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Xerox launches blinding 50ppm departmental solid ink MFP – ColorQube 9200 series

Issue #0913/1 – Today, Xerox launches a new departmental colour MFP in the US, built on its unique solid ink technology that Xerox claims “eliminates price barriers to printing everyday business documents in color”. Over the last 18 years, solid ink has developed into a printing technology that is more than capable of taking on laser/LED technology at a number of levels and is long overdue for this treatment. We take a look at the features, functions and capabilities of the ColorQube 9200 series and consider the cost and environmental implications.

Originally revealed to analysts as early as October of last year, the tag line “take the guilt out of colour printing” was adopted during an extended preview during November – see . Apart from the technology involved, as much as anything what makes the ColorQube a unique opportunity for organisations is the sales model developed by Xerox for the product.

ColorQube contract page typesColorQube contract page types

Designed to allow a high level of colour printing without the high additional costs normally associated with colour printing, and the associated guilt factor, the ColorQube sales model is based on a three-tier system and will give organisations the opportunity to add small amounts of highlight colour to mono documents without incurring any additional cost. The page will cost customers just the same 1 cent per page as if it were printed in black only.

Cost Per Page contract

In this new Xerox sales model, only pages with a significant quantity of colour (more than 1.2% of page coverage) will incur any additional cost. All pages with less than 1.2% colour will be charged at the same rate as black only pages.

Adding just a little colour makes an enormous difference to the impact of a communication document. For instance (to name just a few):

  • company/organisation logos & letterheads can be printed in colour at no extra cost
  • headers and footers, with separating line, can be printed in colour at no extra cost
  • text can be highlighted or underlined in colour at no extra cost
  • emphatic graphics (such as a ‘Keep It’ icon for documents relating to income tax) can be added to documents to ensure or encourage the correct response at no extra cost

As colour usage increases, with the inclusion of small graphics, photos or colour blocks for instance, a small colour printing fee is charged – but at only 3 cents. Traditional print contracts currently charge a page that includes any colour, no matter how small an amount, at the full colour rate, which could easily be as high as 8-10 cents. Wih ColorQube, only pages with large amounts of colour, greater than 8% of the page, would be charged at the full 10 cent rate for a colour page.

It is here that Xerox makes its greatest offering to the customer and the customer can gain one of its greatest benefits from ColorQube. Let’s face it, for the actual cost of the small amount of ink used to produce a page with a low percentage colour content, such as the Useful Colour category, it is absolutely no skin of Xerox’s nose to give it away free.

There are no cartridge items (drums, rollers or gears) to wear out just because a little colour is being added to the page; the volume of ink used per page is miniscule; and the manufacturing, packaging, shipping and waste costs are kept to an absolute minimum, even though colour ink is being used and the volume used will add up to the need to purchase a new ink pack in due course. And yet, for the user, the cost will be the same as for a basic black and white page. In fact, there is more danger of Xerox losing out because of the amount of black ink used to print very high coverage black only pages than because of pages printed with 1.2% coverage.

Environmental considerations

This leads us straight into the environmental issue, a matter that Xerox has taken very seriously and, quite rightly in an era when environmental awareness is almost as big an issue as cost, is prepared to use as a prime marketing platform.

ColorQube inksColorQube inks

Comparing a typical laser printer cartridge with a pack of solid ink sticks, leaves us with the clear message that the quantity of materials used, and therefore the manufacturing time, resources and energy that are expended in their manufacture, varies massively. Whereas a toner cartridge has a plastic casing, multiple moving parts, metal rods, screws, rollers and possibly an OPC drum, plus all the protective packaging to ensure that none of this is damaged in transit, a solid ink stick is like a simple wax crayon. The sticks can be delivered just in their light plastic moulding (fully recyclable) inside a cardboard carton (made from recycled materials) – resulting in the use of much less manufacturing energy, much lower transportation costs due to low weight and small size and much cleaner and simpler to install.

And then, apart from four toner units in a laser device, there is also the transfer belt or roller and fuser as a minimum to build, transport and dispose of when life is expended. And, remember that dismantling and recycling an exhausted laser supplies unit of any sort uses energy, time, equipment and more transportation – with all the associated costs – while a solid ink stick is entirely consumed, with no mechanics to handle at the end of life and therefore no cost associated with disposal. The only mechanics that need attention is the maintenance tray (life = 200,000 pages in ColorQube), which in many solid ink devices, can be expected to last the life of the device.

Xerox estimates that 90% of the waste of a traditional departmental MFP is eliminated by the solid ink technology in ColorQube.

Xerox Colorqube WasteWaste saving – ColorQube vs Laser

It is not just waste that features with ColorQube. Xerox calculates that a ColorQube machine, printing 22,000 pages per month over four years will require 99 supplies items, weighing 242 pounds and able to be transported in one truck. By comparison, an equivalent Canon ImageRunner would require 225 supplies items, weighing 965 pounds and requiring seven trucks to transport. All this adds up to energy saving, carbon footprint saving, manpower saving efficiency.

In addition, the power supply requirement of a ColorQube device is approximately 25% lower than an equivalent laser device – 15A compared to 20A. Xerox actually expects overall power consumption to be a little higher than a laser device because of the energy requirement to melt the ink and keep it at a usable temperature. However, with a device running most of the working day, when a laser device will also need to keep a fuser at working temperature, I am not yet convinced that this expectation will be proven in real life.

Print Quality

One of the major arguments against solid ink in years past has been, “oh, but the ink cracks on the paper when it is folded”! This was certainly true in the early years of solid ink when the layer of ink placed on the page was really very thick. It was so thick, in fact, that it could very easily be felt by rubbing a finger gently across the surface of the paper – solid ink would almost have made a good medium for printing a Braille page!

However, with the latest generation of the technology, the layer of ink is now so thin that it cannot be felt any more than toner on a colour laser page. If pages are folded, the cracking is no worse than a toner page – note: it does crack but so does toner!

On the subject of print quality, it should go without saying that, in 2009, solid ink print quality is excellent. There is, however, a clear discernable difference between the quality of an image printed with solid ink and one printed using a toner-based device. The solid ink image has a slightly higher gloss level, the ink layer is smoother and, in areas of solid fill, there is none of the banding and variable density fill typically associated with laser technology.

Print Speed

ColorQube MFPs will ship in three models, with print speed as the main differentiating factor. Black print speed is set at 50ppm for all three models and it is colour speed that varies. At the bottom of the range, we have the ColorQube 9201, which sports colour printing at 38ppm, while the ColorQube 9202 comes in at 45ppm and the ColorQube 9203 matches black print speed in colour, at 50ppm.

At this point, print speed bears a little more attention. The machines ship with these print speeds as default but, as with a liquid inkjet printer, it is possible to vary the speed in a way that cannot be achieved with a tone-based printer. Effectively, the ColorQube can be requested to print in ‘draft’, ‘normal’ or ‘best’ mode, with print speed decreasing as quality increases.

So, when printing long runs of low-importance documents, for instance, the printer can be set to print in a ‘draft’ mode, moving up through the default setting of correspondence quality to a photo-specific quality. In doing so, black print speed on all models is variable between 38ppm and an impressive 85ppm. Colour speed capability then varies according to the model selected – 30-60ppm; 35-70ppm; and 38-85ppm.

Make no mistake, these are not the fastest print speeds that the technology can support. Future models will doubtless bring in faster speeds and it would not be at all surprising to see the technology migrate upwards into the production arena in time.

Ease of use

While much of the ease of use of an MFP is centred around the user interface and the software, ColorQube has additional ease of use features, again owned by the solid ink technology.

Xerox ColorQube loading inks

Primarily, this is down to the ink load mechanism. Like other solid ink machines, ColorQube is a drop and forget system where the user simply lifts a lid and drops a new ink stick into the receptacle. Don’t worry, there is no danger of getting the ink in the wrong slot due to sophisticated keying of the sticks and receptacle and the inks themselves are clean and non-toxic, with minimal packaging and very easy handling.

Furthermore, this is a real load-while-running system. The supplies lid can be lifted no matter what the status of the machine: printing; copying or scanning; and new sticks dropped in without any need for system interruption or job pausing. There is no other printer, AiO or MFP that I have yet come across that is capable of this ease, cleanliness and flexibility of supplies.

Just as impressively, with a capacity to load up to six ink sticks at one time, the ColorQube MFPs have a maximum running capacity of 55,500 four-colour pages without replenishment (black sticks rated at 10,000 pages and colour sticks rated at 9,250 pages)! The maximum from a toner-based machine is currently pegged at 25,000 pages.

Flexibility of usage is enhanced by the ability of ColorQube (and solid ink technology in general) to accept and print onto any media that is the right thickness to pass through the paper path. Because there is no contact between the print head and the media in an ink technology machine, the droplets fired by the print head land on the media regardless of its composition or surface texture. The final part of the printing process involves the ink being pressed onto the media under pressure. In this way, printing onto fabrics, or even toilet paper, is possible.

Connectivity and paper handling

Xerox has not held back on the specification for ColorQube. All models are equipped with Gigabit Ethernet, IPv6 and USB 2.0 interfaces for maximum speed and flexibility. To handle the data stream efficiently, ColorQube models all have 2GB RAM, as well as an 80GB hard disk, and are PCL 5c and PCL 6 compatible with Adobe PostScript 3.

Duplex printing is, of course, a prerequisite for a machine in this class and all ColorQube models come with duplex print unit and 100-sheet, 50ppm duplex ADF.

As we’d expect from Xerox, there is an impressive array of paper handling and finishing units on hand. In fact, Xerox has been very canny in its design of ColorQube, ensuring that the back-end is compatible with finishing units from previous MFP models – thus saving on development, tooling and stocking costs.

Maximum paper capacity is a massive 7,300 sheets, achieved by the addition of a 4,000-sheet high capacity feed. Even as shipped, ColorQube models come with a standard capacity of 3,300 sheets from four sources.

Xerox ColorQube paper pathCuttaway of Xerox ColorQube

Optional finishing units include:

  • offset catch tray
  • office finisher offering 2,000-sheet stacking with stapling and hole-punching
  • high volume finisher offering 3,000-sheet stacking with stapling and hole-punching
  • high volume finisher with added booklet making capability
  • z-fold/c-fold unit with booklet maker that will add pre-printed inserts into the booklet
  • and a convenience stapler

And finally, back to cost

Xerox has prepared a cost calculator, available on its web site, which shows how a ColorQube contract will benefit customers’ pockets compared to a typical traditional laser MFP contract.

To relate one simple example: a customer prints 10,000 pages per month, 50% of which are colour pages. Under a typical traditional contract, each black page is charged at one cent and each colour page at 10 cents. Of the 5,000 colour pages printed, let’s say that 25% contain a small amount of colour (less than 1.2% = Useful Colour), while 50% contain a little more colour (between 1.2% and 8% = Everyday Colour) and the remaining 25% are heavy duty Expressive Colour pages with more than 8% colour.

With a traditional laser MFP contract, where black pages are charged at 1 cent each and colour pages at 10 cents each:

  • 5,000 black pages @ 1 cent each = $50
  • 5,000 colour pages @ 10 cents each = $500
  • Total = $550 per month

However, under a ColorQube contract:

  • 5,000 black pages @ 1 cent each = $50
  • 1,250 Useful Colour pages @ 1 cent each = $12.50
  • 2,500 Everyday Colour pages @ 3 cents each = $75
  • 1,250 Expressive Colour pages @ 8 cents each = $100
  • Total = $237.50 per month

This, therefore, represents a saving by the ColorQube MFP of $312.50, or nearly 57%, per month.

Some customers may have obtained a contract on their laser MFPs with black rates as low as 0.75 cents per page. So, let’s be harsh and run the calculations on a tradition contract based on 0.7 cents for black pages and 7 cents for colour pages.

Traditional contract:

  • 5,000 black pages @ 0.7 cents each = $35
  • 5,000 colour pages @ 7 cents each = $350
  • Total = $385.00 per month

ColorQube contract:

  • 5,000 black pages @ 1 cent each = $50
  • 1,250 Useful Colour pages @ 1 cent each = $12.50
  • 2,500 Everyday Colour pages @ 3 cents each = $75
  • 1,250 Expressive Colour pages @ 8 cents each = $100
  • Total = $237.50 per month

ColorQube saving = $147.50, or just over 38% per month.

In fact, it would take a traditional contract to offer 0.43 cents per black page and 4.3 cents per colour page to eliminate the savings achievable with ColorQube!

On this basis – impressive environmental credentials; exceptional cost advantages; significant ease of use benefits; plus all the features, functionality and print quality associated with high-end Xerox devices – and, in ColorQube, we have a machine that should have no clear direct competitor.

One might ask why this scenario does not exist for desktop printers as well! We are all only too familiar with printers being priced at, or close to, zero profit for the manufacturer and pricing on their consumables being heavily weighted to compensate.

Answer – it does! See ! With solid ink having now existed in the market for 18 years, Xerox estimates that an installed base of around 200,000 devices is responsible for around 6bn pages per year. This is an impressive foundation to build a new business on. Launched initially in the US, ColorQube will be available in Europe in September.

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