Print manufacturers are flooding the OP market with innovation as Hewlett-Packard (HP) prepares to steal a march, and crucial market share, with the introduction of Edgeline Technology.
An outbreak of printer wars is expected as big players trip over themselves with new products in an attempt to counter the threat from HP.
A week after an HP analyst conference in San Francisco last October to unveil the Edgeline plans, IBM announced three new office printers, which they claimed were designed to allow clients to lower their overall cost of printing and improve employee productivity.
The company boasted the trio were part of a sweeping update to IBM’s portfolio of office printers – with 12 new models introduced throughout 2006.
"We continue to expand and enhance our office printing portfolio," says Doug Oathout, vice president, IBM Printing Systems. "These new models can help clients consolidate and drive cost out of their distributed output environment. They offer an innovative combination of speed, security, image quality and cost-effectiveness."
Not to be left out in the cold, Lexmark moved swiftly to announce the launch of its C530 colour laser printer series, which it says builds on current technology to offer small businesses the "next generation of productivity-enhancing performance, quality and reliability".
But all eyes will be on Edgeline, which HP boasts is a breakthrough printing technology designed for high-volume workloads.
Edgeline differs from existing technologies in that it uses new design architecture with printheads that span the entire width of a page to distribute ink across paper rapidly and precisely in one pass.
With Edgeline, the paper moves, not the printheads – resulting in faster print speeds and, apparently, excellent print quality.
Steve Reynolds, an analyst with digital imaging consultants Lyra, says: "In October, HP held an event in San Francisco to introduce a number of new products, primarily for enterprise level customers – a number of new monochrome NSDs and of course Edgeline Technology.
"At that event I started to hear the term ‘disruptive technology’ thrown about a bit and these products do represent that tag.
"Low-end disruption is products that are aimed at taking or addressing unused needs among customers, and new-market disruption is exactly that – taking new technologies and aiming them directly at brand new markets."
Addressing the copier market is not a new strategy for HP. It is part of a quest the company has been on for quite a long time to look for volume beyond its existing core printing products.
In 2005, digital printing represented only 12 percent of all the pages that were printed in the world.
However, by 2010 HP predicts many more will go digital and estimates this share will grow to 17 percent.
HP has been trying for some time now to capture this additional volume for people who have digital printing products, and they are confident they have the key with their new technology.
Edgeline is an extension of the SPT printhead technology that HP introduced about a year ago. It essentially takes five printheads and assembles them into a module that contains 10,516 nozzles per printhead assembly. Printers that use this will have a gang of these modules to take care of all the colours that need to be printed.
There are a number of sophisticated technologies that are embedded in the whole process to make sure the colour print quality and speed are efficiently in harmony.
Features include nozzle substitutions, so if one goes down the one next to it can comfortably take over, colour calibration and electronic nozzle alignment.
Reynolds believes page-wide arrays are simple in theory but are much more difficult in practice.
He adds: "We feel Edgeline addresses the factors that have limited inkjet technology in business before in terms of speed – up to 71 pages a minute in full colour, which is more than enough to compete with most of the convenience colour copiers that are on the market today."
"In the future, HP has said there will be Edgeline devices that will be able to print up to 100 pages a minute in a light production environment. Image permanence has been a perceived problem for inkjet products in the past but HP claims that Edgeline products will resist highlighter smears so you can put highlighter over text and the words will remain legible and water resistant."
Cost has also been a problem for inkjet but HP says that Edgeline printers will have the lowest total cost per operation in the industry. Edgeline is a non-contact system – the paper doesn’t contact the imaging systems or the actual marking engine at all so there is no photo-conductor drum or transfer belt, etc. And when you remove those components you eliminate the problems that are often associated with them.
As a result the Edgeline product should be highly reliable.
"It’s interesting to look at the future potential for Edgeline. In the short term, HP indicated there are a couple of places where Edgeline is applicable. The first is for office colour, and HP said that Edgeline represents a total opportunity of between $30 and $34 billion by 2009 and indicated that $16.6 billion of that was in office printing," explains Reynolds.
"The Edgeline convenience colour copier, which will be introduced this Spring, will propel HP to among the top four convenience colour copiers by market share by 2010. That will put them in the same league as Canon, Xerox, Konica Minolta and Ricoh.
"The other short-term area in which HP will apply Edgeline is one where they have already deployed it. About a year ago, HP launched the Photosmart Express Station kiosk, which uses essentially one Edgeline printhead module to produce 4x6in photos.
"A couple of months ago, HP launched the Photosmart pm1000 Microlab, which it claims will address $7.7 billion of a total market opportunity of $34 billion. The Microlab product in particular is well-positioned because mini-labs in retail chains are the fastest growing area in photo prints. There are quite a number of lab operators coming off lease that are looking for smaller, better and faster units and that’s exactly what the HP unit is."
In the medium term, HP believes that industrial printing or light production printing would represent almost $10 billion of a total market opportunity of $34 billion. This represents quite a large opportunity although Lyra believes this figure is ambitious and optimistic.
According to Reynolds, there is still quite a bit of room in which Edgeline can manoeuvre through clever innovation.
"There is a continuum between speed and print quality, the light production machine is at one end of the spectrum and at the other end are the Microlab products," he explains.
"However, there are still a couple of spots along the continuum that HP could fill in, such as a full-time colour office NSP. HP currently has the 9500 NSP but I don’t think they will be too concerned about displacing this with Edgeline technology.
"The next place HP could go is a slower speed inkjet, perhaps 20 or 25 pages a minute, but with greater quality – this is the heartland of where HP and other colour laser manufacturers are focusing their attentions.
"There are two elements to where HP can go from here. The first is what is technically feasible and the other is what HP actually wants to do.
"HP has always had to balance out what it wants to do with its innovations and how it will impact the products it has already out on the market. Edgeline should be viewed as a technology that will eventually permeate out across the entire colour-printing spectrum.
"HP probably has the advantage right now although there is a lot of competition out there. However HP’s lead is quite a bit smaller in the high-speed or production environment. IBM is taking on Epsom’s printheads to sell, Kodak has some products and there is also a prototype somewhere out there from Olympus.
"But in the office environment, HP has got a significant headstart. Edgeline will propel HP into the top tier of colour copier makers by 2010. Edgeline will give HP a critical tool to help penetrate other markets where it currently has a limited presence, such as commercial photo-printing."