Gartner: Time Could Undercut IBMs Plans for High Volume Production Printers

Press release from the issuing company

April 16, 2002 - According to Gartner analysts, Ken Weilerstein and James Lundy, time could undercut IBM's plans for color and black and white production printers. Earlier this month, IBM and Hitachi invested in Aprion Digital, which makes technology for high-volume printers. But Gartner says products using the technology won't appear until at least 2006. Customers' expectations may change by then. Weilerstein and Lundy offered Gartner’s first take on the subject. On 4 April 2002, IBM and Hitachi Koki announced that they have invested undisclosed amounts in Aprion, which makes drop-on-demand inkjet printing technology. IBM Printing Systems will work to develop a line of printers using Aprion's Multiple Array Graphic Inkjet Color (MAGIC) technology. “IBM wants to communicate its long-term commitment to the production printer market because its supplier of production color printers, Xeikon, declared bankruptcy. (Punch International has agreed to acquire it.) Production printers are costly and complicated to integrate into a working environment, and switching vendors is costly and disruptive. Therefore, enterprises must look far ahead to select the right one. In particular, they should consider the vendor's future full-color printing capabilities. “MAGIC uses stationary print heads that selectively eject droplets of ink as the paper moves past. MAGIC prints in full color on plain paper at speeds of 50 pages per minute or higher. Applications such as digital printing presses and on-demand printing could produce high-quality images at lower speeds. Lower-quality, high-speed printing would serve mostly for transactions (e.g., bills and statements) from blank white paper instead of preprinted forms. Although the Aprion technology is currently used in industrial printing, it will likely take until at least 2006 for IBM and Hitachi to turn it into a commercial product. MAGIC needs improvement in resolution, speed and drying. “IBM has done well to set expectations low about when it will deliver printers using Aprion's technology so as not to disappoint. However, by the time IBM printers using Aprion's technology come to market, customers will have higher expectations for print quality and speed. Meanwhile, IBM needs an alternative color printer supplier, or it will lag significantly behind Xerox in production color. Hitachi has long supplied IBM's continuous-forms production printers. The Aprion investments allow that relationship to move from monochrome printers to color even as IBM turns elsewhere to satisfy its customers' immediate needs for color. “Following Xeikon's bankruptcy, IBM has worked to protect its customers and to milk what improvements it can from the existing technology. However, the future of Xeikon's product family remains unclear - e.g., Punch has not said how much it will invest in R&D. Thus, IBM and Oce (which Xeikon also supplies) still have short-term product gaps to fill while competitor Xerox prepares to launch its DocuColor iGen3. Enterprises should ask IBM what its immediate plans are in the high-speed color market.” Editor’s note: Punch International announced yesterday that Xeikon will only concentrate on the development and sale of the web fed digital color printing systems or DCP systems, while the planned market introduction of the sheet fed CSP system will be put on hold. The cooperation with IBM has been reinstated. Gartner, Inc. is a research and advisory firm that helps more than 11,000 clients understand technology and drive business growth. Gartner's divisions consist of Gartner Research, Gartner Consulting, Gartner Measurement and Gartner Events. Founded in 1979, Gartner is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, and consists of 4,300 associates, including 1,200 research analysts and consultants in more than 90 locations worldwide. The company achieved fiscal 2001 revenue of $952 million.