Testing Survey Shows Quality Control Remains Important to the Aftermarket
- By Megan Hubble
- Mar 01, 2011
Testing for page yield is up this year, with 90 percent of respondents to the Testing Survey indicating they look at toner and ink usage with this type of test. In fact, most testing areas held steady or saw increases despite economic conditions that may have tempted respondents to cut back on testing. This year’s respondents are more likely to test their packaging than in the past, but life-cycle tests, which are rather time-consuming, did see declines. Other areas of interest: A more international group took the survey this year, and the average in-house cartridge production is up quite a bit, likely indicating that larger companies participated.
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This survey was offered online at www.rechargermag.com between April and November 2010. The survey was previously offered online in 2008 and 2007, although in slightly different formats. To keep things clear, we will refer to this 2010 data as “this year,” even though the results are being reported in early 2011. The 2008 data will be referred to as “last time.”
This year’s companies have been in business an average of 11 years, down from 14 years last time and 12 years in 2007. This year, 66 percent of respondents produce toner cartridges in-house, the same as last time. Inkjet production is up, with 42 percent saying they produce inkjet cartridges in-house, up from 34 percent last time. The in-house production numbers are up quite a bit this year, mostly because each group had at least one response of 1 million cartridges produced per month. For toner cartridges, the average is 48,099, up significantly from 6,327 last time; for inkjet cartridges, the average is 59,558 cartridges produced in-house per month, up from 14,939 last time. Fifty-five percent of survey takers say they outsource cartridges, down from 70 percent last time.
This year we added a new question about production as well, which was asked at the beginning of the survey. The majority of the demographic questions were at the end of the survey, after some survey takers had stopped, so the initial question was answered by a slightly different group of people (all survey takers instead of the self-selected and perhaps more dedicated group that completed the entire survey) and had slightly different results. The initial question found that 69 percent claim they “produce at least some finished cartridges in-house,” and 54 claim they “sell outsourced aftermarket cartridges,” and 19 percent say they “do not produce or sell finished cartridges.”
As we can see from the answers to this question, there are survey takers who are not cartridge sellers or producers, and (at the end of the survey) we asked this group to describe their main offering. The responses included “chips”; “computer/printer sales and servicing”; “wide-format ink, bulk ink, laser parts”; “selling empty cartridges”; “trading of empty toner and ink cartridges”; “service to printers”; “components”; “empties/cartridges broker”; and “logistics.”
This year’s survey takers are an international bunch, with 44 percent in the United States and 56 percent located outside the U.S. This is a much greater international representation than in the past; last time 62 percent of survey takers were in the United States, and in 2007, we saw 56 percent were working at U.S. companies. Some of the variations in responses may be due to the more international group taking the survey this year, including the larger production runs.
It should be noted that within each category, we will examine what percentage of respondents perform each type of test. Then we will look at the methods used by those who do decide to test, so those percentages exclude those who do not test and are based solely on those who say they do perform the specific test type using at least one of the listed methods. For most areas, respondents could choose more than one test method, so percentages do not add up to 100.
1) Do you test for page yield or toner/ink usage? If so, what tests do you use?
Ninety percent of respondents test cartridges for page yield or toner/ink usage. This is up from 83 percent last time and 84 percent in 2007. The most popular test is still in-house testing, selected by 63 percent (64 percent last time and 55 percent in 2007). See Figure 1.
Customer feedback is regaining its popularity, with 42 percent this time (up from 34 percent last time but closer to 2007’s 41 percent). Relying on vendors to supply yield data is next, picked by 39 percent (32 percent last time and 42 percent in 2007). Using the ASTM 1856 testing method is next at 19 percent, up from 15 percent last time and 17 percent in 2007.
Nine percent of respondents say they use some “other” method for testing, which includes using the “ISO IEC 24712” criteria.
2) Do you use an outside testing service?
Eleven percent of respondents report that they use an outside testing service, up from 5 percent last time and 10 percent in 2007. This year we did not ask which testing services were used, but in the past, the response has mostly been “RIT.”
3) Do you test for graphics quality? If so, what test equipment do you use?
Fifty-eight percent of respondents say they test for graphics quality, while 42 percent do not do so. Last time, 63 percent tested for this, down from 66 percent in 2007. It appears that testing for graphics quality is slightly less popular than it was in the past.
Using an eye loupe is the favorite method this year, grabbing 33 percent of responses compared to 26 percent last time and 40 percent in 2007. Densitometers, the top vote-getter last time, came in second this year at 30 percent (30 percent last time as well, but 51 percent in 2007). “Other” was very popular this year, with 28 percent selecting that category (as compared to 8 percent last time and 13 percent in 2007). These responses included “visual inspection, compare to OEM and competition”; “we use our printers”; and “visual compared to OEM of TonerHead 4 printouts.”
The remaining responses and the percentage choosing each are: scanner, 20 percent (13 percent last time and 17 percent in 2007); digital camera, 20 percent (13 percent last time and 20 percent in 2007); camera/image analyzer, 15 percent (9 percent last time and 12 percent in 2007); and light table/spectrometer, 10 percent. See Figure 2. The last category combined two options available in previous years; light table was picked by 7 percent last time and 11 percent in 2007, and spectrometer was chosen by 6 percent last time and 11 percent in 2006.
It isn’t clear why this area of testing saw a decrease in popularity when many other areas saw increases. Perhaps graphics are no longer seen as a major area to test since more people have dedicated photo printers or color laser printers, meaning standard laser or inkjet desktop printers are less likely to be used for printing graphics.
4) Do you generate your own print-test master pages? If so, what type of print generator do you use?
This year, 91 percent of respondents printed test pages, up from 88 percent last time and 86 percent in 2007. Using a printer self-test was the most popular method this year, with 72 percent of respondents selecting this option, up from 56 percent last time and 59 percent in 2007. The previous first-place holder, PC-generated prints, dropped to 56 percent from 71 percent last time and 65 percent in 2007.
Using a smartbox is less popular than ever, with only 18 percent opting to test this way, down from 26 percent last time and 28 percent in 2007. Only 9 percent of respondents use some other method, down from 12 percent last time and 16 percent in 2007. The “other” responses included: “TonerHead” and “multiple sets of font pages and ‘cleaning page’ band works the best.” See Figure 3.
5) Do you evaluate backgrounds on prints? If yes, what instruments do you use?
Evaluating backgrounds is as popular as ever, with 80 percent saying they do this type of testing, similar to the 81 percent we saw last time and the 79 percent seen in 2007. Despite the fact that this is holding steady, each of the methods within this category saw declines. In the past, the majority of respondents were using more than one testing methodology; perhaps this year survey takers are saving money by reducing repetition — using only one method instead of many.
Visual inspection is still the favorite way to test for backgrounds, with 79 percent selecting it, down from 83 percent last time and 80 percent in 2007. Using a magnifying glass is a distant second place at 31 percent (33 percent last time and 37 percent in 2007). This year, 21 percent say they use a densitometer, down from 25 percent last time and 33 percent in 2007. Another 6 percent say that they use some “other” method (7 percent last time and 2 percent in 2007). See Figure 4.
6) Do you evaluate background through a full life-cycle test? If yes, how often do you do this?
This year’s respondents do not seem very interested in the life-cycle test. Only 22 percent say they evaluate background through a full life-cycle test, down from 56 percent last time and 53 percent in 2007. For those who do perform the test, we asked about how often they do so. It should be noted that there were not very many people answering these questions, so the number of responses for each category is extremely limited and may not be very accurate.
That said, the most popular interval is whenever component selection changes, which was selected by 72 percent, up from 48 percent last time and 50 percent in 2007. Testing a certain number of times per year is next (22 times on average) and was selected by 55 percent of respondents, up from 31 percent last time and 29 percent in 2007. And 36 percent say they test a certain percentage of cartridges; 16 percent of cartridges is the average of the admittedly low response group. Last time, 29 percent chose this category, and 19 percent selected it in 2007. The “other” category was selected by 18 percent this year compared to 19 percent last time and 10 percent in 2007. The responses included “prior to component change” and “comparative to original/clean prints.” See Figure 5.
7) Do you evaluate line quality on laser or inkjet prints? If yes, which artifacts do you evaluate? If yes, which instruments do you use?
This year, 74 percent of respondents say they evaluate line quality, down from 76 percent last time and 80 percent in 2007. The most popular testing method is to examine line density, which is done by 76 percent of respondents who evaluate line quality, similar to the 77 percent seen last time and 75 percent we recorded in 2007. Edge raggedness was a close second, chosen by 74 percent, up from 71 percent last time and 64 percent in 2007. Blurriness is evaluated by 67 percent, similar to the 69 percent seen last time and the 68 percent we saw in 2007. Line width is the least popular artifact to evaluate, with only 43 percent looking at this — down slightly from 46 percent last time and 49 percent in 2007. See Figure 6.
Visual inspection is the favorite way to look at these artifacts of line quality, selected by 80 percent (77 percent last time and 78 percent in 2007). Other responses trailed far behind but included magnifying glass, 34 percent (33 percent both last time and in 2007); eye loupe, 21 percent (33 percent last time and 31 percent in 2007); scanner, 14 percent (12 percent the last two surveys); and “other,” 9 percent (8 percent last time and 2 percent in 2007). No one explained which other method they used.
8) Do you evaluate area fill on laser or inkjet prints? If yes, which artifacts do you evaluate?
Evaluating area fill is still very popular, with 82 percent of respondents saying they perform this type of test, as opposed to 76 percent last time and 83 percent in 2007. The favorite artifact to evaluate is fill density, chosen by 86 percent this year (87 percent last time and 71 percent in 2007). Contrast is a distant second place, selected by 50 percent (54 percent in each of the last two surveys). Bleed is evaluated by 41 percent, down from 48 percent last time and 47 percent in 2007. One-third of those who evaluate area fill choose to look at reflectance density, up from 28 percent last time and 20 percent in 2007. Only 10 percent consider mottle, down from 30 percent last time and 19 percent in 2007.
9) Do you evaluate color performance on laser or inkjet prints? If yes, which artifacts do you evaluate?
Moving on to color, we see that only 68 percent evaluate color performance for either laser or inkjet prints, similar to the 67 percent we saw last time and the 71 percent seen in 2007. This area may be lower than most since not all companies produce or sell color cartridges and thus may not have any reason to test for color performance. We did not specifically ask if respondents’ companies produce or sell color products for this survey.
For those who do test color, looking for color density is now the most popular method for evaluation, with 77 percent choosing this — up from 66 percent last time and 51 percent in 2007. Falling from the first place spot is uniformity, chosen by 59 percent this time — down quite a bit from 79 percent last time and 73 percent in 2007. Bleed held fairly steady at 53 percent — only a slight drop from 54 percent last time and 56 percent in 2007. Mottle was the least popular choice, down to 15 percent from 23 percent last time and 26 percent in 2007. See Figure 7.
10) Do you evaluate voids and satellites on laser or inkjet prints?
Exactly half of respondents say that they evaluate voids and satellites on their test prints. This is falling slightly over the course of the recent surveys. Last time, 53 percent said they evaluated satellites and voids, down from 55 percent in 2007.
11) Do you evaluate text performance on laser or inkjet prints? If yes, which artifacts do you evaluate?
More people were looking at text performance this year, with 83 percent saying they test in this area, up from 78 percent last time and 73 percent in 2007. See Figure 8. Stroke weight and density is the most popular artifact, with 83 percent of text testers choosing it, up from 60 percent last time and 56 percent in 2007. The next category is voids, coming in at 68 percent, up from 58 percent last time and 62 percent in 2007. The top vote-getter last time, edge raggedness, dropped to third place at 60 percent — down from 70 percent last time and 66 percent in 2007. Ten percent chose some “other” method, up from 3 percent last time and 2 percent in 2007. However, no one entered an explanation of what these other methods might be.
12) Do you evaluate text and graphics through the full life cycle of a cartridge? If so, what is your established testing frequency? What test criteria do you use?
Full life-cycle tests are not usually that popular, and we see that trend continue this year. In fact, this test was much less common among this year’s respondents than in the past; only 29 percent say they test text and graphics through a cartridge’s full life cycle compared to 51 percent of respondents last time and 61 percent in 2007.
For those few who do test, the most popular testing frequency is to test a certain number of times per year, chosen by 50 percent (52 percent last time and 53 percent in 2007). These respondents test cartridges approximately 10 times per year. Forty-two percent picked some “other” testing criteria, up from 30 percent last time and 16 percent in 2007. Responses included “random”; “at different intervals of development and process improvements”; “follow the STMC standard”; “when developing a new model”; and “tested at commencement of supporting cartridge, customer feedback.” See Figure 9.
Testing after a certain number of cartridges came last at 25 percent, down from 34 percent last time and 33 percent in 2007. Respondents say they test after every 10 cartridges or so. Note that only 12 respondents answered this part of the survey, so percentages are based on very low response rates and should be interpreted carefully.
The testing criteria that is most popular for the text/graphics life-cycle test is visual inspection, selected by 70 percent (79 percent last time and 80 percent in 2007). Thirty-five percent say they use ASTM F1423-97 (2002), up from 21 percent last time and 26 percent in 2007. Only 10 percent use ISO-13360, down from 15 percent last time and 11 percent in 2007. “Other” was chosen by 15 percent (14 percent last time and 6 percent in 2007); this included a response of “F-2036 for density and background.”
13) How do you test chip-based cartridges?
It was evenly split this year, with 38 percent of respondents saying that they test chip-based cartridges with new chips, and 38 percent indicating that they use a dedicated testing chip. Last time, 49 percent picked “new chip” and 34 percent said they used a dedicated testing chip. Note that respondents could pick more than one category, so percentages do not add up to 100.
Nineteen percent this year said that they used some “other” method, while 30 percent said “none” — either no chip or don’t test. The “other” responses included “manufacturer tested”; “we test all cartridges prior to chipping; all chips are dedicated chips”; “OEM”; “universal”; “with old chip”; and “depends on the cartridge; some use new chips, some testing chip and some no chip/OEM chip.” See Figure 10.
14) Do you test outsourced cartridges for resale?
This year, 50 percent of respondents said they do their own testing of outsourced cartridges that they plan to resell. The other 50 percent likely relies on the manufacturer’s testing.
Of those who do their own testing, 59 percent say that they test a certain number of times per year (65 times per year on average, or a little more than once per week) compared to 47 percent who chose this category last time.
Forty-one percent of this year’s respondents say they test after a certain number of cartridges, with the average testing every 797th cartridge. Last time, 32 percent said they tested after a certain number of cartridges.
Some “other” testing frequency was selected by 18 percent of survey takers, down from 30 percent last time. The other methods included “we test almost every outsourced (cartridge)”; “rely on outsource vendor testing”; “depends on performance history; some models require 100 percent retesting”; and “at time of sourcing, then by customer feedback.”
15) Do you test for cartridge-seal integrity? If yes, what do you test?
This year, 68 percent of respondents say they test for cartridge-seal integrity, while 13 percent say they don’t perform such a test, and 19 percent say they don’t use seals.
Of those who do test their cartridge seals, almost everyone (94 percent) says they test for leakage (up from 84 percent last time and 88 percent in 2007). A very distant second place goes to pull strength, which 41 percent of respondents test for, down from 55 percent last time and 51 percent in 2007. Burst resistance is next at 28 percent, similar to the 32 percent last time and 28 percent in 2007. This year 13 percent chose some “other” method (10 percent last time and 7 percent in 2007), with responses such as “manufacturer tested” and “we prefer non-split hoppers on all of our toners.” See Figure 11.
16) Do you test for package integrity? If yes, what method do you use? How often do you perform these tests?
Package integrity is tested by 64 percent of respondents this year, up from 56 percent last time and 55 percent in 2007. Of those who do test, the most popular method by far is in-house testing, used by 87 percent of survey takers (85 percent last time and 73 percent in 2007). A drop test is next at 47 percent (45 percent last time and 50 percent in 2007). Only 17 percent use the ISTA 1A Shipping test (16 percent last time and 13 percent in 2007), while 7 percent use some “other” method (6 percent last time and 5 percent in 2007). These other methods included “customer feedback.”
Almost half of respondents (47 percent) say they test when packaging changes. The next most popular frequency is after a certain number of months — approximately every 5 months on average. This was selected by 29 percent (29 percent last time and 19 percent in 2007).
“Other” actually came in at 29 percent as well, with responses such as “cartridges are hand-delivered”; “each package, visual inspection”; “upon development of a new product”; “supplier material change”; “prior to making package changes”; “we deliver all cartridges”; “use manufacturers’ statements”; and several responses of “one” — perhaps indicating every package is tested or that the packaging is tested once. See Figure 12.
Overall testing patterns seem to have held steady this year, showing that economic conditions have not resulted in any cuts to quality control.
For more information about participating in the latest Recharger surveys, visit www.rechargermag.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Recharger.