This Week in Imaging: Today’s Disruptors: Cloud, MPS, BPO, Inkjet; More

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Photo credit: Kathy Wirth

The term “disruption” is a popular buzzword in the tech industry, including of course in the office- and production-printing industry. But while many claim they’re “disrupting” an industry, only a few actually succeed. Disruption turns an established market on its head, forever changing it.

For instance, in the early 1900s, Japanese entrepreneur Mikimoto Kōkichi forever changed the pearl-jewelry industry with the successful growth of cultured pearls. Until then, pearls were extremely rare, and harvesting them in the sea involved divers braving drowning and sharks. So rare and expensive were pearls before Mikimoto that they were typically worn only by royalty and the very, very wealthy. Mikimoto turned this market on its head, however, when he was ably to successfully and safely mass produce cultured or synthetic pearls in mass quantities that are virtually indistinguishable from natural pearls and are affordable for the masses.


Mikimoto Kōkichi, hard at work in his laboratory, making pearls affordable for virtually everyone.

In the office- and production imaging industry, and going back to the 1400s, the disruptors, in chronological order, include: the Gutenberg Press printing press; typewriter; xerographic copier; personal computer; Portable Document Format (PDF); digital printer; digital scanner; digital copier; the multifunctional digital copier with copy, print, scan, and fax (MFP); digital camera; Worldwide Web; email; Web-connected printers and MFPs; and multifunctional smartphone with email, camera, video recorder, Internet access; and of course telephone.

In the mass production of documents, the main disruptor has been the advent of digital (versus analog) production printing. All of these fundamentally disrupted and changed industries and people’s way of communicating and conducting business.

Guttenburg Press

In the beginning, documents had to be laboriously copied by human hands. But in the 1400s, the Gutenberg Press came along, enabling the mass production of printed documents, thus enabling the freer dissemination of information and new ideas, as well as access to documents by the masses for the first time.

Today, the disruptors include the “cloud” – Web sites for storing and sharing documents so that they may be accessed by users anywhere, anytime, freeing users from requiring access to paper documents stored in paper file folders at a specific location. Other disruptors include managed print services (MPS) for outsourcing the management, servicing, and supply of fleets of printers and MFPs to third-parties such as Xerox and HP for a fee, as well as document outsourcing, business-process outsourcing, and network IT infrastructure outsourcing, all of which essentially delegates these tasks to third parties.

cloud printing

The “cloud:” store your documents on the World Wide Web at, Box, etc., or in your company’s private Web-site storage site, and access them anytime, anywhere at your PC, smartphone, or in paper form via your digital printer or MFP.

Other disruptors include the move of inkjet printing into the office and production-printing spheres by the likes of HP, Epson, Memjet, Xerox, and others. Inkjet printing now provides much improved image quality and print speed, and features two main advantages: lower energy consumption versus laser printing; better reliability versus laser printing (as there are fewer moving parts to malfunction); and usually much easier replacement of supplies.

Last but not least, is of course, 3D additive-layer deposition printing, which, using principles involved in inkjet printing, is transforming the world of manufacturing with rapid prototyping and parts manufacturing typically brought inhouse. For instance, while it previously took days or weeks for a developer to obtain an actual physical prototype, he or she can now obtain it in just a few hours. Or, when a part is desperately needed, it can be produced on the spot by a 3D printer – instead of having to wait for a factory far away to produce it.

Interestingly, this week we received news that one big player in 3D (metal) printing, defense contractor and aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin, is looking at disrupting the diamond industry, with a patent application for 3D-printing diamonds. Mikimoto would be impressed.

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