UPDATED: RESPONSES FROM COMPETITORS AT BOTTOM
By Ed Avis
Hewlett-Packard wowed a roomful of journalists and analysts in San Diego on June 10 with a dramatic presentation about a new single-pass, wide-format inkjet printer.
Of interest to the reprographics market, HP made a big point of emphasizing that the new machine prints color and black & white documents at the same cost. HP officials at the event speculated that this technology will fuel the transition from monochrome CAD printing to color CAD printing.
The printer uses the company’s PageWide inkjet module, which has already been on the market in small-format machines since 2012. The new wide-format version contains eight modules, for a total of 200,000 nozzles across its 40-inch width. The nozzles are arrayed so that each bit of data is served by two nozzles, providing redundancy.
The machine does not yet have a name and is not yet available – HP is planning a launch in the second half of 2015.
Big questions about the machine remain. HP officials at the event did not disclose a price for the machine, its operating cost, or its actual speed. Officials said the machine’s operating cost will be half of the operating cost of comparable LED printers, and its speed will be twice that of comparable LED printers. No comment was made on the cost of the printer itself; officials said the price would be announced a couple of months prior to the machine hitting the market.
Operating cost and speed of LED printers vary widely. One comparable printer is the KIP C7800, which prints up to 3,500 square feet per hour in color and 4,200 square feet per hour in black & white. The operating cost of the C7800 is reportedly is about $.027 per square foot for a color document at 21 percent coverage (here’s the source for that: http://kipc7800.blogspot.com/2013/04/kip-c7800.html)
Many Media, Pigmented Inks
The machine holds six rolls of media, and it auto-detects when it needs to switch to the next roll. Thus it can run unattended through six rolls of media. A wide range of media will be available for the machine, including plain bond, vellum, photo paper, and much more. No special coating will be required.
The inks are aqueous pigmented inks, giving them solid outdoors durability. The machine can hold eight cartridges, two each of CMYK. The cartridges can be changed out on the fly if they run low.
The machine comes with a head cleaner that swipes the array clean as needed, and a built-in colorimeter to help manage color.
Impact on Reprographics
A move from monochrome to color CAD printing has been discussed for decades. In Europe, HP research shows that the price of color CAD is 2x the price of monochrome, whereas in the U.S. it’s 5x. If the operating cost of the new machine is low enough, the thought is that color CAD prices will drop enough to propel significant growth in color CAD. (Click here to read an article about the impact of the growth of color CAD on reprographics.)
Response from Competitors
The new HP machine could present serious competition to the existing players in wide-format color printer market, particularly KIP with its C7800 and the various companies offering wide-format Memjet-driven printers. But representatives from these companies are handling HP's announcement in stride.
"It’s a year away at least, and we have no real clear specs in terms of pricing and speeds," notes Erik Norman, vice president of sales and marketing for RTI, which sells the Vortex Memjet printer. "We presume it will be a very competitive device, but I personally view it as more a validation of full color, single-pass inkjet printing capability. For RTI that is very helpful, because the challenge we run into is market adoption of single-pass inkjet technology."
Tim Horn, vice president of sales for KIP, notes that his company's CAD color solution is ready for action today: "We introduced a color LED system in 2008 ... so we’ve been doing this a long time. We have a reliable technology that is deliverable today. There is a lot of technology being discussed, but now is the time to establish that market and our system is available for the shop that wants to move forward now."
The fact that HP announced the wide-format PageWide printer a year before it will become available may affect sales of other systems in the interim if potential customers wait to see the new machine before making a decision.
"HP is doing a blocking strategy," Norman speculates. "The feeling there is what they're doing is they’re seeing the market adoption of the current single-pass providers, so they better start blocking to prevent their dealers from signing deals with these guys. But what they're saying is the technology is viable. So we kind of applaud it. Is there a competitive concern there? Yes, of course, HP is a great big company. But there’s always a place for small nimble companies and we don’t require the marketshare they require."