Apex Opens Ustation Centers to Help Customers Impacted by Firmware Updates, Seeks U.S. Partners

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On September 15, Apex Microelectronics shared the news that it has set up four Ustation service centers in the United States and that it is recruiting partners to help it set up even more Ustation centers. These service centers will help customers with OEM firmware updates that prevent the use of third-party cartridges. But beyond that, the goal is to provide technical support and after-sales service for Apex’s customers.

While OEM firmware updates don’t impact cartridges using OEM chips or circuitry, they can impact third-party cartridges with non-OEM replacement chips, including those that may have worked just fine prior to a firmware update. After a firmware update, a printer with a third-party cartridge installed may display an error message instead of printing. Firmware updates have posed considerable hassle and expense for third-party cartridge vendors, which must swap out inventory and deal with customer returns. A chipmaker like Apex devotes significant time and resources on developing firmware-resistant chips and reacting quickly when a firmware update does impact chips.

What’s Ustation?

Apex describes Ustation as a “brand-new setup service center to realize local service, including resetting chips, technical support, and after-sales service.” The company provided a Q&A that revealed Apex decided to develop Ustation centers specifically to cope with firmware updates. Apex explains:

Firmware updates sent by printer OEMs through internet connections to their customers’ printers continue to be a pain point for the aftermarket as well as end users. The increasing frequency of these firmware upgrades brings great disruption, high return-and-replace costs, and bad end user experiences to the industry. The OEMs seek to gain a monopoly and to remove choice for consumers. Apex established a dedicated team back in 2015 to resolve this issue for both the aftermarket as well as end users. The team constantly monitors firmware updates released by the OEMs. In 2020, Apex developed and released its own remote upgrade system.

The Ustation ensures all of Apex’s customers can get access to worry-free, reliable products.

Apex says that the Ustation centers use resetting equipment that is based on Unismart technology but is not identical—the Ustation equipment is independent from the Unismart solutions commercially available in the marketplace.

Apex says it already has a few Ustations opened. Apex’s website shows where. Two “official centers” are operated directly by Ninestar companies. One is in Chino, CA, where Ninestar’s U.S. branch Ninestar Technology Co., Ltd. is located. The other is in Sanford, NC, at Static Control’s facility. Apex Microelectronics acquired Static Control Components in 2015 (see “Apex Weds Static Control and the Reman Chip Industry Gets a Lot Smaller”). There are two other Ustations that are “partner centers.” One is located at 19945 Harrison Ave., Walnut, CA. There are two companies associated with that address: Billiontree Technology USA and Mountain Peak, Inc. The other is at 140 58th St, Bldg B, Unit 4E, Brooklyn, NY. That is the address of E-Z Ink. According to RTMWorld.com,Ninestar acquired E-Z Ink Inc. of Brooklyn, NY, and a related company call E-Jet Technologies Co., Ltd. of Zhuhai.

As for what occurs at these Ustation centers, Apex explains that the centers “use many UniSmart devices—connected to the Internet to always remain up to date—to conduct the actual updates [to the chips on third-party cartridges].” The benefit for Apex customers is that those with access to a Ustation center won’t need to obtain their own Unismart chip-resetting machines or send inventory back to the manufacturer but will be able to get their chips reset at the site and get “services and support.” Apex says, “These Ustations can deliver immediate upgrade services for Apex’s other customers in surrounding areas who need to quick and efficient updates for their stocks.”

Looking to Add Partners

With just four Ustation centers currently in the United States and third-party cartridge vendors spread out across the country—and the world—it is easy to see why Apex is calling out for partners. The company says that Olivia Ouyang, Ustation project manager for Apex, has been charged with overseeing the Ustation project, its global expansion, and network management of the Ustation.

The company states:

Apex is seeking additional partners willing to establish Ustation centres that are positioned close to transport and storage logistics. The number of staff required to operate a centre will vary depending on the volume of products that require updates as well as other related services that may be needed.

The company is looking for Ustation partners “mainly in Europe and America.” Apex says it will set up the equipment for partners, provide ongoing technical support, and the necessary and software and hardware platforms.

Apex is looking for partners with “strategically located physical locations.” More specifically, Apex says that its requirements are that Ustations need to be in “facilities that have warehouse and delivery capabilities.” The company adds, “Technicians are also needed so they can conduct the upgrading tasks for the many customers that will seek this service. More importantly, we are looking for partners that share the same values and goals as Apex. This is our sincere desire. Together with partners, we expect to safeguard the healthy development of the industry.”

Apex says, “In some cases, Apex will provide seed funding to those who qualify for this level of support.” We see this last tidbit as a clear indication of how committed Apex is to growing its roster of Ustation partners.

Apex’s Q&A concludes, “Contact ustation@apexmic.com for more details.”

Bold Move

Actionable Intelligence sees Apex’s announcement as an indicator of the negative impact OEM firmware updates have had on the third-party supplies industry. That Apex is taking the dramatic step of working to open up physical chip-resetting locations across the United States and Europe to reset chips on third-party cartridges impacted by firmware updates shows how big a problem it is.

It is also a demonstration of the fact that Apex thinks it has a solution that works—if only it can get it into enough hands. But while firmware updates are a significant problem Apex can help customers with, it is not the only problem Apex can help customers with. Apex says, “Our starting point is the customers and the whole aftermarket. We really want to make efforts to improve customers’ and users’ experience and build an industry ecosystem.”

For OEMs, Apex’s Ustation centers are a less welcome development and a potential threat to the continued effectiveness of firmware updates. Four centers aren’t a lot, but with Apex putting out the call that it is looking for more partners, it is likely we will see the number of Ustation centers grow.

[Editor’s note: This article was updated after publication to include additional information provided by Apex.]

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