Fed market will see faster Epson ink-jet printers

SUWA CITY, Japan--Government buyers can expect a range of high-end
printing products previously unavailable to federal customers, Seiko Epson Corp. officials
said at presentations at their headquarters.


For example, Epson's two latest ink-jet printers, the Color Stylus 1520 and 3000, can
print on paper as large as 13 inches by 19 inches.


Seiko Epson marketing vice president Dan Crane said the models have uses in geographic
information systems, computer-aided design and other large-format applications, although
the 1520 printer is not available on government buying vehicles. The 3000 sells for about
$1,900 on General Services Administration schedule contracts.


Promising more for the government market, Seiko Epson officials acknowledge that they
have focused more on technology than on buying markets.


"We plan to invest more in marketing" printers to government customers, said
Akio Irie, the executive vice president, speaking through an interpreter.


Subsidiary Epson America Inc. in Torrance, Calif., recently hired two employees to work
on the government market, and more hires are planned. Federal markets and state and local
government markets are ranked second and third, behind publishing and prepress, in Epson's
view, Crane said.


Crane spoke to a GCN reporter at Epson's Hirooka office, about three hours from Tokyo,
where the company manufactures its ink-jet cartridges.


A high-end Epson printer costing close to $10,000 was on display in Tokyo's Akihabara
district, where electronics and computer stores line the streets. But Epson targets that
printer for the publishing market, not government users.


Epson has the potential to become a strong competitor to Hewlett-Packard Co., which
dominates the government market.


A recent GCN survey showed almost a third of all printers in government offices are
color ink-jets, which have been displacing monochrome laser printers during the past
couple of years.


Epson makes the only ink-jets that can print at resolutions as high as 1,440-by-720
dots per inch with Micro Piezo print heads. Developed through the company's experience
with the 55-year-old Seiko watch business, the print heads use an actuator similar to an
eardrum to squirt ink precisely onto paper.


Epson's Color Stylus printers have won many awards including a GCN Lab Reviewer's
Choice designation and the Best New Product award at FOSE '97.


The American division of Seiko Epson has met with moderate success within the small and
home business markets and in the government.


Epson's resellers are Government Technology Services Inc. of Chantilly, Va., and
AmeriData Federal Systems of Gaithersburg, Md. Epson also holds its own GSA contract.


Company officials here did not talk much about successors to the current line of
general office printers such as the Color Stylus 600 and 800, although Crane said
networkability is the primary concern of government buyers. The Color Stylus 800, 1520 and
3000 each have a slot for an Epson Type B Ethernet card.


Future ink-jets from Epson could break the 12-page-per-minute barrier--the entry-level
speed for laser printers. Akio Owatari, ink-jet design and development general manager,
said the Micro Piezo print head can spray ink much faster than its current 5-ppm to 8-ppm
speed. But the print head's movement back and forth across the paper slows printing.


Other Epson products such as LCD projectors, scanners and digital cameras are part of
the company's SE21 plan for the 21st century. Irie said Epson may venture into mobile
information products.


"We want to expand in the ink-jet area," Irie said. "There are speed and
durability issues that have yet to be solved."


Epson stands at a crossroads in wooing the U.S. government market--the world's No. 1
information technology customer. Officials kept hinting at something aggressive around the
corner.


inside gcn

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