As our readers may know, Aurelio Maruggi led the InkJet High-speed Production Solutions (IHPS) division at HP since its inception and has recently moved to a new role within HP. He spent a lot of time with customers and really understood the business and their needs. His successor, Eric Wiesner, has a very different background, but one that is equally valuable to HP and customers alike. I had the chance to speak with him recently about his background and his thoughts about the future.

Our conversation was also linked to HP’s announcement that its high speed inkjet customer volumes have continued to grow, exceeding 100 billion pages worldwide in just over six years. This is one vendor’s evidence of the significant impact production inkjet has made since its introduction at the transformational 2008 inkjet drupa.

Wiesner said, “Hitting the 100 billion-page milestone is a phenomenal achievement considering that we officially started printing with a customer in January of 2009, and were already at a billion pages in the first year. The volumes have continued to grow exponentially as our customers find new applications, new customers, and continue the analog-to-digital migration. A fun fact: 100 billion pages would stretch to the moon, and at the rate our customers are printing, you can circle the earth every three days! And by the way, that very first press we installed in 2009 is still running. We have upgraded it a number of times to keep our customer current with the latest technology and it is still going strong.”

Wiesner is a mechanical engineer by training and has been with HP for 30 years, beginning his career in R&D in printed and integrated circuits at HP Labs, later moving into manufacturing. He spent several years in Germany and moved to San Diego in 1993, joining the printing side of the business at that point in time. Most recently, he was running the central lab for printing where, he says, “We do all of the ink, print head and writing system development as well as long life consumables for Indigo. I have been familiar with all of the printing divisions in HP for many years, and another fun fact: our lab developed the InkJet Web Press, and I was the one that handed it off to Aurelio eight years ago. Now that he has grown IHPS into a very successful business, I am very excited to now be leading the business again.”

Wiesner points out that in a Moore’s Law kind of way, the performance of HP thermal inkjet technology has effectively doubled every 18 months, adding, “Much of HP’s thermal inkjet innovation starts with the web press, including nozzle density, drop weight, and High Definition Nozzle Architecture (HDNA) technology.

Print’s Not Dead: It’s Interactive

If the 100 billion milestone isn’t enough proof that print isn’t dead, Wiesner also adds his two cents worth. “Part of my last role in the R&D lab was trying to understand the “print is dead” concept, the relevance of print in communications, and when print is more effective than mobile electronic displays. One thing we are very focused on and looking at right now with customers is how we make print an equal Internet/social/mobile citizen in line with the Internet of Things, a macro trend in our world today. One way is LinkReader, a technology we have been working on that we have shown at Hunkeler Innovationdays and elsewhere. We have been talking to customers about making sure that everything they print in 2D becomes part of the Internet of Things, making print interactive and easily linkable to online resources. We believe this technology will help the future of print in general. If we do this right, whenever anyone sees a sign or a book or anything printed, they will come to recognize that there is a lot of depth to the content and put their phone up to it. If it doesn’t work, they will just think the link is broken. We want to make sure that HP is helping move the megatrends forward and not trying to fight the megatrends. That’s how print will be more successful in the future.”

A noble goal, but I wondered why this would be different than QR codes, for example, which haven’t really taken off in North America like anyone thought they would. Although you do see them more than ever these days, Wiesner says that only 9% of mobile phones are actually used to read QR codes, adding, “They are ugly and they take up space on the page, but they do signal that something is there. What’s been holding it back is twofold: First, it has to be a good experience. If it isn’t, consumers will be discouraged and unlikely to try the experience again. The other thing is that while getting to the content is free for the consumer, too often the print service providers are charged too much for the solutions that implant the codes. We need to make this free, or almost free, for it to gain more traction. We are working on removing those barriers to make it as low cost as possible so it becomes ubiquitous, ensuring that the experiences are good; then we believe you will see tremendous uptake.”

We also talked about another barrier to QR Codes and augmented reality in general: It’s not native to phones in North America so it requires downloading and opening an app, which simply is not convenient enough. Wiesner explains, “With HP being a sizeable IT company that knows a lot about mobile, we have strong relationships with Apple and Google. They want to be responsive to what customers want to do, and they recognize that putting augmented reality natively in the operating system is one of the best ways to do that. But it is sort of a chicken-and-egg thing: If they see customers using these technologies more, they will move down that path. But customers aren’t doing it more because it is too complicated. We didn’t brand this technology as HP LinkReader, just LinkReader. We are very open to sharing it a lot more broadly, and we are totally agnostic with respect to the technology used to trigger the interaction. We are also open to anything that anyone wants to add or the way in which content is delivered. We are trying to create a platform that others can build on, keep it affordable, and try to lift all boats of print. We want all print to be linkable. We will continue to work to make it ubiquitous.”

Not Sitting Still

Since taking on his new role, Wiesner hasn’t been hanging out in his office in San Diego. He says, “I visited more than 20 customers in seven countries and on three continents in 30 days. Everywhere I went, I saw the impact that Aurelio and this business have made. The customers all knew him personally and were sad to see him leave; one even had a cake for him. One customer that was working on a book-of-one concept told us that their business would not be where it is today if not for the technology leadership and spirit of true partnership with HP. We have sold them an ecosystem, and together we learned to make that ecosystem work well. Aurelio set a high bar for me and I want to carry on in the same spirit.”