Epson has up to now been a somewhat of a quiet contender in the business printing market, with a much stronger presence in the consumer inkjet segments. However, Epson is aiming to accelerate the shift from laser to inkjet printing in the office. On 19th March 2014 it announced 18 WorkForce business inkjet printers based on its PrecisionCore printhead technology. The most notable announcement is its managed print services (MPS) only WorkForce Pro RIPS (Replaceable Ink Pack System) series with high capacity ink bags, printing up to 75,000 pages without ink replacement.
The laser versus inkjet battleground
Hoping to compensate for declining consumer inkjet businesses, vendors such as HP, Brother and Epson are expanding their focus on the lucrative business market. Once the stronghold of laser printers, business inkjets are emerging as an attractive proposition due to low costs, lower energy consumption and improved performance and reliability.
Indeed, the lines between inkjet and laser are blurring as inkjet technology advances. So how do the technologies compare? Inkjets spray droplets of ink onto paper through tiny nozzles, creating microscopic dots. Because inkjet ink is typically water based, ink can cause bleeding on paper as it is absorbed, blurring the edges of everyday text. While specialised paper can prevent the bleeds and control drying times, everyday text may not be as sharp on an inkjet as on a laser.
Laser printers use high heat to fuse powdered ink to paper. There is no bleeding effect, because laser toner does not absorb into paper. Prints are smudge-proof and do not require drying time. However, the sharp, crisp edges from a laser may not allow for the same subtle colour gradients required in images that an inkjet can produce.
Lasers typically dominate the office environment due to their speed, high test quality and paper handling capabilities. Meanwhile, the lower initial costs, and image print quality has made inkjets attractive to the consumer. However, the emergence of premium business inkjet printers with higher print quality at lower costs is changing the office printing battleground. According to IDC, the business inkjet market is growing year on year, maintaining growth in years when laser sales have declined.
So what has made business inkjet products more attractive to the office? Probably the strongest advantage over laser products is that inkjet printers are more power efficient than lasers. Traditional laser fusing technology requires a large amount of energy as users wait for printers to power on or wake from sleep. As well as energy savings, inkjet printers require less maintenance over their lifetime – just changing cartridges rather than drums and fusers.
The choice of technology often boils down to the volumes that will be printed. With higher duty cycles, lasers tend to fare better for heavy workloads, and along with advanced finishing options, may remain the device of choice for enterprises. Nevertheless, business inkjet is gaining traction amongst small and medium businesses (SMBs).
The emergence of printers such as the HP Officejet Pro X has set the standard for business inkjet printing and helped overcome the bias to laser printers in the office. Epson is exploiting the growing acceptance of business inkjets and betting big on its new WorkForce Pro series to further accelerate business inkjet adoption in the office.
Packing a Punch with PrecisionCore Technology
Epson’s WorkForce Pro range is based on its industrial inkjet print head technology, PrecisionCore. The PrecisionCore print heads have two to three times the resolution of Epson’s conventional piezo print heads and can fire quickly and deliver multiple drop volumes. This delivers commercial-grade performance in a compact, modular form, enabling Epson to scale the technology from single-pass industrial presses down to workgroup and desktop printers.
According to Epson, PrecisionCore print heads are able to place almost perfectly round ink drops more accurately than before, making text print almost indistinguishable to laser printed text. Meanwhile, PrecisionCore and Epson pigment inks are designed to avoid text blurring. Epson claims its WorkForce Pro devices can be up to 50% cheaper to run than a comparable laser printer and use up to 80% less energy.
Pushing a distributed printer strategy
Today, many businesses have adopted a centralised print strategy, often as the result of device consolidation to remove the inefficiencies and expense of operating an unmanaged and localised printer fleet.
Epson is particularly promoting a distributed fleet strategy, positioning its WorkForce Pro range as a way to address the potential productivity issues of the use of shared MFPs. Epson believes that a localised printing approach can avoid the inconvenience of having to wait for print jobs at shared devices, or protecting confidential documents.
While a distributed fleet certainly could appeal to small workgroup environments, most centralised models are based on MPS contracts where pull print solutions are in place to ensure that documents are released when the user authenticates at the device. The best approach would be to use Epson devices in small workgroups or to complement a centralised strategy where local workgroup printers are needed. To avoid potential wasteful local printing (which is what MPS seeks to minimise), it would be vital that a distributed print model is managed and monitored under a broader MPS contract.
Epson also launched a range of other solutions, including a mobile print product, Email Print for Enterprise and document workflow integration with Document Capture Pro. This reflects Epson’s increased focus on the business market which is increasingly looking for better print management tools.
Expanding MPS foothold with WorkForce RIPS
In the face of hardware commoditisation and shrinking margins, more resellers are recognising the need to move to a recurring revenue model that can drive longer term customer relationships. The bright star in its new range is the WorkForce Pro RIPS (Replaceable Ink Pack System) series which will be available exclusively through selected print service partners under an MPS contract.
With its innovative high high capacity ink bag system, the Workforce RIPS series particularly stands apart from the competition. The printers can provide up to 75,000 pages printing without the need for a consumables change. By cutting out the headaches of internal supplies management, businesses can minimise productivity loss and IT costs while gaining the benefits of predictable costs under an MPS contract.
From a technology perspective, the new Epson WorkForce Pro range should certainly help Epson build its position in the business inkjet market. Promoting the advantages of its PrecisionCore technology will be fundamental to its proposition, enabling Epson to differentiate on quality, speed and environmental impact.
Although it is later to the game than its competitors, the RIPS products will be the first step for Epson and its partners to capture the MPS opportunity. While Epson is wisely targeting established MPS resellers, critical to long-term success will be Epson’s ability to convince its broader channel to shift from a transactional to contractual model.
If Epson focuses on a broader balanced deployment in both a centralised and distributed fleet environment it will expand its market reach. This will also enable it to capture the more lucrative solutions opportunity as more businesses invest document workflow solutions to drive further efficiency in their print environment.
As the performance gap between laser and inkjet technology shrinks and as more SMBs become receptive to MPS, Epson is catching up in a market where competition is only set to intensify.