Inkjet has long been tipped as the digital print technology of the future, says Sharon McNee, Research Manager at IDC
Industry players and watchers alike recognise that inkjet promises much in the way of business opportunity. Undeniably the flexibility that inkjet offers in providing low cost, acceptable quality print, taps perfectly into the current mega-trends of on-demand publishing, short-run print jobs and personalisation across all forms of media. On paper, and on other substrates, inkjet can seriously compete and win against the incumbent predominant business and commercial print technologies – laser and analogue offset.
Success has not been overnight. Inkjet won its first battle in the consumer space where the appeal of colour output and the low cost hardware won the hearts and minds of both former laser users and net-new users. Vendors were quick to milk this cash cow for all it was worth by encouraging and stimulating the use of colour printing to drive profitable inkjet cartridge sales. Applications that targeted children enticing them to print for fun and for schoolwork worked well and home users were soon replacing their laser devices for inkjet and in many cases buying additional printers to separate business and personal use in the home.
Photo printing was all the rage and vendors enjoyed the revenues generated by users printing their current and backlog libraries of family photos with little regard for cost. In fact, the running cost of printers – inkjet and laser in the home was never an issue for most. The period of feast lasted a good ten years before home users began to discover digital screen technology in the shape of iPhones, iPads and other such communication devices. This, combined with an economic recession meant that the cost of print was under the radar and that any disposable household income was diverted away from old-school printers to shiny new communication technology.
Need to print almost subsided:
Then as social media took hold, the need to print almost completely subsided, print volumes tanked and vendors were looking at an increasingly gaping hole in their profits. Inkjet print had won over laser print but lost out to the digital page. While photo printers such as the HP Sprocket has tapped into nostalgia and enjoyed some success in very recent years, it is unlikely that we will ever see the return to the home page volumes that were generated in the mid-late nineties and early noughties.
In the office space, vendors such as Brother, Canon, Epson and HP with a vested interest in proprietary inkjet technology have been trying to promote the concept of ‘Business Inkjet’. Installing new inkjet colour devices and/or replacing existing monochrome laser devices stimulates the printing of the more profitable colour page and represents a growth opportunity in a declining market. Overall, enterprise pages may be on a downward trajectory, but at least each page printed will return more colour ink revenue.
Business inkjet was initially a difficult sell as enterprise users in general had negative perceptions of the technology in comparison with laser. Inkjet was perceived to be slower, more expensive and have an inferior print quality. However, inkjet improvements and advancements over the years have gradually eroded these barriers to potential growth. The key tenets of better, faster, cheaper, smaller, now apply and enterprise users are more amenable to inkjet devices even as part of managed print service fleets.
Speed, quality and price/performance:
Epson and HP continue to push the speed, quality and price/performance boundaries. In 2017, Epson launched a 100 ppm device for the office. Product portfolio expansion and strategic partnerships with the likes of Nuance for print management software, mean that Epson is becoming an increasing threat in the enterprise and public sector.
HP continues to widen, enhance and strengthen its line-up. HP’s PageWide platform sits across both its office and production ranges and is helping HP grow strongly in the office and production markets – the former especially in Western Europe. The combination and availability of A3 and A4 PageWide products pose a growing threat to competing laser products and vendors across the region. With HP continually expanding its channel base for PageWide products, the laser market and incumbent vendors are under increasing threat of losing key channel partners.
IDC forecasts that the UK market for business inkjet will show a 7.2 per cent CAGR 2016-2021. Vendors and channel partners must carefully position their laser and inkjet offerings so as not to cannibalise their business. Some customers and applications will always demand laser print, but some will benefit from inkjet and the latter represents a significant opportunity to generate revenue. Channel partners who are not already selling inkjet products must now re-evaluate their position. In the very long run, inkjet will eventually win over laser but will still be vulnerable to the digitisation of the page and the downturn in page volumes.
Office meets production:
Perhaps the most interesting area for inkjet technology is in the intersection where office meets production and speciality printing on substrates other than paper. At Drupa 2004, RISO launched its first single pass colour inkjet printer the RISO HC5000. At 110 ppm, it was the fastest cut-sheet single pass inkjet printer at a time when faster, larger more expensive continuous feed printers were beginning to make their mark in the production print space. This launch signaled the direction in which high speed inkjet was going and how inkjet would end-up competing with laser/xerographic products in the light production print space.
RISO followed up in subsequent years with its ComColor product range and in March this year launched the Compact T2 which incorporates tandem RISO GD ComColor engines and prints at speeds of up to 320 ppm/circa 20k pages an hour in full colour. Full and fnal hardware pricing has not yet been communicated but it is expected to be lower than the £150,000 price point when the product arrives in the market later in 2018. Similarly, cost per page pricing has not yet been laid out but it is anticipated to be in line with RISO’s low cost per page strategy. The product is frmly aimed at transactional and direct marketing providers, mail houses, and mailrooms.
In April 2018, long-time industrial inkjet head manufacturer Kyocera unveiled its TASKalfa Pro 15000c. The high speed inkjet device prints A4 at 150 ppm (circa 9,000 pages an hour) and is expected to launch in 2019. Kyocera is planning to introduce a whole range of similar such inkjet products in this vein going forward. Target markets are variable data applications in CRDs, inplants, non-profits, service bureaus and print service providers.
Memjet, the provider of aqueous dye-based, single pass digital print systems for on-demand printing in the desktop labeling, mailing and addressing, wide format and commercial press markets announced in April 2018 that it had entered into a long-term, global agreement with Canon to cross-license their patents around key segments and applications. The same month, Memjet also announced that it had entered into a three-way marketing, distribution and servicing partnership with Super Web and Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc.
The WEBjet 200D and WEBjet100D continuous feed inkjet presses will complement Konica Minolta’s existing cut-sheet toner and inkjet products and help target the transaction, direct mail, publishing and in-plant business sectors in the US. Konica Minolta in other regions are thought to be monitoring progress.
At the very high end of the market, inkjet will continue to grow. IDC forecasts that the Western European market for colour continuous feed (26.6 per cent) and label and packaging printers (17.3 per cent) will both experience high double-digital growth throughout the forecast period (2017-2022).
The migration from analogue to digital printed pages is accelerating. IDC believes that Western European digital printed page volumes are expected to grow five per cent (2016-2021). Inkjet innovation and applications will be the main growth engine, yielding an increment of around 14 per cent over the period. Printing on substrates other than paper – labels, packaging, textiles, objects and décor will drive new business opportunities. FESPA 2018, could herald a new era in textile, direct-to garment and bespoke décor printing.
One thing is very clear, the future for high speed production cut-sheet and continuous feed inkjet is rosy. Inkjet’s flexibility, particularly around the multiple substrates upon which it can print, make it a key area for manufacturing investment and R&D. Printing on myriad media will be around a long time after printing on plain office paper has succumbed to the digitisation of the page.
Exciting business opportunities Channel partners must prepare for selling inkjet if they are to remain relevant and competitive. High speed inkjet offers higher priced, higher margin sales opportunities in a segment where print volumes are increasing, and new markets, customers and business opportunities are opening.
If some of the high speed inkjet market incumbents and entrants have a weakness, it is that they don’t have the channel to sell such products. This represents a huge opportunity for channel partners to rise to the challenge and carve out some new and exciting business opportunities.