PITR talks to leading print vendors about the importance of R&D as they make the transition from printer hardware manufacturers to providers of complete document solutions
In the latest ranking of preliminary patent results issued by IFI CLAIMS Patent Services, two of the top three US patent recipients in 2015 were companies with substantial print interests. IBM topped the list, followed by Samsung in second place and Canon in third. Another printer company, Toshiba, was in sixth place.
Clearly, Samsung, Canon and Toshiba are highly diversified businesses with a history of innovation in IT, networking and consumer electronics, as well as print. Compared to developments in mobile communications, the cloud and emerging tech areas, such as healthcare and IoT, imaging can appear mature and unexciting.
Those involved in the industry see things differently. In our survey of industry trends reported in last month’s issue, there was little support for the notion that the print industry was suffering from a lack of innovation.
As the success of HP’s PageWide technology shows (see page 30), the print industry still presents enormous opportunities for vendors that invest in R&D. And not just on the hardware and supplies side – the evolution of printers into document hubs opens up new areas for diversification into software, solutions and cloud services.
Jeremy Spencer, Marketing Director of Toshiba TEC UK, says that with new technologies being developed in more than 30 R&D laboratories and over 300 subsidiary companies around the world, Toshiba engineers are dedicated to finding new solutions in a range of industries.
“Toshiba is a world leader and innovator in high technology, spanning IT and communications systems, digital consumer products, electronic devices and home appliances. Year on year we five thousands of patents, leading the way within each industry sector, making innovation a key part of the Toshiba fabric,” he said.
This includes developments in imaging. According to Spencer, some of these are already in the pipeline and will be revealed shortly. “We have a fantastic range of new products and solutions that we will be showcasing over the coming months, so watch this space,” he said.
KYOCERA recently strengthened its focus on innovation in the UK, setting up a ‘Technology and Innovations’ team, headed by Eddie Ginja, which will focus on delivering and managing new technologies. Ginja said that research and development is extremely important to KYOCERA, “especially as we are crossing the chasm from a print manufacturer to a complete document management system company”.
“An example of KYOCERA’s innovation is the latest release of our own ‘print and follow’ technology called KYOCERA Net Manager. Its functionality is not limited only to print and follow, but seamlessly integrates mobile and cloud printing,” he said.
Ginja added that KYOCERA is also looking at opportunities for solutions integration using Solution Orientated Architectures (SOA).
Vital to our business
Another printer company with a strong focus on R&D is Sharp.
Jason Cort, Director of Product Planning and Marketing, said: “R&D is vital to our business. Sharp’s overall vision is to transform the way that organisations engage with information through connected technologies. To achieve this, we spend a great deal of time with customers, partners, our own people and analysts, to look at what it is that Sharp really stands for. We also look at emerging technologies and how they can be applied to new devices, products and applications to align with this vision.”
He added: “The research process has been fundamental to creating a vision which really resonates with our stakeholders. Our R&D functions are ultimately there to develop products and services based on existing technologies, but also to spot and exploit new, market-changing technologies, enabling entry into new markets or allowing us to leapfrog the competition.”
The company’s research establishment, Sharp Labs Europe, is based in Oxford and works closely with academic teams, commercial businesses, venture capital groups and Sharp’s own business units. “A great deal of development activity also takes place at our Japanese HQ, plus Sharp Labs America and our European software development team, based in Stockley Park,” explained Cort.
At last year’s Inspire Expo dealer event,
unveiled major new products and services that have been developed in response to the needs of its customers. “This included a major refresh of our A3 colour MFPs and the introduction of our Optimised Solutions ecosystem, a range of print, document and content services designed to help SMBs streamline their document management and save on costs,” said Cort.
He added: “Investment in research and development is vital because it allows Sharp to better meet the needs of its dealers and end users. As the business environment changes, we can adapt and change with it and ensure that our offering is tailored to meet demand. It allows us to be more agile and more innovative. A key challenge that presents itself with this is knowing how to optimise investment by engineering flexible platforms that can be enhanced and adapted to add
value continuously, or create spin-off products, thus extending the lifecycle of the platform overall.”
Innovation at speed
Few organisations spend as much on R&D as Samsung. As Head of Print Mark Ash said: “It’s what enables us to innovate new technologies at the rapid pace needed to stay competitive in today’s digital environment.”
He added: “R&D is at the heart of everything we do. Over 25% of Samsung employees work within R&D and we spend in excess of $13 billion annually, which is the largest investment in the technology industry. With a global network of R&D centres, the right people and the right
Steve Hawkins, Group Managing Director, Xeretec processes, we’re creating market-leading technology that’s worth every penny of investment.
“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate and there’s never been a more exciting time to work in this industry. R&D investment is crucial if a business wishes to stay ahead of the curve.
At Samsung Print we can leverage the wider investments of the group, plus print, cloud, IoT and M2M technology, which enables the product line to integrate with the rest of Samsung’s offerings, enabling the most innovative solution of them all the Connected Workplace.”
A cultural approach
For Toshiba’s Spencer, R&D is about much more than just the financial investment. “We very much adopt a strategy of growth through creativity and innovation,” he said. “I believe that investment can be defied in many ways, including financial and personal. This is evident in all of our products and activities, from our innovative e-STUDIO306LP e-copier to our award winning channel education programmes, such as the Toshiba Masters.”
Spencer says that Toshiba places as much emphasis on developing new solutions to support core business areas as it does to entering new markets.
“Both are as important as each other,” he said. “It is a key focus for us to support our core business partners with products and solutions that address real user issues rather than simply providing innovation without an emphasis, whilst at the same time continuing to explore new markets and industries. At the heart of all products we bring to market is a well-considered, well researched design that you would be proud to own, proud to display and be excited to use,” he said.
Ash, too, stresses the importance of innovating both in new and existing areas, pointing out that as convergence removes divisions between technologies, innovation spreads easily from one product area to another. “Samsung Electronics’ business is so wide-ranging that often the investments cover many areas, e.g. App Development for our customers can sit across display, mobile, tablets and print,” he said.
Time to market
The growing importance of software means that manufacturers can now react much more quickly to changing customer demand. Ginja said that KYOCERA typically takes three to five years to develop new hardware, whereas solutions can
take anything from one to three years (depending on the complexity).
Other manufacturers told PITR much the same.
Sharp’s Cort said: “Software developments can be turned around faster than hardware, especially when manufacturing timescales are factored in. New services can be developed and launched in a matter of months, because they tend to use existing technologies, combined with process and people, to create the offering. Next-generation hardware can take years to bring to market. If starting from pure research and development through to new products, it can be upwards of fie years in some cases.”
For Ash, the speed with which Samsung can create new software is one of its key differentiators. “There’s a Korean phrase ‘palli palli’, meaning ‘quickly, quickly’, which resonates with the speed at which Samsung takes products to market,” he said.
“A case in point would be the Samsung Diagnostics App, which we introduced last year. It enables a printer to be accessed remotely via tablet, diagnose the issue and demonstrate how to fix the problem. The inspiration came from a reference made by a colleague in a meeting, who felt frustrated at having to call a technician when there was an issue with a printer. We took the app from concept to beta test in three months.”
The next big thing
So what, then, are manufacturers working on now and what will be the next big thing in office printing?
For Ash, it’s all about the Connected Workplace, where all technology is connected inside and outside the office. “This will facilitate true mobility in the workplace and end-users will be able to print from any device, from phones to tablets and smartwatches. We’re aiming to have all of our products IoT-ready by 2020 – it’s a really exciting time for the business. On top of this, we have moved back into the Windows market with the launch of the Tab Pro S,” he said.
Another key development is cloud storage and cloud printing “The time it takes to set up a desktop, connect to the network and print can be cut back drastically when one simply prints a document from a printer’s tablet interface,” explained Ash.
Cort also sees the Internet of Things as a key development, adding that the need for constant connectivity will see much more sophisticated office hardware and software come to market.
In this context, he says that Sharp’s focus is to provide a truly optimised ecosystem to its community. “We’ll be implementing our vision strategy with resellers and partners and will be continuing to update our offerings. We’ve talked about our major MX series refresh and our next generation of cloud storage. Our overall business continues to grow year on year and, of this, approximately 50% is generated by our dealer channel, so this will continue to be a key focus for the coming year.”
Cort expects developments in display technologies to have an impact too. “Throughout 2016, Sharp will continue to push the boundaries of realism on a large scale, leading the industry with Large Format Display Panels running at 8K resolution, currently on sale in Japan. And we are continuing to expand and enhance our range of Interactive Flat Panel Displays,” he said.
Another person to highlight the importance of seamless integration between paper and digital document capture, storage, manipulation and delivery is KYOCERA’s Ginja.
He said: “There are three main areas that we concentrate on when looking at document processing. Document Capture – this is where the document is captured from various sources, mainly physical sources (e.g. scanned paper) or electronic sources (emails, eForms, MS-Office etc.). Document Storage and Management – where we look at technologies such as OCR, HCR, OMR, ICR and IDR to translate, index and categorise the document into a recognised and pliable source. The document is then stored in a suitable repository either on-site or in the cloud. And Document Delivery, which looks at outputting the document into the required output format, either electronically or back to a paper/fax format.”
While the focus of KYOCERA’s ‘Technology and Innovations’ team is very much on the document and information management, other emerging technologies that Ginja believes could be significant in 2016 include photonic ink, digital personal verification systems/solutions, e-procurement and online tendering and digital signatures.
Supporting his comments on the need to innovate in existing and new areas, Toshiba’s Spencer picked out security, mobility and 3D printing as key areas of focus for 2016. “Having recently launched a 3D printing system that uses metal, Toshiba continues to show that it is at the forefront of innovation,” he said.