Last week, I spent a few days in Boise, Idaho for the 2012 HP Printing Tech Day at the HP Boise Campus. A small group of reporters, bloggers and industry insiders were given a tour of the facility which is home to all things LaserJet - finance, marketing, research and development, museum - as well as a mix of other HP products and activities.
The campus itself is huge, with at least seven buildings housing over 3,700 employees. After spending one day walking the campus, it was easy to see how a person could get lost in the maze of cubicles and labs.
We began our day in the HP Enterprise Tech Briefing room with comments from Von Hansen, the vice president and general manager of the Value Enterprise Products organization in the Imaging and Printing Group at HP. Hansen has spent most of his career with HP at the Boise facility and he shared with us his belief that the LaserJet line is the most successful product line in the history of HP. Considering the growth the line has seen since its inception in 1984, it wasn't a difficult assumption to make.
After the brief welcome, we dove right into the day; it was clear by the scheduled handed out the evening before that it was going to be information packed event and I wasn't disappointed.
Technology Behind Fall Products
If you follow PrinterComparison and/or HP news, than you couldn't have missed HP's announcement of a vast array of new business MFPs, printers and solutions, all of which were developed at the Boise campus.
Having not been able to attend the NDA launch event in New York, this was the first time I had seen the new products in person. Three HP product managers went through the nuts and bolts of two of the "headline" products: the Officejet Pro X series and the LaserJet Enterprise Flow MFPs.
Jim Schott and Pam Sedman took us through a tour of the LaserJet Enterprise Flow MFPs with an emphasis on the ease of use for customers. They went through each customer replaceable parts including (but not limited to) the toner, the board, the rollers and the trays. Even the control panel had a hidden diagnostic key for bringing up easy maintenance and support solutions (thanks to a standalone Windows processor and Windows CE OS).
Larry Tracy took us through the Officejet Pro X series, passing around the print head so we could take in all 40,000 nozzles in all their glory. He was quick to point out that the Officejet Pro X series print heads can continue to function even if one of the nozzles is clogged or damaged thanks to sensors inside the device that will transfer the workload to the remaining functional nozzles. This even includes the black ink, with the device making a CMY composite to replace the black color.
He gave us two quick demos (seen below) on the different print speeds; the Officejet Pro X series offers print speeds up to 70 ppm in the general everyday print mode. Tracy then opened up the machine and explained how HP accomplished such quick speeds on an inkjet. The secret? A new direct paper path coming in from the left side that slides by the print head and the four fixed pigment ink cartridges.
When one of the reporters made a comment about the ink quality compared to a laser printer, it was time for Tracy's infamous ink/water test where he pours water on to a freshly printed job from the Officejet Pro X series and then rubs it on his snow white hair. There was no visible color transfer and everyone in the room got a big kick out of the demo.
The final plug for the Officejet Pro X series is that it gives a professional laser-class feel but without some of the negatives. Tracy demonstrated how light the devices are by easily picking up the device (35 -40 lbs compared to 50 +lbs of a laser-class model). There was also mention of lower energy consumption and less waste with the new inkjet models.
As you can see from the images and video, HP literally opened up their printers, getting beyond the superficial layer and explaining the technology in depth.
Research & Development Lab Tours
The Research & Development Lab Tours was perhaps my favorite part of the scheduled day because of the access given to us outsiders as well as the knowledgeable presentation from Dave Novak, a former Product Manager and current.
Dave started off our tour with a brief history lesson on the LaserJet line and what it takes to put out a product and then dove into process of creating a LaserJet product. The biggest focus is keeping market share by selling reliable products and so the number one goal is to hit a 95% confidence in testing. They accomplish this by setting out a potential customer use case and then thoroughly testing it. Use cases vary based on different products, scenarios and features but the idea is to test the product in a way that customers would actually use it in the real world.
To do this, HP runs through two types of tests: Regulatory Certification Tests and Life Tests. These tests run through the gamut from worldwide consumables, noise, climate, power grid, freight shipping, environment and atmosphere. There is even a test for the amount of static electricity that comes off people and how it will affect the performance of the new products in heavily touch areas (referred to as the "zap mat").
The money, time and energy spent on these test chambers are incredible and I would love to see how competitors might stack up in this area because it was clear from our tour that HP is all in when it comes to research and development of their LaserJet line. Because these areas are sensitive, we don't have any video of any of the areas but you can take a tour with HP through all the areas I've mentioned below here.
During this tour, we also got to check out the Reliable Deployment Lab where they test the enterprise solutions with a mixture of real life devices and people and virtual devices and people. This area was described as a work in progress by our tour guide having only been around for 2-3 years. But it was still incredibly interesting with over 140 printers running and plenty more being accessing the server in "virtual reality."
The idea is to create a modeled customer environment so that when real enterprise customers come knocking, HP can present a variety of usage scenarios designed to create the best business plan.
After the tour, we sat down for a presentation about Workflow Solutions and how HP works with customers. Then it was on to the LaserJet Museum and Digital Oasis tour.
LaserJet Museum and Digital Oasis tour
The Digital Oasis is an incredible space that HP has set up for their employees to come and test/use the technology they are invested in. A large space that also houses the LaserJet Museum, tables, couches and TVs, the majority of the space is filled with a variety of printers, computers and retail kiosks offering employees a variety of print options.
Each month, each full time HP employee (and immediate family) receives an allotment of free prints ranging from 4x6 images, to creative projects, to poster and canvas sized artwork. Each of the guests was allowed to check out the Oasis area and print an image. Most of the desktop printers in the room we had previously reviewed so I tested the retail kiosk and printed a 16 x 20-inch poster on one of the three large format printers HP had set up in the area.
The LaserJet museum was interesting with a mixture of old devices and consumables laid out behind glass panels. They even had the original LaserJet printer on display (it took the company several years of searching for the model before finding one in their old shipping docks). They also had original ink "cartridges" on display that looked more like Crystal Light powder packs. The crazy part is that HP is still manufacturing these old school consumable for the devices still in use.
I've heard about large enterprise companies providing perks to their employees before but the Digital Oasis was still neat to check out.
Solutions and Original Ink Presentations
The final part of the day was an overview of the new Flow CM Professional and integrated solutions offered on the new LaserJet Enterprise Flow MFPs as well as a look at HP Original Inks and Toners.
Jeannine Verbanac, Product Manager at HP, gave us a demo of one of the integrated solutions for SharePoint. In the video demo below, she explains how a customer could use the solution for a loan processing application. One of the most interesting features is how the LaserJet Enterprise Flow MFP can recognize if the document being scanned in the ADF is in backwards, upside down or even containing a blank page and then correct it so that the scanned document is perfect.
David Lorenz, Product Manager at HP, gave us a demo of the new Flow CM Professional solution. This content management system can be used in a variety of ways including through the LaserJet Enterprise Flow control panel, through a PC or even through a handheld device. It allows customers working on many different devices/brands use one solution - as opposed to SharePoint which only works with Microsoft and authorized products. This includes HP's competitors for customers with legacy devices.
My favorite feature was the mobile device scan. Users can take a picture of a receipt or itinerary with their mobile device and the Flow CM Professional application will find the document, centered, blow it up and enhance to look like a legitimate scan as opposed to a picture. Lorenz explains the feature in the video demo below.
Michael J. Borg, Product Manager at HP (and Bill Nye the Science Guy Apprentice), gave a presentation on the difference between genuine HP consumables compared to cheaper resellers. He passed around plastic beakers filled with HP genuine toner and off brand toner and asked us to shake them. The HP toner was clearly more fluid for longer, which Borg equates to better fusing and better printer.
He also gave a demo on how HP's genuine toner fuses at a lower temperature, saving the customer money. When the printer uses off brand toner that has a higher fusing temperature, the print quality can be affected. In the video demo below, you can see clearly that the HP toner does in fact heat up quicker than the off brand toner Borg uses in the demo.
The day ended in the Enterprise Briefing Center as it began, with comments from Von Hansen. The overwhelming message from the entire day was the idea that HP is invested in delivering a best in class product, despite the extra cost and effort. And while that might not always be the case when reviewing their products and comparing them to competitor's, it was clear that the people working at the Boise Campus are very invested in this idea of making a best in class product.
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