HP's upcoming `Edgeline' technology may be an inflection point for imaging technology
COMPARED TO the frenetic pace of change in the world of computers, life has been much more laid back in the business of its principal peripheral: the printer. Truly remarkable technological breakthroughs have been few and far between, particularly in the last quarter century. Consider the major landmarks in printer history, some of which also impacted copier technology: Chester Carlson and Otto Kornei jointly invented a copying process based on electrostatic energy as early as 1937. It was not until 1949 that it was turned into a commercial copier by the Haloid Company that was later known by the name of the product: Xerox.
The original laser printer was also conceived at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre in 1969 and released as the Xerox 9700 in 1977. The Japanese Canon created a print engine for a desktop laser printer and sold the technology to Hewlett Packard - a company synonymous with (and often mistakenly credited with inventing) the modern commercial laser printer.The dot matrix printer was introduced in 1971 by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), printing 80 columns using a matrix of 5 by 7 dots for each character.In 1979, the inkjet printer was invented at HP Labs , but the first commercial inkjet printer - the Thinkjet - had to wait till 1984. The year also saw the launch of the first HP Laserjet. One interesting variant of the laser printer was pioneered by the Japanese maker Oki in 1987: the LED printer replaced the laser with a dense array of light emitting diodes.
In 1987, HP introduced the Paintjet, the first colour inkjet printer, while QMS launched the first colour laser printer, ColourScript Laser 1000 in 1993. Epson has created an alternative to the heated bubble inkjet process using the piezo-electric effectThe 1990s and the early years of this century have seen little by way of innovation with the possible exception of Canon's development of ink droplets as small as a picolitre (1 trillionth of a litre) - and PictBridge, a new standard to directly connect digital cameras to printers. But HP announced a new breakthrough technology for ink-based printers that promises to make them not only as fast as laser printers but as the best copiers available today. Lyra Research, an independent U.S.-based analyst hosted a global Webcast where it carefully evaluated the claims made by HP and concluded that this might just turn out to be an inflection point where printers challenge the colour copier industry by matching their speed, performance and what is called TCO: the total cost of ownership.The technology is called Edgeline and it is in some ways quite radical: In the inkjet printers of today, a small matchbox-sized print head, moves across the width of the printer, inking a line at a time. Once a line is printed, the carriage advances the paper by the width of a line and the print head prints the next line. Edgeline simplifies this drastically - by using a print head that is as wide as the width of the paper. This way, the entire page width is inked at one go - and only the paper advances from line to line, leaving the print head stationary. By cutting the moving elements by half, the printer saves on mechanical complexity and allows pages to be printed at speeds up to 70 pages per minute (ppm) - and up to 100 ppm in light production models. Additionally the number of nozzles in this much-wider print head can be increased to over 10,000, producing a laser-like sharpness. Lyra's senior analyst Steve Reynolds mentions that the Kodak and Olympus-Riso have similar wide-print head solutions for the high-end ink based printers - but he sees the real disruption from Edgeline coming in the copier arena. HP has deployed Edgeline in the printers at the back of the Photosmart Express Station digital printing kiosks in the U.S. - though the width is just enough for a 4 x 6 inch print. In early 2007, it is expected to unveil the first photo printers and standard width multi function printers using Edgeline - and eventually the technology may allow it to challenge the light production printer/copier market.
If as promised, the TCO of an Edgeline printer is indeed significantly lower, it might be time to take back what we said about the dearth of innovation in the imaging business.(Lyra's webcast can be viewed offline using a link from www.lyra.com while HP has created a 5- minute video and a white paper that can be found on a special Edgeline site that can be located by using the keyword search at www.hp.com) .