The introduction of inkjet printing during the early 1950s and continuous inkjet (CIJ) technology in 1951 marked a revolution for companies that aimed to have efficient and concise packaging and marking during the production process.
When the first original continuous inkjet printers were introduced into the market, many aftermarket ink companies sought to capitalize on the opportunity to produce third-party printing consumables, including solvents, inks, cartridges, and printer parts. Below, we detail the evolution of aftermarket continuous inkjet consumables as well as strategies used by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to offset the growing popularity of aftermarket product production and the state of the aftermarket consumables today.
To create an aftermarket ink that would be compatible with OEM inks, aftermarket companies first mimicked the solvent that accompanied the ink for the continuous inkjet printers. Reverse engineering techniques were used to copy the formulas of original manufacturer inks, and when the aftermarket companies were able to figure out the formulation and tolerance needed for the ink to run seamlessly on the printer, mass production of aftermarket inks began. At the time, obtaining the knowledge and engineering to ensure the ink tolerance complemented the printer type required fewer resources than researching and developing completely new formulations.
While these consumables were a cheaper alternative offered by aftermarket manufacturers, OEMs made various attempts to curb and eliminate the competition from aftermarket companies.
Original equipment manufacturers knew that aftermarket companies were striving to take away their market share by offering alternatives to customers that worked just as efficiently and at an affordable cost compared to the original inkjet consumables.
Since many OEMs were selling inkjet printers at or below manufacturing costs during this period, believing that ink sales would recoup their losses, they became distraught when aftermarket companies began to capture large segments of their cartridge business with their affordable products, as it gave them no way to make profits on both the printer and its associated consumables.
The following are strategies that many OEMs utilized to try to gain back their market share from aftermarket printing companies:
Many OEMs sought to compel their customers into signing service contracts with them or claimed the equipment warranties would be voided if used with aftermarket products. It gave the OEMs an exclusive monopoly to provide their customers with consumables to use with their inkjet printers. It also limited consumer purchasing from aftermarket companies because doing so would void the warranty of the inkjet printers with the original manufacturer.
Eventually, new products began being introduced by both aftermarket and original inkjet companies—the competition grew so intense that “chipped” printers were introduced by OEMs in an attempt to curb the production and purchase of aftermarket inkjet consumables. The chipped printers only recognized cartridges that were produced from the original printer manufacturer, and they also only allowed the printer to display other printing-related information. This made it nearly impossible for aftermarket consumable companies to market and sell their cartridges.
During the late 1990s, Domino Printing Sciences was the first company that had a cartridge-based system and quality codes for its reservoirs. Imaje S.A. also had a personal style of cartridges, which were referred to as bladders. The innovations introduced by both of these companies led to a slowdown in aftermarket consumables purchases, with aftermarket companies struggling to find the mold types for new cartridge models and the valve configuration so the cartridges could work on compatible printers.
Videojet took Domino’s concept a bit further with its original 1000 Series printers. The 1000 Series used a cartridge-style rigid bottle that contained a chip displaying the expiration date. The chip in the cartridge was always programmed to match the printer’s programming. Videojet further prevented any attempts by aftermarket companies to profit by patenting both the design and utility of the 1000 Series. Gradually, however, different “chipped” cartridge systems that were compatible with several printer brands and types were introduced by aftermarket companies. It let consumers avail themselves of cheaper choices when refilling their printers.
Many OEMs such as Citronix, Hitachi, Leibinger, Zanasi, and Imaje S.A. also began using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags programmed to match their printers. In 2019, Videojet took this another step further by changing its cartridge size from 750 ml to 950 ml and reformatting all of its ink numbers to a four-digit configuration from a three-digit configuration. This made the process of creating compatible cartridges more difficult for aftermarket companies.
Initially, Videojet dominated the continuous inkjet consumables market with more than 50% of the market share in the mid-1990s. However, aftermarket manufacturers continued to expand their portfolios past general-purpose inks to include more specialty inks such as thermochromic, hard-pigmented, and inks that meet military specifications. OEMs such as Imaje S.A., Domino, Videojet, and Willet lost millions of dollars in fluid revenues from the five major aftermarket manufacturers (PrintJet, Inkjet, Inc., CMS, Independent Ink, and IIMAK, formerly Talon Ink/Eagle Ink).
Eventually, aftermarket companies developed their own ink formulas and offered other customer services, and many of these companies, such as Inkjet, Inc. and Independent, Inc., made a prominent name for themselves in the industry. These companies immensely benefited manufacturers that were looking to cut back on their costs without giving up on quality. Inkjet, Inc. became known for quality aftermarket inks, and the company eventually developed its Duracode printer system that had its own set of cartridges.
The main reason why customers still prefer aftermarket companies is because the investments for research and development from major OEMs like Videojet, Markem-Imaje, Collins, and Domino are more expensive. In comparison, aftermarket companies provide a faster ROI on these formulations since their main competing point is price. Consumer companies also have the option of choosing between multiple aftermarket companies and finding the best formulation at the best price for their needs.
Presently, while the usage and profits of aftermarket continuous inkjet consumables have been a hot topic for debate among many, the companies that make these products have continued to survive. They presently control 18% of the ink industry.
When comparing an OEM printer cartridge and an aftermarket printer cartridge, there are few, if any, differences. Aside from holding great monetary value, aftermarket manufacturers are also sophisticated in their quality control and quality assurance processes with raw materials and filtration. This has led many companies to make the switch to save costs while running their operations efficiently.
While the aftermarket ink industry of today consists of many players, large and small, OEMs are still attempting to curb and limit the sales of aftermarket consumables to increase their profits. New continuous inkjet printers have unique approaches to promoting the use of only OEM cartridges, and aftermarket companies are constantly innovating to move around these limitations.
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