Big Blue Delivers Industrial-Strength Laser Printer
by Mary Lou Roberts
Is IBM still in the printer business? It sure is. A new Power5-driven printer, which Big Blue terms "the world's fastest high-quality production printer," has just been announced by the Printing Systems Division, which is the Boulder, Colorado, unit of IBM's Systems and Technology Group that used to be known as Pennant Systems way back when. Historically, IBM has always had two printer businesses--the "Big Bluegrass" entry and midrange printer business in Lexington, Kentucky, that was spun out decades ago as Lexmark and the high-end printing and software division based in Boulder.
This new whiz-bang, high-performance Infoprint 4100 printer debuted at the Print '05 show in Chicago this past week. And, of course, IBM reports it has received glowing reviews. And well it should, if in fact the Infoprint 4100 lives up to Big Blue's claims as it being the most powerful and efficient production printer in the industry. The Infoprint 4100 delivers top quality and top speed, according to IBM, and it is a high-end laser printer that uses rolls of paper and cuts it in the sizes and shapes you need (just like other production-class laser printers). At 330 linear feet per minute--that's 1,440 impressions per minute using two side-by-side 8-5-inch by 11-inch impressions (called 2-Up in the printing jargon) in full duplex mode (which means printing on both sides of the page). That's an 18 percent boost in speed compared to its predecessor, and as IBM tries to make this speed relevant to the human scale, it say that the Infoprint 4100 "is capable of producing a full mile of printed material every 16 minutes" while at the same time cut printing costs for high-end users. One of the reasons it can do this is because it has a baby Power5-based "Squadron" p5 550 server (that's a four-core machine) as its controller.
Riley McNulty, research manager for IDC, points out that this printer fits right in to one of the emerging printer markets. "Although there are segments of the printer market that are mature, there are emerging segments that open up new opportunities and challenges. Traditional and mature segments in which IBM competes very strongly are the data center and transactional printing market. Growth segments include on demand book printing and direct mail. Another emerging opportunity to watch is adding variable data to traditional offset printing."
IBM's new Infoprint 4100 entry, McNulty says, is clearly designed to capitalize on these emerging growth opportunities, particularly with regards to book printing and direct mail. "This means that its traditional customer base will change, as IBM increasingly sells into the service bureau (i.e., print-for-pay versus in-house data center) customer. That is not to say that IBM did not sell to service bureaus before; IBM has. Rather, IBM has seen a growth in the percentage of customers that are in the print-for-pay arena--service bureaus in particular."
McNulty is working on writing a more complete evaluation of the new Infoprint 4100 following the Print '05 show. But he offers a quick evaluation of his impressions so far. "First," he says, "this is a significant controller upgrade that prepares the way for future product introductions and a color strategy. IBM has been working to develop the AFP Color Consortium designed to create a color standard for IBM's AFP/IPDS data stream, which is prevalent in continuous feed environments. The controller enables a scalable product roadmap. It enables monochrome print environments to start accepting color data streams, which are huge files/data streams to process."
The second point McNulty stresses is the importance of monochrome print quality, given the growth segments identified. "This is especially true as graphics become an increasing part of print output. Of course, print quality is a critical issue with print-for-pay customers and their customers. So this new product delivers high quality output at very high speeds. This leads to another trend in the industry over the past several years of installations of higher speed engines that are more productive. This enables the reduction of the number of printers installed (slower engines require more of them to meet print requirements). This in turn enables the reduction of operators and the amount of real estate overhead associated with print operations (i.e., hard cost savings). Finally there will be increased paper handling capability, which increases the number of print applications that IBM can address." And you thought consolidation was just about servers. Nope.
But according to Karen Fukuma, IBM's vice president of production solutions for the Printing Systems Division, it's not likely that you'll be seeing the Infoprint 4100 in the iSeries data center near you. While some iSeries shops may need the power and speed, most do not. "iSeries shops tend to be more continuous-form users." The target market for the Infoprint 4100 is direct mailers and service bureaus as well as companies that print short-run books and technical manuals.
The real question of this new printer's relevance to iSeries shops depends on the types of workloads they generate. As Clay Ryder, analyst for Sageza Group, notes, "If the iSeries shop is a billing service that generates mountains of paper, it may be interested. If it is mostly doing back office number crunching, with minimal customer-facing contact, probably not. For shops with a high degree of customer- or billing-focused applications, however, this printer could be appropriate."
IBM's Fukuma suggests that, while all of the printers do support OS/400 and iSeries software, the iSeries market may have even more interest in the IBM thermal Infoprint 6700 R40, a new RFID printer announced in June with a subsequent September 14 announcement that it is now ready for the global Electronic Product Code (EPC) Class 1 Gen 2 specification, enacted by the industry standards organization, EPCglobal, and designed to be the worldwide standard, eventually succeeding several specifications that are in use in the marketplace today.
According to IBM, the Infoprint 6700 R40 can verify each RFID tag before any mission-critical information is encoded on the chip or printed on the label. If a tag is faulty, the printer can move to the next tag and continue output without operator intervention, to eliminate the unreliable tag. "This enhanced reliability can help customers reduce lost revenue due to returns, distribution errors, and missed schedules."
Many iSeries users are, of course, deeply embedded in the supply chain, much of which is stampeding, willingly or under duress of major retailers, toward the use of RFID. IBM notes that the 6700 R40 is a "scalable solution [that] can be used in current supply chain infrastructures and then be upgraded to RFID technology when needed." So those shops, which sooner or later may include just about everybody and which certainly includes a lot of iSeries users, that expect RFID to be a factor in their future plans may well be interested.
The Infoprint 6700 R40 integrates with existing operating systems, including OS/400, and ERP systems. It integrates with WebSphere to "provide a real-time view of the entire RFID supply chain from a single location. And it is capable of sharing supply chain information between the printer and the network to update the status of inventory, shipping, and tracking details. The Infoprint 6700 actually comes in three models: the R40 has a printing width of 4.1 inches, the R60 does 6.6 inches, and the R80 does 8.5 inches. They have resolutions of 203 dots per inch when printing at 10 inches per second and 300 dots per inch when running at 8 inches per second. Prices for these units range from $3,025 to $6,475, with monthly maintenance ranging from $51 to $75.
The big, bad Infoprint 4100 comes in two models. The 4100 Model HS3 is a simplex model (which means prints only on one side) that is rated at 720 impressions per minute. It costs costs $545,000 with a monthly maintenance charge of $2,258 plus a click charge (that is printer market speak for per-page maintenance charges) of $0.0035 per foot. While that number may sound small, it is designed to add up as you print your miles of paper; by having click charges, IBM can cover the maintenance costs associated with customers who bang on these printers extra hard.
To get the full rated speed of the Infoprint 4100, you have to shift to duplex mode. The Infoprint 4100 Model HD5 is the first engine in the duplex version of the printer and it does not have its own Power5-based controller. The HD5 costs $478,000 with monthly maintenance of $2,258 plus the same click charges. Now you have to buy the second engine, which actually has the Power5 controller. This is the Infoprint 4100 Model HD6, which costs $622,000 with monthly maintenance of $2,363 plus the click charges. So to go duplex, you are really paying $1.1 million and then $,621 per month in maintenance, plus the click charges. Both of these printers can be equipped with cartridges that support the printing of magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) encoding that you see at the bottom of your checks. An ink or MICR cartridge costs $47,000. The duty cycle of the Infoprint 4100s is in the tens of millions of pages per month. They print at resolutions of 240, 300, 480, and 600 dots per inch.
Printer Services Facility (PSF) for iSeries running on OS/400 V5R1 or higher is the base requirement for using the Infoprint 4100 on an AS/400 or iSeries server.
Mary Lou Roberts, a 35-year veteran of the information systems industry, is a new contributor to IT Jungle. In addition to her work as a reporter in the iSeries space, she has spent her career as a marketing and communications professional working exclusively with information technology publications and companies. She can be reached at WriterNewf@aol.com.