by Robert Palmer | 1/22/15
Inkjet continues to carve out space in the office printing market thanks to ongoing advancements in products and imaging technology. The year 2014 could be viewed as a coming out party for inkjet in the office, and signs indicate that 2015 could signal the emergence of an entirely new category of office workgroup-class inkjet machines.
Late last year, we wrote about Epson’s latest foray into the office inkjet market with the launch of its Workforce Pro 8000 series machines. Basically, the Workforce Pro 8000 models could be viewed as A3-size versions of Epson’s Workforce Pro 5000 series products introduced earlier in the year. With print speeds up to 24 ppm and the ability to support multiple trays for increased paper capacity, the Workforce Pro 8000 is not your typical inkjet product.
At the time of the launch, we noted that Epson could further differentiate its Workforce Pro product line in the U.S. by adding support for its Replaceable Ink Pack System (RIPS). Already introduced for models in Europe, the RIPS system dramatically extends the life for supplies used in Epson’s office inkjet machines by utilizing external ink supplies in the form of high-capacity bags, which feed ink directly to the print heads through an integrated tubing system.
It did not take long for that to happen. On January 20, Epson announced that it has indeed introduced the Replaceable Ink Pack System in the U.S. As a result, the firm will soon be selling RIPS-enabled versions of both the Workforce Pro 5000 and 8000 series products. The RIPS system puts Epson’s products in an entirely different class of workgroup printers and MFPs.
Fully configured, the Workforce Pro 8000 supports up to 1,830 sheets, with enough ink capacity to produce up to 75,000 printed pages before supplies need to be replaced. That represents an entirely new benchmark in terms of supplies yield for what is essentially a Segment 2 MFP. Most competitive toner-based MFPs in the same speed class have supplies yields that are significantly lower, typically between 5,000 to 20,000 pages depending upon the model.
As explained in our earlier coverage, Epson will be selling its new Workforce Pro 5000 and 8000 series products through select commercial channel partners, so it does not disclose list pricing for its supplies. Nevertheless, Epson claims that its new models combined with the RIPS system will allow customers to produce high quality color documents at low operating costs and with much lower intervention rates compared with competitive machines in the same speed class.
The WorkForce Pro WF-R8590 and WF-R5690 MFPs and WF-R5190 printer will be available in Q1 2015 through select commercial channel partners. In addition, Epson will began shipping its latest A3 business printing solutions, the WorkForce Pro WF-8590 and WF-8090 models, on Jan. 21.
For more information on Epson’s latest announcement, see press release.
Like most inkjet vendors, Epson is working hard to push its investment in inkjet technology further up market, and the firm clearly has its sights on the workgroup category. The RIPS system is entirely unique to the office workgroup category and will offer dealers an interesting alternative for color, especially in a market that seems overcrowded with products that offer very little differentiation.
What makes the RIPS system unique is not just the ability to deliver high-yield supplies, but also the technology implementation. With xerographic machines that use an integrated cartridge design, when you replace the toner cartridge you are essentially replacing a good portion of the writing system, including the drum, developer, and the toner. Even with machines that use separate components, replacing toner is often a process that requires a technician. With the RIPS system, users simply take out one bag and replace it with a new one.
Of course, Epson’s products only print at 20 to 24 ppm, so these machines are not designed to address the workload of higher-speed products. Nevertheless, for customers looking for a low-cost alternative to laser in secondary color applications, the Workforce Pro products would certainly seem attractive. Meanwhile, dealers might also see value and opportunity with the Epson RIPS system, not only in transactional environments but also in MPS installations.
Indeed, Epson’s new inkjet machines would seem to offer many compelling attributes that would make them ideal for MPS engagements. First, the low-cost hardware would allow customers to move secondary color printing capability closer to the user, lessoning the dependence on centralized color machines that might require certain access restrictions. At the same time, lower operating costs, fewer service interventions, and less waste all are important elements for driving profitability in a managed service environment.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how much further Epson can push its inkjet technology. The firm’s MEMS-based, PrecisionCore print head technology provides a development platform that allows for certain economies of scale, which means that the firm should be able to leverage investment in print head technology across multiple products and product categories. We will be watching Epson closely as it continues to reposition itself as a contender in the office workgroup printing market.
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).