents can’t be viewed and reviewed in real time, so to speak, so everything is a couple of months in arrears.

It has become more and more difficult to fill the allotted two pages with meaningful news. When I took on this task in 2002, the problem lay in describing the crowd of new desktop printers and MFPs briefly enough to allow room for anything else. Desktop announcements have slowed to a trickle, and now I must do far more research!

In the first four months of 2007, there were nineteen new desktop models. This rose to twenty-five in the corresponding months of 2008, but fell to fourteen last year and just ten this year. Of the ten, only one new print engine was represented, and most were barely noticeable revisions of earlier products.

The desktop market is obviously mature, both in terms of technology and of shipments. In fact, worldwide shipments of desktop ink jet devices fell by 15 percent, from more than 27 million in the fourth quarter of 2007 to 23 million in the corresponding quarter of 2009.

Though the desktop market is mature, IT Strategies estimate that 85% of the revenue generated by ink jet technology is still derived from desktop devices. Investment enabled and justified by this sector is a major feature of the ink jet landscape. This investment allowed the various suppliers to enter other markets, ranging from large-format printing to photo kiosks to commercial printing. Investment in ink jet by the market leaders is clearly falling rapidly.

Memjet-based desktop products are expected to join the entrenched competitors within the next few quarters. The arrival of those products will generate new buzz around home printing. It will be interesting to see whether the arrival of Memjet can help to revitalize the market and kindle new investment.

Is Memjet for Real? Part 2

In April, I wrote that the first real Memjet-based products would be shown at IPEX the following month. Indeed, the RAPID X1 and X2 label printers, manufactured by Rapid Machinery Company of Australia, were introduced at the show, as well as the Astro Machines M1 printer from Addressing and Mailing Solutions of the UK.

However, the first introduction actually occurred in April at the ON DEMAND Expo in Philadelphia, where Rena Systems showed its version of the Astro Machines M1.

These were followed in June, by the announcement by OWN-X Industrial (Budapest) of the SpeedStar 3000, a roll-to-roll, roll-to-sheet and fanfold format label printer.

Each of these is powered by the Memjet 8.66 inch (A4) wide, 5-color (CMYKK) print head, which delivers 1,600 dpi native print resolution. Top speed is 12 inches per second. One full 8 inch diameter roll of labels can be printed in just over 8 minutes.

Most significantly, I have been able to confirm that some of these devices are currently shipping to customers.

Each Memjet printhead consists of 70,400 ink jet nozzles, each less than 100 microns in diameter (roughly the width of human hair). These produce up to nine hundred million 1.2 picoliter droplets per second. The printheads are made of silicon in a semiconductor fab and driven by Memjet’s proprietary, “systems on a chip” print engine controller electronics, firmware, and software.

There continue to be strong indications that a Memjet-based large-format printer will appear at trade shows this fall, but it appears that we will have to wait a bit for the much-anticipated office printers. Certainly a phased rollout of a new technology by a new company makes sense. Speculation concerning an OEM customer for the office devices centers around consumer electronics firms like Sony and Panasonic, as well as computer manufacturers like Lenovo. This, too, makes sense, as Memjet will supply not only printheads and ink, but other subsystems and even print engines ready for private labeling.