Wide-Format multi-function printers continue to make both revolutionary and evolutionary strides in functionality and productivity. Yet, not too many years ago, these devices were only aimed at large firms with large staffs, which were the only organizations able to justify the hefty price tag. But with many of today’s models now having $25,000 or less, smaller shops can now add them to their equipment arsenal. Wide-format engineering printers service a number of high-volume technical document printing industries such as architecture, construction and engineering. These turnkey products can be easily connected to networks, and offer a wide range of functions ranging from printing, copying and scanning.
Rolling With the Changes
Over the past few years, this market has seen its share of changes. The need for faster cycle times and reduced errors is driving change in the market by facilitating improved workflow processes, while leading to distributed printing, electronic information access, and sharing, greener printing solutions as well as increased demand for color output.
The economic climate of 2009 has also presented reprographers with a host of difficult challenges that they have never faced in the past. Both the housing and construction markets are way down and have caused them to retool and look at offering other services. Tim Greene, director of the wide-format research group at InfoTrends, reported, “The economy has hurt a lot of this segment of the business. We have seen shipments down, at over 37,300 units in 2008, which reflected a drop-off of more than 11 percent from the prior year. In addition, we have seen the aggressive terms and sales mix change that have driven hardware revenues down by 25 percent.”
Greene sees no immediate up tick. “We are not expecting a huge ‘bounce-back’ in the activity in this market in the near future. In fact, we think that shipments may grow 1.9 percent over the 2008-2013 period, but not return to 2007 levels within that time frame. We still think the action is in the low-end digital market and will be on the color side as those products emerge, with placements of those units growing at a combined 7.6 percent annually. What we had suggested was a “slow-erosion” turned into a very significant downturn in terms of system revenue—we think it declined from $2.0 billion in ’07 to $1.7 billion on a worldwide basis in 2008,” Greene concluded.
To get a handle on current product and business trends, Wide-Format Imaging asked a number of suppliers to this market about what major trends are currently affecting the multifunction printer (MFP) market as well as how they are tailoring their products to meet these changing trends.
Océ North America
Penny Holland, director of business development, Wide-Format Printing Systems Division, Océ North America, pointed to a number of trends occurring including decentralized printing, increased use of color as well as more sustainable alternatives being utilized. “Decentralized printing, as the technology for digitizing information and distributing information in digital form has evolved. The shift from a print-and-distribute to a distribute-and-print model has rapidly progressed. People are increasingly printing files at the point of need; whether that be a construction trailer or a reprographer closest to the end user,” said Holland.
In addition, there has been an increase int he use of color. “Color clarifies complex information. With the transition from 2D to 3D CAD, the incorporation of GIS data or when implementing a BIM system, drawings become more complex. Color in technical documents makes the data easier to understand, facilitates communication among all team members, and can ultimately reduce project errors and rework.”
Additionally, more designers are looking environmental responsibility. “Architectural firms are taking sustainable design and operating processes seriously, and they want to partner with vendors who share their sustainability objectives. As a result, reprographers are looking to promote sustainability via the products they use in their business operations, the services they provide to their customers and internal employee programs. Point of need printing requires fast, easy to use, reliable printers for lower volume print demands. Walk-up users must be able to quickly get what they need, which requires an intuitive operation. Océ has recently introduced the Océ PlotWave 300 system—a simple, green, durable, all-in-one print-copy/scan system with a space-saving design. It’s specifically designed to address the trend to decentralized printing—easy to use, energy efficient, quiet, instantly ready to print when needed, able to withstand the workload of multiple users, and able to fit into small spaces. Plus a convenient USB flash drive port means users can print from or scan to a flash drive—no need to carry stacks of plans,” she said.
As the use of color expands, file sizes continue to get larger. “They can be slow to process, slow to view and slow to print, which can create bottlenecks in a project’s workflow. Océ has always designed its printers with powerful controllers, not only for fast file processing but also task concurrency allowing simultaneous file processing, printing and scanning. As a result, the Océ TCS500 is the fastest large format color inkjet print/copy/scan system available. Ease of use is always a need, and as printing becomes less centralized, it’s more important than ever. One example of how Océ addresses this is with Dynamic Switching Technology in the Océ TCS500 printer. No longer do users have to sacrifice print speed for print quality since this technology guarantees the optimum trade-off automatically without additional adjustments by the operator. Whether the original contains lines and text, images or both, Océ Dynamic Switching Technology eliminates any guesswork in choosing the correct print setting by automatically sensing each part of a mixed image and determining the best print quality and print speed for these individual areas. This enables the printer to deliver optimum print quality without sacrificing productivity.”
For the growing demand for large format color prints, Holland said the Océ ColorWave 600 printer incorporates a totally new print technology that enables users to harness the speed of monochrome printing for large format color printing without compromising output quality. “It combines the best of toner and inkjet printing in one device for high speed color toner prints on plain, uncoated paper; zero drying time for instantly usable, water fast prints; a large production capability with up to six media rolls; and an environmentally friendly operation with no ozone, odor or fine powder emissions,” she said.
“Easy-to-use, reliable, compact print systems like the Océ PlotWave 300 enable reprographic firms to support their AEC clients for lower volume, point-of-need printing—either on a resale or FM basis. Fast, economical large-format color printing, like that available with the Océ ColorWave 600 printer, enables reprographers to turn around color print jobs much more quickly and more affordably. This enables them to generate more color revenue while providing a more economical price for color printing to their customers. The sustainable design of Océ printers lowers energy costs, minimizes paper waste, reduces emissions and enables the use of lower cost uncoated media for quality color printing that’s water fast without lamination,” she concluded.
Steve Kozle, IPS Product Manager at KIP also sees a trend in decentralized printing. “The trend toward decentralized printing is prevalent in the wide-format document LED production market. In addition, a major effort by IT departments to avoid PC installed software has made powerful web-based production applications essential to the future.”
“Suppliers are tailoring their products to appeal to decentralized printing environments by concentrating on ease of use and smaller system footprints. Touch screen technology is rapidly becoming a standard requirement of decentralized equipment operators due to its inherent versatility and expandability. Web-based printing has become much more powerful in recent years. For instance, wide-format web based software is now capable of managing the most advanced production features such as collated sets printing, preflight image viewing along with job and system management, system administration and accounting integration. Combined with complete print, copy and scan management from the equipment touch screen the distributed model is allowing end-users to control all aspects of internal and external printing without the need for dedicated operators or IT management,” he added.
Kozle also points out that engineering printers have undergone a dramatic reduction in size while increasing productivity across all aspects of wide format document production. In addition, many new features have been introduced in recent years, including web-based print submission software and the ability to utilize FTP sites and SMB locations for fast file access. “Improvements in software have allowed the reprographics companies to lower outgoing software maintenance expenses and advancements in LED printing technology have lowered operational cost and overall service requirements to the reprographics shop,” he added.
Trish Kinman, marketing manager at Seiko-I Infotech sees more advances in speed and quality. “We see both speed and quality as the biggest trends in equipment right now. Our Teriostar LED wide-format printers offer true 600-dpi resolution with superb line density/acuity and better toner adhesion. Teriostar LED wide-format printers also offer print speeds of up to 6.2 D-size ppm. Reprographic shops can process job requests faster than before, increasing their bottom line while meeting customer quality expectations and project deadlines. Additionally, Teriostar LED printers have the smallest footprint and that’s a plus especially when floor space is limited and/or expensive,” she pointed out.
“In addition, Teriostar LED printers have always been ahead of the curve in addressing the needs of the marketplace. We communicate regularly with our dealers and end-users to understand their needs and to anticipate trends not only for today but years down the road. Reprographic shops benefit from Teriostar’s design, geared to provide reliable performance in the long run. Teriostar also introduced the industry’s first user-replaceable cartridge that’s also easy-to-replace. This dramatically lowers ownership costs and maximizes the printer’s up-time, increasing both profitability and productivity for reprographic shops,” she concluded.
Phil Trembly, national sales manager for GEI WideFormat, also sees speed as a major trend. “The hottest trend currently in the engineering copier marketplace revolves around speed. Customers require faster turn around time between jobs so that they can take on more work. Manufacturers are providing the customer with faster speeds in a small footprint at a low price point. Customers are able to purchase a copier this year that produces six D-size prints per minute for the same price as last year’s model that could only produce four. New feature sets and faster speeds are increasing productivity. Enhanced productivity at the same low price point improves profitability,” he explained.
Canon USA Inc.
Rich Reamer, senior manager, Large Format at Canon USA reported that Canon has focused on productivity and profitability as two areas and that is most prevalent with the launch of the new imagePROGRAF iPF755 and iPF750 printers. “These aqueous inkjet printers can print a D-size draft print in 28 seconds. These models also ship with utilities and software that allow them to expand the services they offer from that printer. PosterArtist List and the Office Print Plug-in make printing professional looking posters easier than ever.”
Reamer sees the major transition from black-and-white prints to larger format engineering prints with color. “There is more color in technical drawings and a substantial growth of 3D drawings being output in color. With this trend there is the introduction of the Color LED models from a couple of different manufacturers in this market but there is also the movement towards inkjet. With less of a demand of black and white images, many find that the latest inkjet technology such as products like imagePROGRAF iPF820 and iPF810, give them enough production and the flexibility to print out high quality color on equipment that is less than $8,000.”
He also sees a growing trend in the market where many sub contractors are now purchasing large-format printers for the first time. “In past years, they had everything printed for them but now with general contractors handing out CDs rather then drawings sub contractors have the need to print themselves. Printers such as an iPF750 with their small footprint and ease of use allow first time users to affordably and easily make the transition simpler. At Canon, large-format printers are developed to handle larger volumes with productive features such as a sub-ink tank system and stackable baskets. As mentioned earlier printers are also being packaged with solutions that allow users to get more out of their printers. Instead of just printing technical documents, new printers such as the iPF755 and iPF750 allow users to print information and presentation graphics or other general user posters without having a graphic artist on their staff. PosterArtist Lite and the Office Plug-in are bundled in with the printers at no charge,” he reported.
“It’s true that 2009 has presented many of these shops with challenges they have not faced in years. Increases in revenue and profitability are very difficult to see but with new large format printers such as the iPF755 and iPF750, new services can be offered to make up for the reduction of other printing services,” he added.
“The technological enhancements in both hardware and software have enabled shops to be more streamlined, faster and more efficient leading to more productive and profitable shops,” reported Karen Serrano, marketing and training manager, Wide Format Products, Xerox Corp. “The technological enhancements in both hardware and software have enabled shops to be more streamlined, faster and more efficient leading to more productive and profitable shops.”
Serrano points to more products offering a host of more functions are continuing to be emerging trends. “Enhanced mono and color-enabled workflows, scalable features, speed and environmental sustainability leading to increased efficiencies, productivity, profitability while being environmentally-conscious. By introducing modular feature sets and workflows to meet customer-unique requirements and protect customer’s investments and the world’s environment; we are tailoring new products to meet these needs.”
“Large and complex engineering and architectural renderings, electrical diagrams and mechanical drawings require precise detail. With that in mind, Xerox last October introduced the Xerox 6279 Wide Format Printer, a black-and-white digital printer, copier and scanner which features sharp image quality, speed, a compact footprint and low running costs. The system is flexible enough to fit in a variety of environments, including commercial print shops and architectural, engineering and construction companies. It’s speed—printing seven or nine “D-size” (24x36 inches) prints per minute—make it one of the most productive products in its class.”
Serrano explains the Xerox 6279 can simultaneously scan up to six inches per second with its optional on-board scanner while printing. “The 600x600-dpi printing and scanning capabilities deliver sharp, precise details even for complex plans, schematics and renderings. The system holds up to four rolls of bond paper, tracing paper or film for uninterrupted printing and media flexibility. The optional on-board scanner or Wide Format Scan System allows reproduction of worn originals to be improved by suppressing the background, which may be damaged by wrinkles or water, and saving the important fine line details of text and images.”
HP’s Aurelia Martinez, manager, Americas Region - Product Category Marketing / HP Designjet printing systems, also sees product evolution as a major trend. “Engineering printers have indeed evolved a great deal in the last several years which have allowed many reprographics shops to boost productivity and ultimately drive their overall profitability. Just prior to IRgA, HP announced the HP Designjet T1120 Printer series family of printers, and specifically the SD-MFP model, which was designed with busy reprographics shops in mind. The printer allows workgroups to enhance the quality of their drawings and presentations while meeting tight deadlines and allows them to cost-effectively produce large-format applications in high volumes due to its in-printer processing capabilities that enable the printer to be shared efficiently among multiple users in a network environment. Easy operation and an intuitive user interface provide greater efficiency while additional features like speed, low cost per copy and the ability to complete unattended printing jobs make the solution ideal for busy reprographic houses of all sizes and large workgroups,” said Martinez.
She added that other improvements that HP has made to grow productivity and profitability are invest in features like HP Vivera inks and contact image sensor (CIS) scanning technology for quality results for a variety of CAD documents. “The new printer is up to three times faster than previous HP Designjet models; printing A1/D size prints in 35 seconds and also features the HP Embedded Web Server allowing users to remotely manage the printer, ink and media usage.”
“Color printing is a big trend we are seeing in the marketplace. Customers want to create visually appealing renderings that closely mirror what the actual end product might look like. This spans beyond the engineering market to our other technical audiences such as GIS and MCAD professionals as well. Also, copying and scanning are important functions for our customers,” she reported.
Martinez pointed out that suppliers like HP are continuing to tailor their products to fit these new trends in the marketplace. “Suppliers are evolving rapidly to meet customer demands to drive down costs and increase efficiencies without sacrificing quality, HP included. The new HP Designjet T1120 Printer series features HP Professional Color Technologies which include enhanced sRGB, Adobe RGB printing and Closed Loop Color calibration to ensure accurate color management. The HP Designjet T1120ps also offers TIFF and JPEG with embedded ICC profiles, offset emulation, Black Point compensation and Pantone emulations. The printer is able to achieve a wide range of vivid colors produced by original HP Vivera inks and with the addition of gray ink in the HP three-black ink set, the printing system produces more accurate color and true, neutral gray for smooth area fills, more depth and subtle contrasts. Going back to the SD-MFP model, it boasts high quality for technical drawings, especially line and text with CIS scanning technology reaching 1,200-dpi optical resolution,” she said.
To address the scanning and copying needs of the marketplace, Martinez said that HP offers the Designjet T1120 MFPs. “An affordable solution to small and medium-sized technical firms, it features an integrated touch screen scanner interface that allows users to easily perform key functions, including copying or scanning to a USB or network and perform file management duties. Another solution is the HP Designjet T1120 HD-MFP which offers advanced copy, scan, performance and manageability features all in one integrated device with CCD scanning technology and professional-quality prints with HP Vivera inks. The scanner productivity features include collating, nesting, embedded scan accounting and a preconfigured driver that copies documents directly to other HP Designjet printers in the network, saving the customer time and increasing productivity,” she concluded.