By Ed Avis
Reprographic Technologies Inc., better known in the industry as RTI, shut its doors in June after about 25 years in business. What happened?
“The bottom line is we got extended beyond what we were capable of managing, and at that stage elected to exit the business completely,” says Erik Norman, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.
Too Much Competition
The company, based in Kitchener, Ontario, was probably best known at the end of its existence for its Vortex wide-format color printer. It introduced that printer, which was based on the Memjet single-pass inkjet head, in 2013. It was the company’s first venture into equipment manufacturing, and put it in direct competition with some of the largest players in field. Xerox and Canon/Oce, for example, had similar printers that used the same head.
The small company, which had previously established itself in the industry as a seller of supplies for production printers, had a tough go against the big guys. It didn’t have the marketing power or brand recognition of Xerox or Canon/Oce, and buyers are often reluctant to take a chance on a new entrant when more established alternatives are available.
To top it off, just a year after the Vortex debuted, Hewlett-Packard announced they were coming out with their own single-pass, large-format inkjet printer, the PageWide. HP didn’t actually ship the PageWide until the fall of 2015, but just their announcement of the new machine probably caused printer buyers to put the brakes on purchase orders until they could see what HP was going to offer.
Ultimately, RTI placed about 50 Vortex machines worldwide, including 15 in North America. But considering the investment in engineering, manufacturing, and marketing, that number of installs was apparently not enough to keep the company afloat. Norman says that other options besides just closing the door were considered, but nothing came to fruition.
“We gave it a good go,” says Kevin Howes, who was RTI’s director of print solutions and is now poised to become executive director of RSA (read more about that here). “We were like the little engine that could.”
In the end, though, the “little engine” just couldn’t climb that long hill.
Rigoli, Drafting Clinic Stepping In
Current Vortex users are not being left without support. Rigoli S.R.L. in Milan, Italy, which made the chassis for the Vortex, is now taking over production of the machines and supporting the existing users in Europe. Users in North America are being supported by the Drafting Clinic Canada (read more about this here: http://www.irga.com/rti-exits-memjet-business-rigoli-takes-over/)
Zsolt Tarjanyi was the lead engineer on the Vortex for RTI, and he now works for Rigoli. “So they have the best knowledge base possible in terms of sustaining the quality of the printer,” Norman says. “Hopefully they’ll be able to pick up where we left off.”
Another former RTI employee, Robert Rockwell, has contracted with Rigoli and Drafting Clinic Canada to help support the installed base. “I think that will give customers some comfort going forward,” Howes says.
An imaging consumables company called Impro Group bought a quantity of production printing supplies at RTI’s liquidation auction in late June. That company, which has distribution points in Pittsburgh, Penn. and Antwerp, Belgium, is reselling that inventory. Their website is http://www.improgroup.com.
As far as the other consumables that RTI sold, such as supplies for Kodak, Ricoh, and Canon production printers, Norman says there is enough capacity from other suppliers to fill the void left by RTI’s departure.
“We had a great product,” Norman says, speaking of the Vortex. “For a relatively small OEM company, we did an extraordinarily good job with a good product and good dealer programs. But this wide format business is dominated by a number of larger competitors. I’m exceedingly proud of what we did, though disappointed in the final outcome.”