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|eXpert Row Commentary - Tribute Tuesdays|
Commentary by Andrew Tribute
May 22, 2007 -- Often it is the news items that don’t create much attention that are most important. In the past week two such announcements have been made which have been overshadowed by other announcements. The first of these came from HP at their recent event in Rome, and the other was a press release from Lexmark. Both of these announcements covered exactly the same area of business with somewhat similar approaches in technology. This was providing new OEM inkjet printing systems that offered relatively high-speed color printing. This is printing for markets away from graphic arts in such areas as mail addressing, product coding, imprinting, packaging, tickets, barcode labels, bills and statements.
HP’s announcement was of its mPrint 1700c. This is a small three-color (CMY) print engine with six printheads and it prints a width of 1.7 inches at up to 600 dpi a speed of up to 300 ft/minute (it does not print at this speed at 600 dpi). It is designed to be integrated with an OEM customer’s print transport that may already have a black printer that can be either sheet or continuous feed. The Lexmark announcement is aimed at the same market but it appears to be a more advanced solution in what it can achieve. This new industrial inkjet printing system, dubbed the Lexmark Mustang Printer for its superior speed and agility, can be easily integrated by the OEM with an end-user's existing transport base or packaged by the OEM as part of a ready-to-run variable data printing solution. It has quoted speed of up to 760 ft/min but this is at 158 dpi. In a quality mode at 600 dpi it runs at 200 ft/min. This unit has printheads with a print width of 2 inches but unlike the HP mPrint 1700c up to four heads can be aligned together to give an 8-inch print width. Another major difference is the HP printer is designed to add process color to applications, whereas the Lexmark printer is predominantly a black printer than can print spot colors, but not process color.
Both of these solutions use thermal inkjet technology and are available to OEMs with a range of additional modules. These concern how the ink is supplied either in disposable cartridges or as a bulk ink supply. It is also interesting to note that while these printers can print at high-speed the printheads are not really designed for high-volume usage. The printheads on the HP mPrint 1700c are stated to be suitable for printing up to 2.7 liters of ink, whereas the Lexmark printheads are stated as due for replacement after between 1.0 – 1.5 liters of ink. This is a major difference between thermal inkjet printheads and piezo printheads. Piezo heads seldom have a defined lifespan measured in volume of liquid printed but more on a minimum time guarantee for usage that often is one year or more.
The interesting fact with these announcements is that while most attention is given to the major products from printer suppliers, some of the other developments for industrial print applications are well worth following. Both HP and Lexmark have a substantial business in supplying printheads, ink systems, and modules for building print solutions for OEM customers. These products carry out a huge amount of printing that we in graphic arts take little notice of. The developments in these areas can however move more into the graphic arts and production printing areas. We are already seeing certain ink suppliers developing UV curable inks for thermal printheads to give a greater degree of security in this market and opening up the printing of certain substrates.
It is also interesting to see that color is coming into these industrial printing applications. Lexmark specifically identify the market for personalization with their Mustang printer. This is not the sophisticated personalization we see in many digital print markets using advanced software like XMPie and Direct Smile, but it is personalization that could take some work away from the digital print markets that are building much of their future planning on such applications.
The moves by HP and Lexmark into putting color into the OEM industrial printing products is one that I feel we need to watch for the future. It may be the start of both these companies developing products further and starting to impinge on the production color printing markets. It is one more example of how inkjet printing is increasing in importance and is starting to challenge in the office and production markets.
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Attributes Associates is an internationally oriented consulting company specializing in marketing and technology issues for the printing, publishing and media markets. The Managing Partner of Attributes Associates is Andrew Tribute, who is recognized internationally as one of the world's leading authorities on these industries and subjects.
Andrew Tribute is a visiting Professor at University of the Arts London.