Wednesday, February 16, 2011

“Once Again, Memjet Is in the News: So What?”

The other day, we posted an article about an article (and video) about “Memjet”. In that article, an industry veteran (Andy Tribute of Infotrends) opined that “Memjet” is considered a “disruptive” technology, and, by that, he meant that, if Memjet actually makes it to market in a meaningful way, it will change the printer-equipment marketplace and could change how printers and reprographers do business.

Today, I discovered another interesting article about Memjet; this one from “Actionable Intelligence”. The author of this article – his name is Charles Brewer and he’s the President of Actionable Intelligence - says this about Memjet:

“Once Again, Memjet Is in the News: So What?”

Okay, here’s some information about Actionable Intelligence:

Actionable Intelligence, Inc (from the “about us” on AI’s web-site):

Based outside of Boston, Massachusetts, Actionable Intelligence, Inc., was established in 2009 and is committed to delivering tactical market research and custom consulting related to the markets for digital printer, copier, and MFP hardware and toner and inkjet supplies. These industries face new challenges such as lower secular demand for hardcopy. Our team understands that the printer and supplies business has changed, and we are dedicated to providing practical, accurate market analysis that clients can use to succeed.

Now, I’m going to share with you a few of the paragraphs in Mr. Brewer’s article about Memjet. Please note; at the end of this post, you’ll find a link to the complete article Mr. Brewer wrote, and I urge you to click on that link and read the full article.

In the beginning part of his article, Mr. Brewer says…..

Memjet is making headlines again in 2011. Image source: Memjet

The inkjet technology firm Memjet is grabbing headlines once again. At the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas, Memjet announced that it will partner with several Asian companies, including China’s computer giant Lenovo. The partnerships will allow Memjet to introduce desktop office devices in China, India, and Taiwan. The CES news follows a December article in the San Diego Union-Tribune claiming that the first mass-produced machines featuring Memjet print heads will hit the market this month. The initial Memjet devices will be for label and packaging applications, and an assortment of other Memjet printers will be available this year, including wide-format machines, photo kiosks, and office printers.”

“Sound familiar? Probably. Is it believable? Not really. For years, we have heard that machines sporting Memjet technology are about to launch. So far, however, no such device has ever shipped.”

And, at the end of the article, Mr. Brewer says this…..

“So, the question we are forced to ask is: Will Memjet deliver this year or is the company crying wolf again? The technology holds such promise—we really want to believe in it. And we get lots of assurances that the company is very close to achieving its goals. But with no products and a string of missed product launches, can we continue to just believe and be patient? The question is increasingly rhetorical.”

Here’s a link to the article that Mr. Brewer wrote:

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Joel’s comments:

I’m not sure if Mr. Brewer is old enough to know the history of “Indigo” and the “electronic ink” technology that Indigo’s inventors came up with. Mabye, maybe not. But, I’m sure most reprographers know at least some of the history of Indigo. I’m speaking about Indigo prior to HP’s purchase of Indigo.

Indigo, who like Sllverbrook Research has with Memjet, came up with an innovative idea/technology for imaging / digital printing. But the big difference between Indigo and Silverbrook Reseearch, business-model-wise, is that, after the technology was developed, Indigo committed to manufacturing printing systems enabled by its technology. Silverbrook (and Memjet itself) has long let it be known that it has no interest in manufacturing equipment and that its business model is to find licensees who will manufacture and distribute Memjet-enabled equipment. Even though Indigo struggled in the beginning, it was at least successful enough (in terms of printing-industry buy-in and number of placements) to bring the technology (Indigo-enabled printing systems) to market and then sell the business to HP.

CHICAGO, Sept. 6, 2001; Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HWP) and Indigo N.V. (NASDAQ: INDG) today announced that the companies have entered into an agreement for HP to acquire the remaining outstanding shares of Indigo, a leading commercial and industrial printing systems company. The acquisition of Indigo, which offers the broadest range of digital color printing presses in the industry, positions HP for a major thrust into commercial printing, a $400 billion market ripe for digital transformation. The companies will discuss the new relationship at the Print 01 trade show, which opened here today.

While Indigo was eventually successful with its “small-format” COLOR printing systems, Indigo’s other product line (which Indigo also committed to manufacturing), the Indigo XLT (high-speed, high-volume, WIDE-FORMAT, BLACK & WHITE plotter system) was not successful. Not because it wasn’t good technology, but because it (the XLT model, and there was only one model) was difficult and expensive to maintain, not to mention relatively high-priced. I’m not saying that those reprographers who purchased Indigo XLT’s were not successful with their Indigo XLT’s. At least two reprographers who purchased Indigo XLT’s (L&R, Nashville and Entire Reproductions, Toronto) made a lot of money with their Indigo XLT’s (and one of those reprographers, L&R, Nashville, TN) made a small fortune with its Indigo XLT’s. But, as to the Indigo XLT, the XLT was not as reliable/dependable as it needed to be. But that’s not the main point of this paragraph. The main point, Indigo did commit to manufacturing equipment. Silverbrook (and Memjet) has said it will not do that.

As to the wide-format equipment world, reprographers are not interested in investing in imaging equipment / printing systems that are not reliable and dependable. And, inasmuch as OCE’s 9800 kind of fooled everyone (with the exception of OCE), because the OCE 9800 proved to be one of the most reliable, dependable, high-speed, high-volume, wide-format printing systems ever to come to market (in spite of the fact that most reprographers were, at introduction, skeptical that the OCE 9800 would be that), reprographers aren’t likely going to want to play “pioneer” when (and if) the first Memjet-enabled equipment comes to market, since, by now, they’ve long been spoiled with the reliability / dependability of their OCE high-speed, wide-format systems. (HP DesignJet plotters are also very reliable systems and many reprographers have a whole bunch of HP DesignJet plotters, at their production centers and at customer FM locations.)

But, reliability and dependability aside, before any reprographer can “try” a wide-format Memjet, a “real machine” – the actual equipment - has to be manufactured and come to market.

If Silverbrook (Memjet corporate) isn’t going to manufacture a wide-format printing system and bring it to market, then the BIG question is “who is going to do that?” And, if the answer to that question is “no one is going to do that”, then the world, let alone reprographers, will never see what could be (or, later on, speaking in the past tense, could have been) the most amazing print-technology to be developed in the last 20 years.

Silverbrook Research has invested heavily in the development of Memjet technology, and Memjet Corporate has invested heavily in developing an “A Class” management team. But, anyone (who has it or who has access to it) can spend money. In order to be successful, someone has to “manufacture” the equipment.

And, to that, you have to ask, “which existing “wide-format” equipment manufacturer, HP, OCE, KIP, Xerox or anyone else” is going to want to manufacture a new-technology printing system that, for all intents and purposes, could render obsolete all of its prior equipment research & development and manufacturing investments? Might Kodak be the one to step into the picture? Maybe Benny Landa (the principal founder of Indigo) will step into the picture? Or, maybe another company, not now well known in the wide-format equipment manufacturing / distribution business, will come out of nowhere and commit to manufacturing a Memjet-enabled wide-format printing system? (Too bad Meteor-Siegen isn’t around any more.)

Too look further at the reprographer side of things, even if Memjet does come up with an equipment manufacturer to manufacture Memjet-enabled wide-format printing systems, there will likely be resistance to reprographer-buy-in, because reprographers would face the same problem as HP, OCE, KIP and Xerox would face on the equipment-manufacturing side; reprographers would (might) run the risk of adding a new piece of wide-format equipment (Memjet-enabled wide-format equipment) that could render obsolete all of their prior wide-format equipment investments.

But, I don’t see reprographer-resistance as an insurmountable problem for a Memjet-enabled wide-format printing system. And, that’s because of the way the reprographics industry works. I’ll put it to you this way. Two years from now, when my “covenant-not-to-compete” is over and done with, if there is, by then, a Memjet-enabled wide-format printing system (actually on the market) and no reprographer in my market area has committed to purchasing a Memjet wide-format printing system (because they don’t want to render obsolete all of their wide-format printing equipment and investments in that equipment), then, provided that the (Memjet-enabled) equipment isn’t prohibitively priced and doesn’t cost much more (than existing toner-based systems) to operate (running costs, service costs, click and ink, if you will), then I might consider buying a couple of systems and go out and offer “all color” AEC plan printing services to customers in my market. Same price for color AEC plan printing that they are paying (the “other reprographers”) for black & white plan printing services. Even if not me, there’s always going to be someone who will be willing to introduce new printing technology to AEC customers. So, I don’t see “reprographer” resistance as the major hurdle for Silverbrook/Memjet.

None of that, however, affects, at all, the real BIG question – who is going to commit to manufacturing a Memjet-enabled wide-format printing system?

I don’t agree with comments that Memjet print-heads won’t prove to be reliable and/or can’t be manufactured in sufficient quantity/quality (or whatever). That really won’t be known BY ANYONE until someone commits to manufacturing the equipment.

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