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EPSON releases new CIS system printers

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EPSON L100 (click pic for larger view)

Epson recently released two new inkjet printers that are fed by Epson designed CISS bulk ink tanks. That should be huge news, but there has been no press on that here in the USA.

The Epson designed CISS tanks are filled by the customer from Epson 70ml bottles of ink. The tubing from the external CISS ink tanks feed directly to the print heads from outside the printer and are designed quite well.

Epson getting into the CISS market seems like a tip of the hat to all the third party ink vendors who have been singing the praises of CISS systems for more than a decade. InkjetMall first began selling CISS systems about 1999.  We began manufacturing our own in 2002.

Strange how things go.  Stranger still that a 70ml bottle of Epson ink is priced at only $5.50. The EPSON L100 and L200 printers are capable of printing at 5760 x 1440 and produce photographic quality gradations. These are serious systems both priced under $200.00. The L100 prints. The L200 also scans!

Epson markets these new printers with the slogan “Print and Save More with the World’s First Original Ink Tank System.” And according to Kazuo Nakamura, General Manager of Inkjet Printers and Design Department at Seiko Epson Corporation, Epson’s latest product launch helps users to produce cost-effective prints.

I almost want someone to pinch me. I feel like I’m dreaming this stuff up. Epson writes in their L200 brochure “Because they are Epson super high capacity inks, you can be assured of the same vivid colors even after weeks of storage. At only US$5.50 per Epson ink bottle, you can print and save at the same time.”

I feel like the ‘maple bacon dog’ from youtube going “you’re kidding me?” over and over again….  I just can’t actually believe Epson got into the CISS market. You’re kidding me, right? Nope! Moreso, I can’t believe that ink they can sell for $1,500 a liter here in the USA, they are willing to sell for only $78 per liter elsewhere.  $78 per liter is nearly competitive with the price of ink made in places like India, Indonesia and China. These new Epson CISS printers are actually only available right now in Indonesia and India.

But, there is more to this story. A lot more! Epson getting into the CISS market is indicative of a much bigger picture. According to Recycling Times Magazine, Epson intended to market these printers in China. But, a Chinese company had patented certain intellectual design properties that are integral to the use of a CISS. So Epson tried a pre-emptive attack on the patents that would pave the way for Epson to release CISS printers in China. Epson filed a claim in the Chinese patent office to declare the pre-existing China patents invalid.

On March 27, 2011 Epson petitioned the State Intellectual Property Office of People’s Republic of China to invalidate certain claims made in two of Print-Rite patents pertaining to CISS units. Epson lost that case, with a decision handed down in the past week. Print-Rite’s patents have been upheld. So the door has been slammed shut on Epson (for now) on a $30 million dollar CISS ink market in China. Appeals are expected to be filed.

The reason that this is so incredible is that an OEM wants to enter into an ink market for it’s own printers and has been denied because of patents held by a 3rd party ink company. If Epson marketed these printers in China, Epson would have been infringing on the patents of third party ink giant, Print-Rite of China. The monetary fine for patent infringement in China is equivalent to $100,000 a day. This coincidentally is the same fine being levied against Chinese companies which are marketing products in the USA that infringe on Epson patents. Ninestar (by example) has received fines by the US Government totaling more than 23 million dollars.

Print-Rite is headed by visionary Arnald Ho, who has moved the company from it’s initial beginnings as a stationary and ink ribbon manufacturer to one of the largest inkjet companies in China that sells inks and cartridges for the low-end market. Many of the $2 and $3 ink cartridges which used to be sold on the Intenet in the USA were Print-Rite products. Now most are not allowed to be imported into the USA because of patent rights owned by Epson.

Print-Rite produces nearly all (if not all) of it’s own technology. I know this, because I have been in the Print-Rite factories in Zhuhai. I’ve even had dinner with Arnald Ho. Print-Rite is an impressive operation built by a very impressive and dynamic individual. Arnald Ho’s vision includes a tremendous environmental consciousness and eye towards “green marketing”. The Print-Rite CAD department looks like something straight out of the future with real time 3D rendering of parts. One or two of these systems is impressive. I saw 30 of them in operation in two rooms.

I can’t help but think about the ongoing and lengthy patent battle here in the USA between Epson and Ninestar. The result of that is an ITC-337 passed in Oct of 2007 that bans the import into the USA of any pre-filled small format ink cartridges destined for Epson printers. That same ruling had a devastating effect on InkjetMall’s small format market. It’s hard to imagine the tables being turned and a third party ink company holding patents preventing an OEM from entering into an ink market that the OEM desires. I still need pinching to see if I am dreaming this stuff up!

Arnald Ho, Chariman of Print-Rite

Arnald Ho, President of Print-Rite, was asked how he felt when he learned that Epson had filed application to invalidate the Print-Rite CISS patents. His response was “I was excited. This is the first time the OEMs may find that their products may also conflict with aftermarket patents. This is a milestone for the aftermarket printer supplies industry. When we decided to innovate, I dreamed this day would come. I didn’t expect it to come so soon though.

It’s highly unlikely that Epson will give up it’s lucrative one-time-use ink cartridge market here in the USA. Yet, at the same time it appears that by endorsing the use of CISS systems, customers in the USA may begin to take a second look at using alternative ink supplies.

The real motivation from Epson may not be in granting customers more productivity by eliminating frequent cartridge changes. In the 2010 Epson Annual Report, Epson writes, “if Epson’s sales from consumable products for inkjet printers declines because, for example, in the future the market share of non-genuine ink cartridges increases further or Epson must reduce the prices of its brand products, then Epson’s results might consequently be adversely affected.”

CISS use in the USA is a relatively small share. However, in countries such as China it is a lucrative $31 million dollar market which is growing. It would appear that Epson has to rethink it’s ink profit schemes in a country by country scenario.

While I have not actually seen an L100 or L200 in the flesh (plastic). I have learned that Epson uses a collapsing bag to hold the ink in the CISS system. While this is common in LF carts, the majority of CISS units are simply bottles that fill with air that replaces the ink as it is slowly emptied. In the Epson CISS, the ink bag collapses as the ink is used up and no air that is not already in the bag can enter into the system. It’s not clear that a customer can prevent air from going into the bag when they fill the CISS tank. But, certainly the air is minimized.

The other idea is also not novel, but is still impressive to see in a CIS. The Epson unit uses quick disconnect fittings so that the CISS can be removed from the printer keeping the ink lines fitted to the printer. When disconnected the use of valves prevents air from getting into the system. These are similar to fuel fittings on racing motorcycles and hobby fuel planes. Some of the more expensive CISS systems coming out of Korea have been using quick disconnect fittings for the past five years. Epson did CISS with style. They did it right, as would be expected.

So if you’re wondering what prevents someone from buying an Epson L100 or L200 and then buying another vendor’s inks to save another buck. Epson uses a serial number on each bottle of ink that must be entered into the printer driver. This form of protection prevents use of the printer if the number has been used previously or is incorrect. As of this writing, someone has already figured an end-around. But, at $5.50 for a 70ml bottle of ink – who in their right mind would buy another brand of ink? Unless of course, that ink did something that the OEM could not.

Could we afford to sell Piezography ink at $5.50 per bottle?  No. Frankly we can’t even afford to produce the ink that inexpensively. We’re doing too much filtering. We’re shaping the particle during the grind. We’re encapsulating the particle prior to formulation. We’re just putting too much technology cost into our ink production to compete against Epson at $5.50 per 2 ounce bottle. The only ink companies that can compete at such low prices would be Chinese ink companies selling cheap inks. And while the China ink companies are not known for producing high quality inks,  they are beginning to catch up by importing USA made pigment dispersions and getting knowledgeable USA consulting. Several of these companies may soon be ready for the mid-level market. And the mid-level market is considerably larger than the high-end market that is populated by discerning photographers and fine art printers requiring the highest possible standards in ink formulation.

I now wonder what the future holds for the OEMs. I mean to say, I wonder if eventually the OEMs rather than fighting patent battles, will be fighting for market share against inexpensive China made printers and inks. Then of course there is the Memjet printer. The game changer. That’s another story and it’s heating up with substantial marketing partners now joined with Memjet. The Memjet printers will first go on sale in Russia and are said to have the potential to eliminate the slower piezo-electric printers in the low and mid markets. Memjets can produce a similar print to the OEM in about 1/100th the time. Hard to believe something we take for granted can be come obsolete by new technologies. But, who remembers the IRIS printer? (I do. I still print with the IRIS 3047…)

Ninestar, also out of Zhuhai, China, obviously not reeling from it’s licking by Epson in the US patent courts has announced it has made its own laser printer. It will be releasing a laser printer in the next few weeks which they just happen to make inexpensive toner for. When I was in Zhuhai recently, I saw China-made inkjet printers that are producing very high quality photo output. It’s going to be time sooner than later, for a new OEM technology to supplant inkjet – or the OEMs are going to be in big trouble. But, the world’s economy is not profit conducive to the amount of research such a new technology would require by struggling OEMs.

On the other hand, just when it was seeming bleak for the consumer in the USA, there is hope that ecological solutions may even become optional from the OEM. After all, no one really feels good about throwing away a single-use ink cart. More than 450 million of them were discarded in the USA alone (in 2009 when data was being collected to find out ink usage trends.) Now that Epson has succeeded in eliminating much of the 3rd party ink market in the USA that was importing ink cartridges that could be easily refilled, it is estimated that as much as 700 million ink carts may now be thrown away annually in the USA.

All of this China news is on our minds here at InkjetMall. Wells Smith (Sales Manager) and Dana Ceccarelli (Technical and R&D) will be accompanying me to China in just a few weeks. We’re visiting a number of our vendors and will be looking at new technologies that have been brought to our attention. We will also be helping on some development projects destined for the USA market. It’s an exciting time to be visiting with so many announcements of new tech and 3rd party news. We may just have some news of our own shortly.

 

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