PrintIT talks to Rob Clark, managing director of Epson UK and senior vice president of Epson Europe, about the company’s evolving printer offering
PrintIT: Epson is famous for its piezo inkjet technology. How are you developing the technology to ensure it continues to meet customer needs?
Rob Clark (RC): Over the last two or three years, maybe slightly longer, Epson has been challenging preconceptions about what inkjet printing is and is not capable of. In the consumer marketplace, we launched a product called EcoTank – a new version of which we have just launched at IFA – with the intention of turning the business model on its head. Rather than selling low priced hardware and then recouping money over the lifetime of the product through cartridge sales, we charge more upfront for the hardware (which comes with extra-large ink tanks containing up to three years’ worth of ink) and charge very little for replacement ink.
In the office market, which has traditionally been dominated by laser technology, we have taken the high quality, high precision printhead used in our commercial devices and incorporated it into office devices. Unlike a consumer printer, which has a printhead that moves back and forth across the page, our PrecisionCore technology combines multiple heads in a fixed array spanning the width of the page. The only thing that moves is the paper, which is how we can achieve such high print speeds, and the quality is assured because we use high end commercial technology.
PrintIT: How has the market responded to these developments? Have they been successful for you?
RC: On the consumer side, the market for ink cartridge products is reasonably flat, but where we are seeing growth is with our EcoTank product. This new business model seems to have caught the attention of a lot of people and, so far, we have sold about 20 million of these products globally. It answers a lot of the questions that were asked about inkjet technology and the inkjet business model.
We are very new into the business marketplace and, to date, we have been selling into the lower end of the business market. But now, with the introduction of the WorkForce Enterprise series, we have an enterprise-level multifunction device that will allow us to take more of that office space. There are two versions of the Enterprise product, a 100ppm version and a 75ppm version, and you can specify it as a standalone product or with a finisher.
PrintIT: What targets have you set yourself and are you confident that you will be able to hit them?
RC: I’ve worked with Epson for 25 years and a couple of years ago I was made senior vice president for Europe. The target I set myself then was to grow the business from 1.5 billion euros, which is where we were in 2014, to 2 billion euros by 2020.
To achieve that I calculated that I would need to grow the business by approximately 80-100 million euros a year. I could see some growth potential in projection and in emerging territories, but by far the biggest opportunity lay in the office marketplace. IDC projects that market to be worth around 38 billion euros in EMEA. If I can’t generate a reasonable amount of revenue from a 38 billion euro market, there’s something wrong.
PrintIT: Where is growth in the office market coming from?
RC: Our biggest expectation is that the office print market will shift from laser to business inkjet technology, because business inkjet, as well as delivering the same commercials as laser – cost per page, total cost of ownership, that kind of thing – has a strong ecology message, with big reductions in CO2 and the amount of waste that’s produced. These aren’t small reductions of 5%, 10%; they are significantly different – a 92% saving on waste, a 94% saving on CO2.
Interest in the ecological benefits of business inkjet does vary from country to country; Germany is very sensitive to ecological messages, the UK less so. However, that is changing. The fact that we can deliver such a big energy saving has an ecological benefit, but people also recognise that it will help them reduce their energy bills. If you’ve got one printer, it’s probably not going to make that much difference, but if you’re running a fleet of printers, which a lot of our customers are, then it starts to make a significant difference.
PrintIT: You showed a number of new business inkjet products at the IFA 2017 exhibition in Berlin, including a new generation of EcoTank printers. How do they differ from previous models?
RC: The main differences are, firstly, that the ink tanks are now on the front, so you can see the ink level from the front of the printer – a little bit more convenient than having them on the side – and, secondly, they are easier to refill.
Before, replacement ink came in bottles with a pointed nozzle: you had to remove the seal, put on the pointed nozzle and then squeeze the bottle to get the ink into the tank. If I’m honest, it’s a little messy. With our new printers, there is a keying system, so you definitely can’t put the wrong colour into the wrong tank, and a valve mechanism, which opens automatically. The ink automatically flows into the tank, so you don’t need to squeeze the bottle, and when the tank is full it stops, which makes refilling a lot easier. We always listen to feedback from customers and, out of all the feedback we got, refilling was the one thing people really wanted us to change.
PrintIT: How has EcoTank been received in the UK and what sort of people are choosing it over the traditional razor/razor blade model?
RC: When we launched the product, our expectation was that this would be purchased by high print volume customers, because turning the business model on its head means that initially you do pay more for the hardware, which you then recoup because the cost per page is so much lower. But, in reality, we’re seeing a broad spectrum of user, because EcoTank’s appeal is as much about the convenience of low intervention as it is about running costs. You still get more customers at the higher end, but take-up is across the market.
We do a similar concept for the business marketplace that we call RIPs. These devices have replaceable ink packs with enough ink for up to 86,000 pages in each bag, so for a year or so the only thing the customer has to replenish is the paper. RIPS brings the same experience you get with EcoTank to the office market. It really is a low intervention product.
PrintIT: At IFA 2017 you also introduced a new service called ReadyInk. Please could you tell me more about that.
RC: What we’re trying to do in the consumer and SOHO markets is to provide a number of different ways for customers to acquire our inkjet printers: you can buy low cost hardware and go to a store to buy replacement cartridges; you can buy an EcoTank device, with a higher upfront cost and low cost per page; or you can buy the low cost hardware and use it with monitoring software that automatically sends a replacement cartridge when ink levels get low so you don’t have to go to a shop to buy supplies.
The ReadyInk pay-as-you-go print service is another way to eliminate the inconvenience of running out of ink. You can buy into the EcoTank concept or you can go for a convenient, automatic cartridge replacement service.
PrintIT: Finally, I have to ask you about the Paperlab recycling and paper-making machine. Do you know when it might be available in the UK?
RC: I’ve been working for Epson for 25 years and Paperlab has generated more interest than any other product we’ve announced. People are really interested in the whole idea of closing the loop. Currently, we’ve got beta test sites in Japan and the plan is to bring it into Europe next year.
At the moment, the device is still very large, so if all you’re interested in is recycled paper it’s probably not the unit for you – you can go to the market and buy recycled paper cheaper than you can make it on this device. But there are two instances where we’re seeing real interest: the first is where an organisation wants to demonstrate its environmental credentials and the second is around security. Because Paperlab shreds used paper down to fibre level, anything that’s printed on it is completely eradicated. You can imagine the value of that for public authorities, hospitals, banks, legal companies, anybody that needs securely to dispose of customer information. There’s a lot of discussion about the management of personal data online; this, if you like, is the offline version of that.
The plan is eventually for Paperlab to be the same size as a WorkForce Enterprise, or even smaller. In the future, Paperlab will sit next to a WorkForce Enterprise, closing the ecosystem within a department and not just the building.