Chip technology rekindles cartridge debate

Chip technology rekindles cartridge debate

Fuji Xerox has refused to comment on the new wireless microchip technology of five laser printers launched this month that further restricts the use of third-party cartridges.

The toner cartridges use regionalised radio transmitters to identify the cartridges to the printer. If the cartridge is not from Fuji Xerox or has been imported from outside the Asia-Pacific region, the printer will not accept it.

The transmitters also identify used Fuji Xerox cartridges, preventing the 'drill and fill' service common in the cartridge industry. 'Drill and fill' is the industry name given to the practice of puncturing and refilling a used cartridge.

The vendor announced the new technology to resellers via product roadshows, but Fuji Xerox marketing programs manager, Billy Cina, said the vendor declined to discuss the technology as "it may be interpreted as if we're forcing people to only buy our consumables".

Fuji Xerox's wireless chips, also known as crumbs, were not yet used by other vendors, and had ensured the vendor's toner cartridges could no longer be swapped with other printers, a Fuji Xerox source said.

The new chips are used by the DocuPrint 240A, 340A, 205, 305 and C2428 printers, and will be part of all future Fuji Xerox printers. They also transmit regular cartridge/print job data to the printer.

Vendors argue such chips protect customers from cheap, poor-quality alternatives. However, the cartridge remanufacturing industry claims such chips can be used as an anti-competitive lock-in tactic.

CEO of the Australasian Cartridge Remanufacturers Association (ACRA), David Gibbons, was unaware of the new Fuji Xerox technology when contacted by ARN.

Nevertheless, ACRA, which has 220 members throughout wholesale and retail, would discourage Fuji Xerox from using the chips, he said. "Our members believe that environmentally and economically it's good to have this third-party industry," Gibbons said.

The advent of 'lock-out' chip technology in recent times had led ACRA to step up its lobbying efforts with government purchasing officers, he said.

From a reseller's perspective, the chips were fantastic news for the channel, Fuji Xerox product manager at distributor Alloys International, Dave Guttman, said.

"It gives the reseller security to be able to feel he's servicing the customer properly and he's not going going to be beaten on price point by a grey reseller," he said.

Ensuring Fuji Xerox customers opted for (generally more expensive) Fuji Xerox cartridges would help resellers capitalise on the future opportunities that result from printer deals.

"Remember cost is only one point," Guttman said, "there's also services, warranties...."

Cartridge microchips are currently the centre of a lawsuit in the US.

Although used by a number of vendors, Lexmark took the unprecedented step of legal action against Static Control Components (SCC), which makes a range of chips that allow remanufacturers to create clones of OEM toner cartridges, including Lexmark's.

The managing director of SCC local distributor Imaging Solutions, Lee Benater, said he was yet to hear from SCC regarding clones for Fuji Xerox's new chips.

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