HP Goes Big On Small, Fast Printers; Attacks Counterfeit Toner

HP M553n

Hewlett-Packard Tuesday unveiled new fast, compact color LaserJet printers and MFPs that it asserts are as much as 40 percent smaller, use up to 53 percent less energy, and wake and print faster than any of its earlier models.

And in a later briefing, HP introduced technology that can detect bogus toner, a problem an HP manager said costs businesses $4 billion annually.

But it's the surprising technology behind these improvements that makes the unveiling more than just another day at the office.

At the confidential press and analyst briefing in New York, HP executives demonstrated low-, medium- and high-end models aimed at small work groups, small- and midsize businesses, and the enterprise.

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The most eye-opening demonstration was of the claimed 9-second wake-and-print time of the Color LaserJet Enterprise M552, which was set next to a comparable model from Dell -- a C3760dn color laser printer. Jody Stover, HP's product manager for the enterprise single-function LaserJet, simultaneously sent identical jobs to both printers. The M552 woke in 9 seconds and had finished printing the five-page job before the Dell machine printed its first page.

The 40-page-per-minute M552 and the new M553 come with 550-sheet main trays and support as many as three additional sheet feeders with a maximum paper capacity of 2,300 sheets. "It also prints two-sided at its rated speed," said Stover, but did not demonstrate that capability. Duplex printing is included in all models. The new printer is 21 percent smaller and uses 53 percent less energy than the M551 it replaces, according to Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP.

"All of HP’s new printers from this point forward will support this next-gen technology," Stover said. The high-end printer also supports HP's private print feature and direct printing of JPG and PDF files from a USB drive plugged into a port near the front. These models are designed for work groups of about 15 people and are rated at 6,000 pages per month. They support Cloud Print 2.0, the latest version of Google’s remote printer-sharing solution.

HP also demonstrated the Color LaserJet MFP M277dw and the Color LaserJet M252dw, both of which are rated at 19 ppm for color or monochromatic printing. An HP representative said the MFP is expected to sell on the street for around $299 and the single-function printer for $249.

"This is a home run for HP," said Tom Costello, a manager at RE Business Solutions, an HP partner in Cherry Hill, N.J. "When you can get a laser printer for $250, everyone in the office can have one," he said.

Costello said the move was a necessary one for HP to keep up with competitors. "Companies like Lexmark and Dell were owning the low-end laser market. Now HP has something to offer in that space. This will allow us to sell a lot more printers." All the new printers will begin shipping April 1.

After the printer demonstrations, a smaller group was briefed on JetIntelligence, the technology that HP credits with reductions in overall printer size and increases in speed, energy efficiency and toner yield.

Annie Mosier, supplies marketing manager at HP, began by explaining the structure of the company's chemically produced toner particles, which she said are one-twelfth the width of a human hair.

In essence, a wax core is surrounded by a soft mixture of polymer resin and pigment encased in a hard shell that's receptive to an electronic charge so they stick to the transfer belt with static electricity. The particles are engineered to melt with less heat, thereby reducing the energy required to liquefy them and speeding wake time. Controlling the process is JetIntelligence, a chip that continuously monitors toner levels and compensates for wear of the fuser unit and other toner components. JetIntelligence will be incorporated into all of HP's future laser printers.

But there's another function embedded into each HP toner's encrypted logic circuit. "If non-HP toner is inserted, a message will be displayed that the cartridge is 'Used or Counterfeit,' " said Mosier, who characterized the counterfeit toner cartridges as "a $4 billion-a-year problem." The message will be displayed if the chip is absent or if the toner has been replenished.

"HP is a company with a lot of good technology and a lot of good printers," said Jim Ianieri, print and IT solutions director at RE Business Solutions. "It’s nice to see the two coming together to protect the consumables side of the house." Although they might cost less, knockoff toner cartridges don’t always save money in the end, offered Ianieri. "There’s less support and more headaches," he said. "So did you really save that money?"

Costello added that about 60 percent of RE Business Solutions' business comes from toner and other consumables.