February 12, 2009
Memjet Technology Steps Out Into the Spotlight
By Kara Hiltz
The eternal war between laser printers and inkjet printers is about to become even more interesting as a new player enters the picture. Silverbrook Research's Memjet technology, which boasts a tiny footprint and the ability to print much faster than comparably priced inkjet and laser printers, will become a reality for consumers this year. Memjet uses ink, but its mechanism differs from traditional inkjet printers.
Back in April 2007, Databazaar Blog interviewed Kim Beswick, Vice President of Memjet Home & Office, the Silverbrook Research subsidiary responsible for licensing Memjet technology. Almost two years later, we've caught up with Kim Beswick again to ask her about Memjet's announcements at CES 2009 last month.
In our April 2007 interview with you, you projected that Memjet technology would hit American stores in early 2008. Now, with the release of a new printhead and printer at CES 2009 in January, you told The Sydney Morning Herald that Americans might see Memjet printers later this year. Is this new timeline still on track? What caused the delay?
Memjet's announcement in March 2007 was designed to introduce the technology to the industry and drive the industry partnerships the Memjet companies need to bring the technology to market. At that time we were focused on a small-format, 100mm printhead to be used for printing photos and small format labels. Due to input from our partners, we shifted our focus in Fall 2007 to our A4/letter-sized printhead and related components in order to make progress on our biggest market opportunity as quickly as possible. While we have delayed our small-format printhead, our intent was always to introduce A4/letter-size devices through our OEM partners in 2009. We've had some minor delays but are still largely on track with this goal.
How do you expect Memjet printers to impact the American printing industry in 2009? Will Memjet technology makes bigger waves with businesses or households?
Over the next few years, we see the Memjet technology integrated into products that span from home consumer products up to high capacity office MFP's. We envision these products making an impact across a wide spectrum of customer segments and value propositions. While Memjet enables a portion of the opportunity, our brands play a significant role in creating compelling products end to end as well. In 2009 we will be at the very beginning of executing that vision and my belief is that although the ripple will start in late 2009, the growth we can generate over the next few years will be more telling of the potential impact.
That said, we see our core value areas of "performance," "improved economics for color," and "environmental" making the biggest waves, early on in office environments and then later having an impact on households. The home will benefit from price/volume efficiencies that we will achieve as we grow our business and improve the overall economics for price sensitive consumers.
What manufacturers have you collaborated with to bring Memjet printing to retail stores?
We're not able to answer this question at this time due to confidentiality agreements with our business partners.
How do you think the current economic difficulties will factor in with your new printing technology, considering that big names like Lexmark are feeling the pinch of large retailers such as Circuit City going out of business? Does this economic situation give Memjet a prime opportunity or make it a tougher sell?
This is a very dynamic question here at Memjet Home and Office as well. While industry consolidation and channel consolidation certainly isn't good news from an overall economy and jobs perspective, the reality is that there will be plenty of survivors, plenty of places for customers to shop, and plenty of brands for both insiders and newcomers to deliver new technology to market.
It is always possible in tough times that business partners, squeezed by the economic downturn, slow down or cancel new investments. While we are certainly aware of this risk, we continue to be successful positioning our technology as an important long-term growth and value generator for our brand partners, and have not seen any fallout from a partnership perspective. Regardless of whether you look at it from an incumbent or a new printing and imaging brand perspective, the survivors are going to come out of this downturn looking to capitalize on the best growth opportunities for their businesses. In printing and imaging Memjet is a great example of a growth opportunity worthy of investigation and investment.
From a customer standpoint, there's evidence from recent industry analyst webinars and web conferences that businesses, for instance, are both delaying IT spending and also considering new ways to save IT dollars. I think there are two potential benefits from this trend.
First, businesses that are freezing or delaying IT spending in the area of printing and imaging products might just be getting back to necessary purchases in late 2009 and 2010, and although I don't expect a complete return to previous spending patterns, there may in fact be a backlog of needs that need to be fulfilled.
Secondly, as customers explore new creative ways to save money or to increase the efficiency of their businesses, there is a natural tendency to explore new brands, new technologies, and new ways of achieving value. The last analyst call I was on predicted, for instance, that a greater number of customers would be considering and purchasing cheaper non-OEM supplies options. I believe our OEM brands and Memjet will benefit from this departure from the status quo because Memjet has a strong economic message, plans to help customers save costs through "authorized refill," and hopes to be a new compelling choice in printing.
What kind of response did the unveiling of your Memjet printer and printhead at CES 2009 elicit from people?
It wasn't quite an unveiling in that we didn't show our technology publicly on the show floor, like our partners will likely do when they announce their Memjet-based products. At CES we had private discussions with Press and Analyst contacts. Our goal was to build relationships with and increase awareness amongst industry advisors regarding the Memjet technology, so that when the BIG announcements do happen, we've built some of the connections we need to drive our business.
That said, there's always a "wow" factor associated with demonstrating the technology. It's one thing to say 60 pages per minute. It's another to experience page after color page (graphics, text, photos) coming out at that speed. Whenever I return from demonstrations, whether to business partners, industry insiders, or everyday consumers people, I'm reminded of the power of the technology to change minds and expectations about their printing and imaging technology.
The printer you brought to CES 2009 was essentially a prototype. What design features will you include in the final products?
That's really not for us to decide but rather a question our OEM brand partners are grappling with. We expect our partners to have a range of approaches and ideas around what the best product will look like in terms of target customer, value, design and feature set. That's the beauty of the model really — leveraging the energy and creativity of multiple teams by engaging with them at the component level, and letting them take the products to the finish line.
What price range do you anticipate for Memjet printers once they're available in American retail stores?
We've said that we anticipate our brands being able to hit the $300-$500 price point initially. Growth, time, efficiency and technology improvements will help to reduce prices over time. Customers may also choose to target higher-priced segments both initially and over time if they wish.
Once Memjet printers hit consumer markets, what will SilverBrook Research concentrate on next?
There's a difference here between what the Memjet companies will focus on and what Silverbrook Research, our technology provider/licensor will do next. Our role at Memjet Home and Office is to put together the ideal set of partners and infrastructure needed to achieve the biggest long-term impact on the global home and office printing market. We'll be at the very beginning of this bold adventure and so we'll be looking at gaps and growth opportunities with our partners, we'll be streamlining our business processes and infrastructure, smoothing out the rough spots, and building out the refill infrastructure, for instance.
From a technology perspective, traditional Inkjet and Laser technologies have been commercialized for over 20 years, and Silverbrook Research is at the beginning of a new branch of page-wide inkjet technology development. So, you can imagine that we have a few more improvements and new ideas to bring to market in conjunction with Silverbrook Research. That's another way of saying the technology development won't stop with our first set of components!
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