1. The Technology
The invention of solid ink was initially attributed to the company Tektronix in 1986. However, for this case study we will focus on Xerox Solid Ink which they have made available for use in offices. The solid ink works with a special printer, the ColoQube.
The white paper “Emerging Marking Technologies: A Review and Comparison of Xerographic and InkBased Imaging” (January 2008) describes the mechanism of the solid ink printing system as:
“Rather than using liquid ink, solid ink printers use ink sticks that are similar to crayons. During the imaging process, the ink is first melted quickly into liquid form and then jetted onto a transfer drum. The drum is then pressed against the media to transfer the image from the drum to the paper. The ink solidifies immediately upon contact with the substrate, which prevents ink smudging and smearing.”
Solid ink printing produces the same quality of prints at similar or faster speeds compared to laserjet and inkjet printers. One advantage it has over inkjet printing is that it does not need the drying time for the ink after printing.
The Xerox website boasts of four awards on its product page for both the ink and the printer:
- “Highly Recommended” rating from the Buyer’s Laboratory, Inc. for the Xerox ColorQube8700X printer (2012)
- “Highly Recommended” rating from the Buyer’s Laboratory, Inc. for the Xerox ColorQube8900X printer (2012)
- “Best Eco-friendly Ink Technology” award from BERTL (2011)
- “5-star Exceptional Rating” ColorQube 9300 Series (2011)
2. The Sustainability Problem
The use of the ink comes with many benefits. The biggest sustainability problem it addresses is the need to reduce waste associated with office printing, specifically from the use of traditional ink cartridges and toners.
According to the product webpage, the solid ink delivers the same color print quality but produces 90% less waste compared to using laser color printers. This reduction in waste comes from the following features of the ink:
- Solid ink does not need to be stored in individual cartridges
- Consequently, the paper and plastic packaging associated with cartridges is also eliminated
- Also as a result of this, less storage space is needed which can result in reduced waste associated with shipping and storing
Other than these direct benefits related to the sustainability problem of waste, the switch to a solid ink printing system also has secondary sustainability benefits:
- Solid ink printers by Xerox has fewer moving parts, further waste elimination happens in two stages:
- In the manufacturing stage, they use less raw materials
- In the office-use phase, fewer parts breaking down means less use of replacement parts and throwing away of broken parts
- The solid ink itself is environment friendly
3. and 4. Stakeholders and Implementation
Looking at internal stakeholders of a company considering a switch to solid ink printing systems, we see the following stakeholder groups and their concerns:
a) Finance Department
The finance department will be looking at the costs versus benefits of switching to this technology before they will give approval for the budgets.
While there may be an up-front cost to purchasing and installing the new printers, these secondary economic benefits can be used to convince a company to switch their office to the solid ink technology:
- The use of solid ink allows you to print in color at the same price as black and white printing using inkjet or laserjet technology
- Because the printers themselves are simpler and have fewer parts, they also come at a lower cost
- Unlike laser or inkjet printers which can prefer a special kind of paper, solid ink performs well on any paper, thereby eliminating costs associated with specialty paper purchases
- Compared to laser printers, Xerox solid ink printers can print at a similar speed or even faster, possibly increasing efficiency in the office
b) Employees who need to use the printer
After making the decision to switch, contracts with suppliers and and logistics of installing the hardware follows. Then, the next step is to look at the human component. The adaption of new technology will always cause some discomfort to some employees. Top of mind questions would be those relating to the quality of the printing, whether or not it is complicated to learn how to use the new technology, and if it will have any negative effects on their ability to perform their work / perform it at the same efficiency.
These need to be addressed through information dissemination and training so that they learn how to use it correctly and are assured that this technology will not negatively affect their work performance.
c) Corporate Sustainability / Corporate Social Responsibility Department
Monitoring of the implementation process and the results is an important step once the technology is in use. If the company currently has any corporate sustainability efforts and reporting in place, the sustainability department will want to monitor the progress of this technology switch and record data on how it has reduced the environmental impact of the office. This may be key data they want to include in their next sustainability report.
To read more about this technology, see the following links:
Xerox Solid Ink Product Page.http://www.office.xerox.com/solid-ink/enus.html#_overview, http://www.office.xerox.com/solid-ink/enus.html#_sustainability
White Paper: Emerging Marking Technologies: A Review and Comparison of Xerographic and InkBased Imaging (January 2008) http://www.office.xerox.com/latest/OPBWP-05U.pdf