Xerox Corp. on Wednesday unveiled molecular-based toner technology that promises more cost effective, higher quality and more environmentally-friendly colour printing.

While refusing to commit to a cost-reduction potential, Xerox said its emulsion aggregation (EA) technology will bring the price of colour printing closer to that of black and white documents.

“EA technology will narrow the price gap between colour and monochrome printing,” said Dr. Rafik Loutfy, corporate vice-president and head of the Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC). “We believe it is the Holy Grail of toner technology for the future.”

In announcing EA, Loutfy was joined by several high-level Xerox personnel at the XRCC, where the technology was developed over the past eight years. Included in the group were Xerox Canada president Cameron Hyde and John Seely Brown, chief scientist and corporate vice-president of Xerox Corp.

Seely Brown said EA technology was a major achievement for both Xerox and XRCC, which more than one Xerox executive Wednesday referred to as the PARC (Palo Alto Research Centre) of the North.

EA technology works in a manner opposite to conventional toner in that it grows toner particles from molecules rather than breaking down larger particles of toner into smaller ones.

The EA method allows for much greater control of toner size, shape and distribution, Loutfy said. This in turn results in less toner usage, better printer performance and improved image quality as more controlled distribution delivers enhanced resolution and image uniformity.

“Because of the control of the structure, we open up enormous design latitude,” Loutfy said.

As for the environment, Xerox claims the EA technology process involves fewer mechanical steps, generates less waste and uses less energy than its conventional toner counterpart. Loutfy said the shift to EA technology will reduce energy consumption by 25 per cent compared with the conventional toner approach.

“We conserve mass, we conserve energy and there is less waste, both in manufacturing (the EA toner) and in using it,” he said.

Xerox said toners using EA technology will be available globally in Xerox and Fuji-Xerox products within a year. However, some Fuji-Xerox products in Asia will include EA technology before the end of 2001.

Bill Fournier, senior marketing analyst for Evans Research Corp. said the technology presented Xerox with a major opportunity for gaining market share. But Fournier was dismayed by the reply of the Xerox panel when he asked if the company was planning to make the technology compatible with competitors’ current machines.

Loutfy said the technology was flexible enough to be put in a variety of machines, but nobody from Xerox would commit to a plan to adjust the technology for competitors’ printers. Fournier found this strange since Hewlett Packard dominates the printer market and consumables are the undisputed cash cow of the document industry.

“I get a sense they’re potentially dragging their heels now,” Fournier said of Xerox. “It seems to me that you just have to make a slight derivation to (the technology).”

Xerox also declined to comment on whether it would be using EA technology in its upcoming FutureColor digital printing press.

Fournier said it was important for Xerox to move quickly to capitalize on its innovation as the company has a history of failing to reap maximum profit from its inventions, such as the ethernet and the graphical user interface (GUI).

“They missed the boat on a whole bunch of things already,” Fournier said.

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