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Industry Insight

Display and Print R&D at HP

Watching the cute new “happy baby” e-

By Howie Fenton
Published: December 2, 2010

Watching the cute new “happy baby” e-print TV commercial from HP with the baby zipping through the desert, forest and streets in a stroller is fun and getting a lot of praise. It reminds me that HP is involved in a host of different research and development (R&D) projects. In fact, the R&D group was founded in 1966 by the founders of the company Bill Hewlett and David Packard to create an organization focused on the future and not bound by day-to-day business concerns.

Since those early days there have been many changes as the efforts have grown and shrunk. For example, in 2007 HP hired Prith Banerjee, the dean of engineering at the University of Illinois-Chicago, as its new director. A year later the labs started to narrow their focus from the 150 or so projects its scientists had been working on to 20 "big bets" – projects that, if they paid off, HP hoped would contribute directly to its bottom line.

Last fiscal year HP invested 2.5 percent of its total revenue or $2.8 billion on R&D. The vast majority on development in HP's product groups. Displays and printing are two big focuses. HP doesn't manufacture displays, but it sells around 70 million of them. Not all are computer displays. The need for more user friendly products has created a need for displays on a variety of products including printers, copiers and MRPs (multi function printers).

If HP could come up with a radically cheaper way to make displays, HP could license the technology to others and also lower its own product costs, says Carl Taussig, director of HP's Information Surfaces Lab. LCDs cost about $100 per square foot to produce today, and the roll-to-roll method could reduce that to $10, he said.


Not surprisingly printing is another focus, but not the type found in homes and offices. Something I learned while working on HPDPAC (HP Digital Printing Advisory Council) is that most of the optimization for desktop products has already been done. That is part of the unique technology HP brings to the table – the ability to reduce the mean time between failures of equipment. Right now the labs are focused on commercial inkjet presses, a new area for HP where it hopes to challenge the incumbents, says Eric Hanson, director of HP's Commercial Print Engine Lab.

The labs have already developed a new type of ink for HP's Indigo digital press. One obstacle for the industry is that paper mills don't have an efficient way to remove inkjet ink from all types of paper – something they need to do when they recycle magazines and brochures to make new paper.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with one of the HP staff at the Oneill Inkjet Press event in 2009 about removing ink from inkjet printed pages. He told me that there were methods to remove inkjet ink from paper but they were not standardized and/or had not yet been accepted in the industry. But HP is trying to change that by developing a "surfactant" that allows digital and other inks to be skimmed off in a foam after the pulping process.

HP plans to give away the formula so that other companies can produce the chemical. With the investment in inkjet printing both from a desktop and now an inkjet press perspective I’m sure the motivation is to remove any obstacles that could prevent the digital print market from expanding.

I am sure this will prompt some heated debates but personally I have seen a decline on the emphasis on “green printing” during the recession. What about you? Have you seen less emphasis on “green printing” during the recession and is the pendulum starting to swing the other way. And how important is the ability to de-ink inkjet pages in your decision to buy an inkjet printer or a digital press?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

Howie Fenton is InfoTrends' Associate Director of Operational Consulting. For over 25 years, he has focused on benchmarking operational and financial performance in in-plants and commercial printers. He can be reached via e-mail at Howie.Fenton@infotrends.com.


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