Toshiba’s Really Big LEAD Event Supports Really Big Hardware Launch

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ToshibaOn May 17, Toshiba America Business Solutions (TABS) opened the doors to LEAD 2016, which it hosted at the Bellagio Las Vegas. With over 1,250 attendees, including more than 800 end users, it was Toshiba’s largest LEAD conference ever. This was the first year that LEAD was run concurrently with Toshiba Connect, a conference for retail professionals and technology providers that drew nearly 500 additional attendees, making the crowd at the 2016 event even larger.

Toshiba leveraged the gathering to introduce three new families of A3 color e-STUDIO MFPs along with two new A3 monochrome MFP lines. In total, the company unveiled 23 new e-STUDIO MFPs at LEAD, including models ranging from 20 ppm, entry-level units to an 85 ppm enterprise monochrome machine. All of the latest e-STUDIO machines feature a new matte-black skin along with a 9-inch tablet user interface and are equipped with Toshiba’s latest e-BRIDGE Next controller, which is based on an Intel Atom dual-core processor. Three of the new product lines began shipping in May, while the other two lines are slated for release in July. We discuss all of the new machines in more detail below.

In his opening remarks during the LEAD general session, TABS President and CEO Scott Maccabe said the machines represent a “top-to-bottom refresh of our entire lineup.” Mr. Maccabe also said that Toshiba’s new “e-STUDIO lineup gives us a leadership role in MFPs and positions us for significant growth in managed print in the years ahead.” In addition to the new MFPs, the LEAD event featured a variety of products from TABS’s digital signage portfolio along with point-of-sale equipment from Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions (TGCS), TABS’s sister company. Mr. Maccabe, who is also TGCS’s CEO, said the group is the “world leader in point-of-sale technologies, with an installed base of point-of-sale devices larger than its next three competitors combined.”

Connect, Integrate, Simplify

The announcement of the new e-STUDIO devices came just hours before LEAD 2016 got underway, and they were a hot topic at the show. During the general session, Joe Contreras, vice president, product and solutions marketing for TABS, told the audience that the machines were developed with channel feedback and represented a value statement that could be summed up in three words: connect, integrate, and simplify. He said that the machines don’t just connect to the network—they can connect customers with their businesses and workflows. According to Mr. Contreras, the machines in the new line are designed to be integrated into workflows to become an integral part of a customer’s business, and they can simplify tasks and operations.

To meet the goals expressed in the new “Connect, Integrate, Simplify” tag line, the latest e-STUDIO units were designed so that they can be configured to meet the demands of various vertical markets. TABS Chief Marketing Executive Bill Melo told the general session audience that the new machines feature a user interface that can be customized using templates designed specifically for tasks specific to such verticals as healthcare, education, and finance. For example, the healthcare template allows for easy ID card copying and the ability to generate documents that are HIPAA-compliant. The new user interface template also allows the user interface to be customized for individual Toshiba dealers by including the dealer’s logos and corporate colors along with contact information.

Mr. Melo also indicated that the new e-STUDIO lineup will help Toshiba maintain its leadership position in the managed print services (MPS) space. He said that MPS is the solution for which Toshiba is best known and boasted, “For the past 12 years running, we’ve achieved double-digit growth in our MPS practice.” Mr. Melo attributed much of the growth to the Encompass program, which is supported by various web-based tools, such as a pricing utility. Mr. Melo’s comments followed similar remarks made earlier by his boss. During his general session talk, Mr. Maccabe indicated that, despite declines in the market, TABS has seen the pages it has under contract “increase and grow.” He told the assembled dealers, “We continue to grab clicks and page market share from our competitors.”

Roll Out the Hardware

The value statement articulated by Mr. Contreras was repeated often at LEAD 2016. During his nearly one-hour presentation, which carried the “Connect, Integrate, Simplify” tag line, TABS Product Manager Robert Covington explained how the new machines fulfill the promise of the new value statement. Although Mr. Covington did not provide too much insight into consumables the machines employ, his talk was quite informative. (Editor’s note: This post offers only a top-level look at the new e-STUDIO machines. At the time of this writing, full details were not available about the devices, but we expect to publish a more detailed post about them in the near future.)

Mr. Covington also explained the naming scheme for the new products. He said the first two numbers in the family names represent print speeds, while the “AC” designation represents Advanced Color. Machines with an “A” designator are monochrome devices. The e-STUDIO 2500AC entry-level line consists of the 20 ppm e-STUDIO 2000AC and the slightly faster 25 ppm e-STUDIO 2500AC. Toshiba’s latest mid-tier lineups are the e-STUDIO 5005AC color line and the monochrome e-STUDIO 5008A line. Each mid-tier product family includes a 25, 30, 35, 40, and 50 ppm device based on the same print engine. The print engines in the entry-level machines feature an LED light source, while all of the higher-end units employ laser-based print engines.

The e-STUDIO 7506AC and 8508A lines are at the top of the list of new machines. The monochrome A models include a 55, 65, 75, and 85 ppm A3 MFP, while the AC units operate at 55, 65, 75 ppm in color and 65, 75, 85 ppm in monochrome mode. Mr. Covington said that Toshiba has found there are basically two different types of customers who use higher-end color units such as those in the e-STUDIO 7506AC line. One group, which includes users such as graphic artists, needs to print on a wide variety of media, and the other group, which includes traditional office users, tends to print higher volumes. The machines in the e-STUDIO 7506AC and 8508A families can be configured differently to enable them to meet the needs of both groups.

Mr. Covington explained that the so-called “look and feel” of all the new e-STUDIO machines are identical to those of devices from certain Toshiba competitors, including Konica Minolta. “You learn one, operate many,” he quipped. “That basically means [whether]you’re walking up to a 25 page-per-minute product or an 85 page-per-minute product, the UI is exactly the same.” Mr. Covington added that, in addition to sharing similar operation, many of the devices’ features and optional accessories are the same across the new product lines. The higher-end machines are equipped with a new dual-scan automatic document feeder that is standard on the devices and is also available for the mid-tier models. The entry-level e-STUDIO 2500 family also comes with a reversing ADF.

Mr. Covington added that the AC laser models support 1,200 × 1,200 dpi color output and feature new auto-trapping technology to improve print quality. All of the machines feature e-Bridge Next technology based on an Intel Atom dual-core processor, which operates at 1.75 GHz in the high-end color devices and at 1.3 GHz in the other machines. They also ship with 4 GB of RAM and a standard 320 GB self-encrypting hard drive. The three families of machines that began shipping in May include the e-STUDIO 2500 AC, 5005AC, and 5008A lines. The remaining two families—the e-STUDIO 7506AC and 8508A lines—will be out in July.

According to Mr. Covington, the consumables in Toshiba’s latest A3 MFPs are newly designed. The machines employ a newly formulated toner with a wider gamut that is capable of “hitting” more colors, which is important for graphic artists. A new color profiler tool is also available to better match color. Unfortunately, additional details about the toner are not available, but Mr. Covington suggested the same toner set is used in all of the new machines. Unlike past generations, he said the toner finish of the output is the same across all of the new machines.  We suspect that the toner is mechanically ground and manufactured at Toshiba’s toner plant in South Dakota. Mr. Covington also said the developer and drum life in all units has been improved to reduce maintenance calls and “make for a much better end-user experience.”

Party Out of Bounds

Although Toshiba has not been known for hosting particularly lavish events, the firm pulled out all the stops for this year’s LEAD. In addition to hosting LEAD at one of the more posh properties on the Las Vegas Strip, Toshiba spared no expense on the entertainment. Graffiti artist cum business guru Erik Wahl was the featured evening keynote speaker at close of LEAD’s first day. The second day ended with an open discussion from commentators James Carville and Mary Matalin, an oft-quoted married couple who represent the left and right wings, respectively, of America’s political compass. Attendees were then treated to a private B-52s concert, the New Wave band that had such hits as “Rock Lobster,” “Love Shack,” and, of course, “Party Out of Bounds.”

The entertainment was really impressive, but we were even more impressed by the LEAD 2016 exhibit hall. During a sneak-peek walk-through for analysts the night before the expo opened, Toshiba representatives said the floor space had been doubled for this year’s event. In addition to the large Toshiba booth, which showcased the new e-STUDIO machines along with new digital signage and point-of-sale solutions, the exhibit hall featured some 60 companies from across the industry that were looking to do business with Toshiba’s dealer community. The diverse mix of exhibitors ranged from leasing companies like Great America to PrintReleaf, which helps end users meet their sustainability goals with a unique software package that monitors paper consumption and automates corresponding reforestation efforts. There were also a number of booths featuring retail technologies for the 500 or so Toshiba Connect audience members.

As supplies geeks, we found it interesting that the Clover Imaging Group (CIG) had a booth at LEAD—in fact, the firm was a Diamond Sponsor of the event. CIG, the world’s largest third-party supplies vendor, provides Toshiba with cartridges, reverse logistics, and other services for the Encompass Managed Document Solutions program. We recall that although Clover representatives might have been in the Encompass booth at past LEAD conferences, the company didn’t broadcast its relationship with Toshiba or its other customers. Over the past couple of years, however, we have seen CIG expand its presence at dealer events and acknowledge its OEM relationships. Last year, for example, Clover and Konica Minolta formally announced that they are working together (see “Clover and Konica Minolta Announce Toner Partnership”). By highlighting its various services as well as its non-OEM consumables, it appears that CIG is now seeking to establish itself as a solutions provider and not just another private-label manufacturer.

CIG was the only third-party supplies manufacturer in the exhibit hall, but there were other companies that market consumables at the show. Supplies Network was a Platinum Sponsor and hosted a booth. Various hardware vendors also supported the event. Lexmark, which has been a Toshiba partner for over 15 years, was the LEAD 2016 Title Sponsor. Lexmark Business Alliance Manager Phil Boatman said his firm began as a technology supplier to Toshiba, and in 2009 the firms began working with each other’s dealer channel. In addition to Lexmark, wide-format printer, scanner, and software vendor KIP also hosted a booth and was a Gold Sponsor, as was the bar-code hardware and solutions provider Zebra Technologies, which also was an exhibitor.

Based on conversations with exhibitors in the expo hall, it seems that LEAD 2016 was a success for those hosting booths. Most indicated that they found it worthwhile to participate in the event, and they were able to do good business at the show. Several exhibitors we spoke with from the hardcopy industry lamented the decline and loss of various trade shows that once featured office imaging equipment. Some opined that hosting booths at LEAD made better business sense for them than exhibiting at the few remaining hardcopy shows in North America such as Graph Expo or ITEX. The exhibitors we spoke with said they planned to host booths at the next LEAD event. We also plan to attend.

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