?The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn?t exist.? – Baudelaire
About a year ago, the locals say, was the first time anyone had witnessed it. Hundreds gathered and squinted at a web cast presentation of an inkjet printer that would turn the world upside down. A little inkjet that could print 60 pages-per-minute, three times faster than anything anybody had ever seen. The video showed an inkjet that could print a photo in two seconds and churn out posters at a rate of one foot per second. Like footage of the infamous Bigfoot walking through the river valley, witnesses of a little printer as fast as a Ferrari. An online viewer frantically typed in her chat window “Is this for REAL?!?!?” Panic engulfed the crowd and as quickly as it came – Bigfoot disappeared.
After the initial sighting, Bigfoot came to be known as , an inkjet technology developer tucked away in Australia. For years, founder Kia Silverbrook had quietly horded printing patents that everyone thought collected dust in his closet. During the 90’s the industry thought of Silverbrook as a clever inventor who hoped to sell his patents al la’ carte to any curious manufacturer. Nobody had a clue what Silverbrook was really up to.
Silverbrook had more than a couple of printing patents. Over the years he amassed over 1,400 of them and hired over 300 engineers to perfect his revolutionary new printing system. That system would later be called Memjet, the industry’s first commercially viable page-wide-array printing technology. Unlike typical inkjets, where an inch-wide print head sprays ink while being pushed back and forth across a page, the Memjet print head spanned the entire page. With such a wide array, the Memjet print head can spray ink simultaneously on either end of the page, eliminating the time it took for a smaller print head to be pushed back and forth.
A Memjet printer can print as fast as one can push paper underneath it. Memjet boasted that 60 pages per minute was just the beginning and with improvements, the system could hit speeds of 180, 360, or even up to 64,000 pages per minute. The speeds that Silverbrook claimed could only be matched by million dollar industrial presses. The world had indeed been turned upside down.
The Memjet revolution did not end there. The company had no plans of entering the business on its own, but would rather license its technology to the highest bidders. Through Memjet, countless manufacturers, who previously could only dream of entering the lucrative inkjet business, could now buy a ticket to the dance. The thought of dozens of new competitors who could all offer 60 page per minute printers kept HP, Canon, and Epson wide awake in their beds.
Memjet also promised to revolutionize the business end of the printing industry. The company suggested that it would collaborate with a global network of ink re-fillers, who could re-supply empty ink cartridges at a fraction of the cost. While Kodak boasted a 50% savings through its printers, Memjet hinted that its business model would save consumers closer to 80%. The company envisioned a ?Netflix? style of supplies ordering as consumers would simply return their empties through the mail and have them automatically replaced.
Moreover, the revolution was coming fast. Memjet promised licensee agreements by the end of 2007 and the first printers would be ready for the public by early 2008. The industry braced itself for a huge impact.
More so than speed, Memjet?s cloudy vision of its ink supplies business may have slowed the company?s progress. It?s no secret that printer makers earn their money on ink and there is no greater pilferer of those profits than re-fillers. By relying on re-fillers, Memjet?s licensees run risk of losing control of quality, return rates, and pricing. Memjet has asked the fox to guard the chicken coop and the chickens happen to be the most vital element of the business.
In a recent article (one of the four), Memjet all but admitted that the consumer market may be out of reach. The company claimed that it has now focused on the wide format sector, where its one-foot per second speeds would have major implications in the market. Professional print shops, who have invested millions in hardware to make posters, banners, and flyers, could easily be unseated by a new shop and a $5,000 Memjet business inkjet. Memjet’s hyper print speeds could also overturn the commercial print market, where presses waste millions of sheets of paper on “test” prints to perfectly set color. A potential high-speed Memjet press could accomplish the same task at the loss of a handful of sheets of paper. Memjet may have realized that its real opportunity is in not in the retail printer aisle, but the corner print shop and commercial warehouse.
The locals will tell tall tales of what they saw that fateful day in March 2007 and spin yarns about a quiet inventor who would hand the riches to the thieves.
We don’t know what they are up to. No articles to read, no rumors to spread, just that grainy video to analyze over and over again. No one knows what Silverbrook and his 300 engineers are coming up with right now. People have forgotten that Memjet is approaching new customers and is solidifying a business model around its ink supplies business.
We don’t know. Bigfoot may take another stroll.