by Robert Palmer | 12/11/14
For quite some time, BPO has predicted a continued migration of inkjet technology into the office-printing market. The year 2014 has been particularly active within the business inkjet category, with products and services spanning multiple segments and from a variety of vendors. Just recently, Epson continued that trend with the expansion of its WorkForce Pro product line into the office workgroup market.
According to Epson, the WorkForce Pro WF-8590 and WF-8090 are designed to deliver affordable color printing with low intervention rates for small- and medium-size companies and corporate workgroups. Technically speaking, the new WorkForce Pro 8000 series machines are very similar to their A4-size counterparts, the WorkForce Pro 5000 series introduced earlier this year. Indeed, both are based on the same PrecisionCore print head technology, although the new machines are slightly faster than their predecessors.
What really separates the WorkForce Pro 8000 series is the fact that they are A3-size products that will only be sold through commercial channels. This is a big step for Epson, and one that marks the firm’s entry into office equipment imaging channels. The WorkForce Pro 8000 series feature black and color print speeds up to 24 ppm, a monthly duty cycle of up to 75,000 pages, and according to Epson can produce color pages at a cost savings of up to 40 percent compared with comparable color lasers.
Both models come standard with ultra-high yield cartridges that can produce up to 7,000 color pages, with a total paper capacity of up to 1,830 sheets through optional paper trays. Epson says that its new machines support the ongoing trend toward moving A3 printing closer to the end user. The firm is banking on the notion that businesses are looking for lower cost alternatives to laser that not only help minimize workflow disruption but also reduce the costs for color printing. The WorkForce Pro WF-8590 MFP and WF-8090 single-function printer will be available in January 2015 through the Epson ImageWayPartner Program to channel partners and through authorized commercial channel resellers.
Epson has been taking steps to expand its inkjet technology into the business segment for quite some time, but up to now its efforts have primarily been aimed at SOHO and small business users. The introduction of its PrecisionCore print head technology and the subsequent launch of the A4-size WorkForce Pro machines served notice that it was looking to move further up market. The new A3-size models reinforce that notion, but it is likely that Epson will make even bolder moves in this space.
For example, Epson has been selling these same WorkForce Pro models in Europe for quite some time, quietly signing up channel partners and expanding distribution. The firm has also introduced its Replaceable Ink Pack System (RIPS) for these models in Europe. The RIPS system basically takes additional external ink supplies in the form of high-capacity “bags” to feed ink directly to the print heads, which offers yields of up to 75,000 pages without intervention. Although this latest announcement from Epson America does not mention the RIPS system, it seems plausible that Epson would introduce RIPS to the U.S. market sometime soon.
While Epson’s PrecionCore print head technology is significant in terms of its ability to produce faster speeds, smaller drop volumes, and improved reliability, the firm has yet to implement page-wide array technology in an office-class device. Epson’s WorkForce Pro machines still utilize serial imaging technology, which means that the print head must move back and forth across the page during the imaging process. Vendors such as Brother, HP, Memjet and others are producing much faster speeds with page-wide array print heads, which could put Epson at a disadvantage until it can expand beyond Segment 2.
Even so, Epson is clearly looking to reposition itself and its inkjet technology by targeting the office workgroup. Like its rivals, Epson is leveraging the unique characteristics of ink to offer a compelling value proposition: reliable and durable office-color printing at a cost significantly lower than comparable laser-based products. This is a value proposition that has resonated well, not only with customers but also with the imaging channel, which is always looking for opportunities to differentiate from competitors and fill gaps in product lines.
Meanwhile, when and if Epson is able to bring long-life supplies to its workgroup portfolio, it could provide significant inroads for MPS providers looking for service-friendly, low-cost hardware that could be deployed and supported with minimal service intervention. This is the hallmark of MPS-friendly hardware, and it basically serves as a foundation behind the predicted continued migration of ink in the office, both in transactional and contractual environments.
Robert Palmer is chief analyst and a managing partner for BPO Media, which publishes The Imaging Channel and Workflow magazines. He is an independent market analyst and industry consultant with more than 25 years experience in the printing industry covering technology and business sectors for prominent market research firms such as Lyra Research and InfoTrends. In December 2012 he formed Palmer Consulting as an independent consultancy focused on transformation, mobility, MPS, and the entire imaging market. Palmer is a popular speaker and presents regularly at industry conferences and trade events in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. He is also active in a variety of imaging industry forums and currently serves on the board of directors for the Managed Print Services Association (MPSA).